The Miłosz Road: From Origins to Global Fame

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On 29 June, guests from the United States of America, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Israel and Lithuania became pilgrims of The Miłosz Road who visited some of the most significant locations marked in Czesław Miłosz’s biography, remembering the poet’s life and works.

Indrė Sekevičienė, i.sekeviciene@vkt.vdu.lt
Martynas Gedvila, m.gedvila@vkt.vdu.lt

The journey following the road of the great author was just one of the international events on 26 June – 2 July in Vilnius, Kaunas, Šeteniai and Krasnogruda, dedicated to the commemoration of the 100th birth anniversary of the Nobel Prize in Literature Winner, VMU Honorary Doctor Czesław Miłosz. The Miłosz Road told audiences about the life, the works and the indelible contribution of the great Polish writer in the context of cultural life worldwide.

The Miłosz Road Was Interesting and Diverse

After 2011 was declared the Year of Czesław Miłosz, Prof. Avižienis started looking for ways and opportunities to hold events that would speak about this person who is so near and dear to Lithuania and Poland. “The program of events of The Miłosz Road was interesting and diverse: a conference took place, a visit was paid to Miłosz’s hometown, where a wood sculpture exhibition had been updated for the occasion, also a scientific study was prepared, analysing Miłosz’s journey in life and work. One exhibition was based on the study – the main stages of Miłosz’s life and features of his works were presented, paying the most attention to his Lithuanian origins and revealing his relation to the small homeland”, the first Rector of the re-established Vytautas Magnus University, Prof. Algirdas Avižienis, explained.

According to the President of the Pogranicze (Borderland) Foundation in Sejny and the Director of the Centre “Borderland of Arts, Cultures and Nations” Krzysztof Czyżewski, he and his Lithuanian colleagues organising the events of Miłosz’s birth centennial noticed that this year marks not one but two important dates: the 100th birthday of Czesław Miłosz and the beginning of Poland’s Presidency of the European Union. “We wanted very much to declare Czesław Miłosz as the sponsor of the latter event, and we successfully did so. While organising The Miłosz Road, we all had an idea that we would depart from Šeteniai to Kransogruda. I first visited Miłosz’s homeland in 1992 with the poet himself. We were both in Šeteniai and went to Krasnogruda later. As we were walking together, I realized that Czesław Miłosz would like to rebuild everything here. You, Lithuanians, were much faster: you have rebuilt everything quicker than the Poles. The International Dialogue Center is opening its doors at the restored Krasnogruda Manor these days. The restored barn in Šeteniai and the Krasnogruda Manor, which belonged to Czesław Miłosz’s family before the war, will add a symbolic contribution to what Czesław Miłosz called the creation of a “connective tissue”, Krzysztof Czyżewski said.

A Meaningful Journey on the Miłosz Road

The program of The Miłosz Road began on 29 June, with the High Mass at the Kaunas Cathedral Basilica. Afterwards, the participants of the international conference Times and Places of Czesław Miłosz who have come here from the United States, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and Israel travelled together with Lithuanians to Vandžiogala. The graves of Miłosz’s relatives were visited, as well as the nearby Holy Trinity Church in Vandžiogala characterised by folk architecture.

The pilgrimage of The Miłosz Road later proceeded to Kėdainiai – Czesław Miłosz was one of the first ones to be declared the Honorary Citizen of this town. At the Kėdainiai Regional Museum, guests from abroad together with Lithuanians got acquainted with the interesting history of this land and admired 4 to 5 meter high crosses made by Vincas Svirskis (1835–1916) from a thick trunk of an oak. The Director of the Kėdainiai Regional Museum Rimantas Žirgulis said that these crosses, now exhibits at the museum, must have been seen by Czesław Miłosz himself in his native land.

After visiting the Old Town in Kėdainiai, the Calvinist Church and the Radvila Mausoleum in its crypt, participants of The Miłosz Road arrived to Šventybrastis. Here, on the right bank of the river Nevėžis, by the mouth of its tributary Brasta, the ancestral graves of the Sirutis and Kunatas families were visited. The site, surrounded by 500-year-old oaks, fascinated the foreign guests as well as Lithuanians, some of whom were not first-time visitors. Another landmark visited during the stopover in Šventybrastis was the local Christ Transfiguration Church, the place where Czesław Miłosz was baptised. The church, built in 1774, is a wooden folk architecture structure with stone extensions.

Poet’s Anniversary Marked in His Hometown

The pilgrims’ last stop was Czesław Miłosz hometown Šeteniai. The poetry, music and folklore celebration commemorating the writer’s 100th birthday was held here, in Miłosz’s native town, next to the restored barn now turned into a conference center. “As fate would have it, the Ces zesław Miłosz Birthplace Foundation presented this place as a gift to Vytautas Magnus University. This is both a great responsibility and a great honour. Czesław Miłosz’s native town, its exceptional aura is important not just to our university but to everyone familiar with this individual. This place is open for holding discussions: meeting and talking about topics that Miłosz touched upon. And there is a multitude of those topics, and they are still very relevant”, Vytautas Magnus University Rector Prof. Zigmas Lydeka said.

Nijolė Naujokienė, the Kėdainiai Deputy Mayor, member of the working group of Kėdainiai District and the government that was tasked with the preparation of the marking of Nobel Prize in Literature Winner, Kėdainiai Honorary Citizen Czesław Miłosz’s 100th birthday anniversary, expressed joy that these very deep, very meaningful and properly organised events are taking place here, in the district of Kėdainiai, in Šeteniai. “It suits to celebrate a birthday in the place where the person was born. Today we are following the paths Czesław Miłosz walked on in his childhood, when his inner world was still forming. Images of this place were reflected in the works of this deep, spiritual person with a philosophical outlook on life, Czesław Miłosz”, Nijolė Naujokienė explained.

Meeting Place Under the Rustling Centenarian Limes

Greeting everyone that gathered in Šeteniai, the Mayor of the Kėdainiai District Municipality Rimantas Diliūnas noted that “the Polish poet, Nobel Prize Winner was born right here, in Šeteniai – no matter how and who is interpreting his biography, nobody is contesting this fact. Perhaps these centenarian limes still remember the touch of Czesław Miłosz’s bare feet and laughter as a child. We, the people of Kėdainiai district, know and remember Miłosz and his works: we appreciate them and are proud of them. We promised this year to name one of the streets in the Kėdainiai Old Town after Miłosz, and on 6th of August we will present the Czesław Miłosz Prize to one of the researchers of his works”.

Virginija Būdienė, the Chief Adviser to Her Excellency the President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė, delivered the President’s bilingual dedication to the pilgrims of The Miłosz Road during the event: “Czesław Miłosz is a citizen of the world who connects the Lithuanian and Polish nations. He is particularly important for his unifying oeuvre which revealed how fruitful and close our nations’ collaboration can be”. By the request of Her Excellency the President Dalia Grybauskaitė, this dedication will remain in Šeteniai.

Oak Grove Grew Larger

An ever-growing oak grove in the town of Šeteniai also became larger during The Miłosz Road. Memorial nominal trees were planted by Krzysztof Czyżewski, Zigmas Lydeka, Aleksander Fiut and Rimantas Diliūnas with Nijolė Naujokienė next to the already growing ones that had emerged on other occasions. An oak tree marking the Czesław Miłosz centennial was planted next to the barn as well.

Prof. Aleksander Fiut from the Jagiellonian University in Kraków (Poland), a witness of the restoration works in the Czesław Miłosz’s hometown who had planted his own oak in the park, rejoiced: “Occasions such as the one today always lead either to pathos or to sentiments. I am very honoured to be one of the founders of the Czesław Miłosz Birthplace Foundation”, Alexander Fiut said, addressing the attending public not as Lithuanians or Poles but as friends of Czesław Miłosz.

Exhibitions Spoke About Miłosz’s Journey in Life and Works

The participants and guests of The Miłosz Road in Šeteniai were introduced to expositions telling of Czesław Miłosz’s life, its’ key stages and the most notable works of the writer. The attending public watched these expositions in a barn which has served as a conference centre since 1999, and in a park located nearby.

The Czesław Miłosz Library opened its doors during the event as well. “Books by and about Czesław Miłosz, published earlier and recently, are preserved in the library. The Polish Institute in Vilnius donated books authored by Miłosz as well as books written about him. We hope that it will keep growing, expanding and the published works will be collected in at least four languages: Lithuanian, Polish, English and French”, Janina Masalskienė, the founder of the Czesław Miłosz Library in the poet’s hometown, said.

The participants and guests of The Miłosz Road admired the updated exhibition of wood sculptures in Czesław Miłosz’s hometown. Sixteen objects in Šeteniai, at the intersections in Kėdainiai District (Cinkiškės, Vilainiai, Naciūnai, Aristava and Gimtinė) and at the Kėdainiai roundabout junction have been restored by the students and management of the Justinas Vienožinskis Faculty of Arts at the Kaunas University of Applied Sciences as part of the project Kūrybos Ir Bendravimo Džiaugsmas 2011 (The Joy of Creativity and Communication 2011) organised by the public enterprises Meninė Drožyba and the Lithuanians’ World Center on 6–17 June 2011.

During the project Kūrybos Ir Bendravimo Džiaugsmas 2011, works created at the International Wood Sculptors’ Symposium Issa Valley 2001 were restored: Hannes Hermann Bischof’s (Austria) Keltiškasis Gyvenimo Kryžius (The Celtic Cross of Life), Jaroslav Bunck’s (Czech Republic) Žemėpatis, Gyvūnijos Globėjas (Žemėpatis, The Patron of Animals), Andrzej Wasilewski’s (Poland) Dievo Motina – Seinų Globėja (Mother of God – Patron of Sejny), Piotr Szalkowski’s (Poland) Šv. Jonas Nepomukas – Vandens Globėjas (St. John of Nepomuk – Patron of Sejny), Juodoji Kiaulė Iš Č. Milošo „Isos slėnis“ (The Black Pig from Czesław Miłosz’s The Issa Valley) by Algimantas Sakalauskas, slanted cross in Naciūnai by Tomas Stambrauskas, slanted cross at the Vilainiai intersection by Julius Urbanavičius, slanted cross at the intersection of Sitkūnai by Algirdas Vaištaras, slanted cross near Cinkiškės on the Klaipėda-Vilnius highway by Arūnas Sniečkus, slanted cross in Aristava by Genrikas Galvanauskas, slanted cross at the intersection of the roundabout junction by Jonas Lukšys, Magdalena Iš Č. Milošo „Isos slėnis“ (Magdalena from Czesław Miłosz’s The Issa Valley) by Birutė Jakštienė and Velniukas iš Č. Milošo „Isos slėnis“ (The Little Devil from Czesław Miłosz’s The Issa Valley) by Adolfas Pranas Kartanas.

“It is very important to perceive the value of an object, not to damage it during the restoration, pick the right methods and materials for the restoration. Every object has its story, its language of expression. One has to help reveal the beauty materialized by the master, protecting his work from possible further decay”, Bangutis Prapuolenis, one of the heads of the Youth Creative Restoration Practice Camp (Jaunimo Kūrybinės Restauravimo Praktikos Stovykla) and a lecturer at the Justinas Vienožinskis Faculty of Arts at the Kaunas University of Applied Sciences, explained.

The events marking the 100th birthday anniversary of Czesław Miłosz were organised by the Lithuanian Literature and Folklore Institute, Vilnius University, Vytautas Magnus University, the Czesław Miłosz Birthplace Foundation, Kėdainiai District Municipality, the Lithuanian Art Museum and the Pogranicze Foundation in Sejny.

Program of Events

You are welcome to view the photo report by Jonas Petronis (j.petronis@vkt.vdu.lt) and Alvydas Vaitkevičius (a.vaitkevičius@vkt.vdu.lt).

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