Poezijos kartografija

Sutzkever: Vilniaus poezija ir kartografija

Stylistically, the poetry of Miłosz and Sutzkever are as different as their biographies, but the unifying theme for the two lyric worlds is the distillation of a subjectively experienced reality through the history of a concrete place. None of the poets conceal their life experiences, nor do they try to escape from the real into a world of utopian visions. For Miłosz and Sutzkever their own biographies serve as a gathering of chronotopes, where the collective meanings and public values of a specific time-space are tied and untied. Each poet situates his own poetic word within a familiar terrain of literary and ideological traditions. For Miłosz, Christian eschatology (Paradise—Fall—Apocalypse—Paradise Regained) combined with Polish Romantic sensuality and neo-classical form serves as the philosophical and cultural source of his literary vision. And for Sutzkever, Jewish history metabolized by a modern time experience of catastrophe provides measurement to his poetic reflections on personal and collective destinies. However, it would be wrong to simplify and generalize these two poetic worlds by their partial affiliation to specific philosophical and artistic conceptions of the world. Each of them incorporates other cultural and metaphysical traditions. Miłosz, for example, draws on the Kabbalah and local Jewish narratives, and Polish Romanticism and Russian Symbolism invigorate Sutzkever’s imagery. Consequently, while the two poets disclose the parameters of collectively shared meanings and values, they also create new dimensions for these meanings and values. And in the end, both poets develop distinctly private, mythical and eschatological conceptions of time-space that intrinsically reformulate the preexisting collective cultural perceptions of the world.

In both poetic worlds, Vilnius becomes a threshold site where the contradictions between perceived, conceived and experienced time-space provoke a reassessment of the preexisting narratives of the city. Concrete biographical encounters with Vilnius not only shape the poetic imagery of the two poets but also mold their entire philosophical outlook on life. For Miłosz, Wilno is a site of the normalcy of life; and for Sutzkever, Vilna is a place of the abnormality of life. According to their life experiences and the metaphysical interpretations of those experiences, the two writers display the distinct spatial character of the city. Yet in spite of the different biographical experiences, in both poetic visions Vilnius becomes an allegorical space where identity and alterity, euphoria and terror, beauty and ruin, and paradise and hell couple.

For Miłosz, Wilno is a site of infinite temporality and diverse spatiality. In Wilno, he attempts to shed his chronotopic identity and enter a conversation with the city’s past. He masterfully creates poetic urban topography from the minuscule detailing of architectural and landscape features, literary and archival records, historic experiences and private memories. Miłosz’s sight is authenticated by his mind, and he projects the image of the city through the prism of his own recollections, chromatically disseminating the wholeness of the past. The beam of light is necessary for Miłosz to see and describe Wilno in detail because darkness subdues everything into oblivious sameness. Therefore, Miłosz records Wilno through shifting camera movements: he describes what can be documented through exposure to the light.

In Sutzkever’s poetry, Vilna comes across as a lived place of temporal and spatial confinement, a place where the tragic experience of war surpasses any other prior sense of local continuity. For Sutzkever, the open spaces of Vilna demarcate exposure and a possible death, because the only potentially safe places in the ghetto were sewers and malines or hiding places. Hence the suffocating darkness of the cellar, rather than the airy brightness of the street, permeates Sutzkever’s poetic image of the town. So, in his poetry, Sutzkever displays layers of the unseen and unheard subterraneous cityscape, where light brings demise and the sound of the church bells announces the curse. More significantly, Sutzkever conceives the city not through sound and voice but through the violence perpetrated on his own body and mind. In Miłosz’s poetry, the city is securely fixed within personal spatial and temporal frames. In contrast, in Sutzkever’s poetry, Vilna metamorphoses together with the poet—the disintegration of the city becomes connected with the emergence of the poet.

In both poetic realms, Vilnius is positioned along the personal course of life: the city is a place of biographical arrivals and departures, a site of personal intimacy and estrangement. Nonetheless, the two different poetic visualizations of the city describe Vilnius not only according to two different biographical narratives, but also according to different collective stories and historic spatial understandings of the city. For this reason, the juxtaposition of the two poetic portrayals of Vilnius delineates the city as a locale of contesting histories, where different ethnic, cultural, religious and ideological realms create different personal experiences of the place.