Lithuanian Poetry Workshop

This workshop looks at an untitled poem (***) by Lithuanian poet, Nijolė Miliauskaitė. This workshop is free to join, and open to all poets and translators, regardless of their level of proficiency with the original language. This workshop will remain open for submissions until midnight on 7th January 2019, and then archived.

A literal translation is provided beneath, along with notes about the poem to help you create a version of the piece in English. We welcome all kinds of translation: from versions which cleave to the original and render it as ‘faithfully’ as possible, as well as ‘freer’ translations, versions, and responses in English. All suitable submissions will be featured online, and one submission will be chosen for inclusion in a digital pamphlet focusing on Lithuanian poetry.

This workshop is produced in partnership with British Council as part of the Baltic Countries Market Focus 2018.

Workshop closed for entries

Original Poem

*** [Untitled]

Original poem by Nijolė Miliauskaitė


pustuštis troleibusas cypdamas kyla į kalną
upė po dešinei, švytinti
medžiai, rūmai ir bokštai
iš Vilčinskio albumo – duok man tą pusvalandį
duok man – ramaus ir tykaus gyvenimo
tiek tik

o šičia
kitas jau miestas, kasdienis
šiukšlės ir purvas, skubanti moteris
nusvarinęs ranką krepšys, gal nesveikas
knerkiantis vaikas, nelinksmos
mintys galvoj

bet iš kurgi
ši siena, betoninė, įkišta tarp namų
ir spygliuotos vielos

ir medinis bokštelis, žaliai nudažytas
ir sargybinis
ir barakai tenai, tolumoj

sankryža, troleibusas pasisuka
ir sustoja, laikraštį nešasi vėjas, kelios
jaunutės mergaitės, gal kiek per garsiai
besijuokiančios, sunkiai lipa į vidų senutė, perbėga
kelią katė, betgi viskas
kaip vakar, kaip užvakar, ko man bijotis


Literal Translation

*** [Untitled]

Literal translation by Rimas Uzgiris


half-empty trolleybus screeching rises up the hill
river on the right, shining
trees, palaces, towers
from Wilczyński’s album – give me that half-hour
give me – calm and quiet life
just that

and here
already another city, everyday
garbage and dirt, a woman hurrying
bag weighing down arm, maybe an unhealthy
whimpering child, un-joyful
thoughts in head

but from wherever
this wall, concrete, stuck in between houses
and barbed wire

and a wooden tower, painted green
and a sentry
and barracks there, in the distance

intersection, the trolleybus turns
and stops, wind carries a newspaper, a few
young girls, maybe somewhat too loudly
laughing, with difficulty an old woman climbing inside, runs across
the road a cat, but everything
like yesterday, like the day before yesterday, what should I fear

Help on translating this poem

Nijolė Miliauskaitė (1950-2002) spent most of her life in the spa town of Druskininkai surrounded by pine and fir forest, where she formed part of a triumvirate of especially strong poets including Kornelijus Platelis and her husband Vytautas Bložė. She only published four books in her short life, but received numerous awards, including the Lithuanian National Prize. Her work has been influential among Lithuanian poets, but she has been very rarely translated. This is a shame especially because almost all of her poems are free verse, rooted in observations of daily life (and the recollection of such moments), and are quite universal in their subject matter. From her Christian roots, she later migrated to a deep engagement with Eastern spirituality. 

In this poem, the presence of trolleybuses signals to us that the action does not take place in Druskininkai or any other small town. In fact, it seems to take place in two cities: Vilnius for sure, due to the Wilczyński album reference, and maybe Kaunas, or is it Vilnius at different times? The images in the middle of the poem call to mind the presence of the Soviet army. The poem was originally written during the late Soviet era, and the Soviet army did not leave Lithuania until 1993 (independence was declared in 1990, recognized by the USSR in 1991). The last line about fear may relate to this presence, but may be metaphysical as well. The Lithuanian text leaves the interpretation open. 

Please post your translations up by 7th January, and Rimas Uzgiris will pick the best one to go in our Latvian digital pamphlet.

Notes from the translator

I have attempted to give a formally equivalent translation here, with only occasional inserts of articles (Lithuanian doesn’t use them). I have not re-ordered any lines, though have made certain phrases English, e.g., ‘painted green’ instead of ‘green painted’. 

Palaces: a perennial problem for translation into English. If we have ‘cultural palaces’, then ‘cultural centre’ is a more appropriate rendering, if in the country, then ‘manor’ is often more precise. 

Wilczyński: Jan Kazimierz Wilczyński, or, in Lithuanian, Jonas Kazimieras Vilčinskis, a 19thc. doctor and art collector who published the famous Album de Wilna of lithographs of Vilnius scenes by various artists. Whether to call him Lithuanian or Polish is a question that now arises for many people who lived before the rise of nationalism and nation-states. English sources often use the Polish names as default, though Miliauskaitė uses his Lithuanian name (the Lithuanian default). It may be relevant that he was known to speak Lithuanian at home, not Polish (though fluent in that language as well). 

Screeching: or squeaking, ‘cypti’ is also used for the sound mice make.

And here: the conjunction ‘o’ can be rendered as ‘and’ or ‘but’ depending on context. It is a somewhat contrastive ‘and’.

Whimpering: or, ‘sniveling’.

Young girls: ‘jaunutės mergaitės’ where ‘jaunutės’, ‘young’, is a diminutive plural. Lithuanian uses diminutive terms often and quite naturally, though here it is an adjective. 

Old woman: ‘senutė’ is a diminutive, i.e., little old woman.