Kupala’s spring won’t dry up
[b]This summer, in the village of Vyazynka, in Molodechno District of Minsk Region, the 130th anniversary of Yanka Kupala’s birth has been celebrated in a beautiful manner, showing great love for the poet. The Belarusian Festival of Poetry, Songs and Crafts — With One Thought for the Happiness of Belarus — saw hundreds of people gather. The Jubilee Year of Yanka Kupala continues countrywide[/b]
Time of high sun
In Vyazynka, there were famous writers at every turn. Kupala’s poetry was heard everywhere, alongside that of modern poets. Meanwhile, artists and various groups performed, including the huge State Academic Folk Choir of Belarus (named after Gennady Tsitovich). Fans young and old gathered in great numbers, celebrating Kupala’s creativity and laying flowers at the monument to the first People’s Writer of Belarus.
A bronze bust of Kupala can be seen beside the farmhouse where he was born and spent his first year, although only a few of the original logs remain of the house, now part of the restored walls. His parents, who were farmers, rented their home and land from nobleman Stanislaw Zambrzycki in 1882, christening their son at Radoshkovichi Catholic Church, near Vyazynka, under the name of Ivan, Yanka. It was perhaps God’s plan to give the future writer such a name, as he was born at Kupalie time — considered to be magical and mysterious. ‘Today Kupala, and tomorrow Yan’ are words from one of Kupala’s songs. Ivan Dominikovich Lutsevich, son of the poor nobleman, was born on St. Yan’s day, July 7th: the symbolism of ancient Kupalie always resonated with him. The holiday has been celebrated across Belarus since pagan times. However, it is a huge event in the village of Alexandria, on the Dnieper River (Shklov District, Mogilev Region) — the birthplace of the President of Belarus. There, traditional Kupalie has been adapted to modern life. Foreign guests take part, with numerous events held: business and creative meetings, exhibitions and fairs, shows and concerts — organised by those from Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. The event is called Alexandria Gathers Friends.
Where June becomes July, we have the summer solstice: the time of ‘high sun’ and the longest day (and shortest night). Midsummer Night is devoted to worshipping the Sun, Fire, Water and Earth, featuring rituals to purify the body and soul in a new circle of life, with bonfires, songs and the search for the magical fern flower. On his own mystical journey of searching, it’s no great surprise that poet Ivan Lutsevich chose his nickname; like a torch, it highlights his fame and people`s love.
Every nation honours its geniuses. Belarus has Kupala, just as Russia has Pushkin, Ukraine has Shevchenko and the British have Shakespeare. Minister of Culture Pavel Latushko read extracts from Kupala’s My Prayer and Heritage at the event — both having become well-known songs. The latter’s last line is the strongest, focusing on the treasure bequeathed by our ancestors, from generation to generation: our ‘native land’. He accentuates that our Motherland is our priceless legacy, deserving attention and respect. Of course, Kupala’s own works are also treasures of which we can be proud. Deciding upon an appropriate monument to the great poet, Mr. Latushko cited the opinion of well-known writer Vladimir Korotkevich who believed that Kupala’s words should be felt in the heart and soul of all Belarusians, being sincerely written. Until his final days, dying tragically, he continued his ‘love affair’ with his native land.
From Heart to Heart
The spring in Vyazynka is like a living symbol of the poet`s soul. For many years, it has supplied a pond near an estate now called Kupalovskaya: in 1946, a plaque in honour of writer appeared there and the house was opened as a branch of the Yanka Kupala State Literary Museum. 130 years on from the birth of Kolas and Kupala, Vyazynka’s spring continues to appear from the ground, sharing its life-giving power. At Kupalie, people drink from the spring, which is abundant, seeking its symbolic powers of purity, wisdom, spirituality and beauty — of which Kupala wrote. If we embrace these qualities within our soul, like Kupala, we’ll never ‘run dry’. The poet lived among people, knowing the hard work involved in rural life, sharing their bread, language, traditions and way of life. He saw beauty in nature, ‘read’ people’s souls and forecast the future independent state of Belarus, portraying his feelings through the artistic word.
Minsk artist and sculptor Genik Loiko attended this year’s celebration with small plaster busts of the poet, which were available for sale, alongside heavier bronze versions. Distinguished among artists, he has long been an admirer of Kupala; five years ago, he even created a sculpture inspired by the poem To the Kutia; it shows two ‘spirits’ among three prominent figures. Loiko hopes to see it one day unveiled in Minsk’s Yanka Kupala Park, alongside works in the same style. He tells us that ‘he has created nothing himself, only making from plaster that which the Poet imagined’.
His Three Messengers / The Prince and The Princess features three messengers, holding variously a torch, bow and psaltery, with Yanka Kupala as one of the three. Mr. Loiko’s sculpture is sure to be popular with newly-weds, who may like to have ‘try on’ the princely crowns which are harmoniously located between the three figures. He believes that filling Yanka Kupala Park with such images would please the poet, since these celebrate aspects of his verse. In Vyazynka, near a barn and small concert stage, a large sized poster version of Three Messengers / The Prince and The Princess was erected for all to see.
Well-known literary people Victor Shnip and Lyudmila Rublevskaya are also major fans of Kupala, finding inspiration from his poetry. Lyudmila notes that she and Victor will soon mark their silver anniversary of 25 years of marriage. They’ve had their photo taken beside Loiko’s sculpture, which they adore, hoping for many future years of happiness.
Belarusian literary researcher biographer Vladimir Sodal also attended the celebration in Vyazynka, bringing his collection of local history essays, entitled Blessed Kushlyany, published four years ago to mark the 170th anniversary of Frantishek Bogushevich. The latter was a founder of modern Belarusian literature, known for saying: ‘Do not leave our Belarusian language in order not to die!’
Mr. Sodal has spent time in the homelands of Bogushevich and Kupala, writing lively essays on his impressions and discussing Kupala’s work and life. His thoughts have been published in the magazine for teachers: Rodnoe Slovo (Native Word). His most recent thoughts on Kupala were published just before the celebration, in an article entitled How Yanka was born, in the magazine Maladost (Youth). It details his birth in Vyazynka and the nature of life at that time. Who delivered him into the world? Which songs were sung to small children? Was he washed in water from the spring? Mr. Sodal views all aspects of Yanka Kupala’s life as an inexhaustible source of inspiration, being convinced that even the smallest details regarding such literary giants as Bogushevich and Kupala help us in better understanding ourselves and the land in which we live. Love for our homeland begins with such ‘travels’.
Thanks to Kupala’s works, Japanese Masako Tatsumi has learnt about Belarusian history and culture. I met her near the entrance to Vyazynka House, when she was donating her translations of the writer’s poems Who goes there? and Heritage. She came with her daughter, Yuye, joined by Dmitry, from the Information Centre of Japanese Culture (founded by Masako in 1999 in one of Minsk’s libraries). Museum curator Maria Bartkova accepted the translations.
We might wonder what brought Masako Tatsumi to Belarus. In fact, she studied Russian from the age of 12, after graduating from Tokyo’s Keio University with a diploma as a teacher and sociologist. In 1992, she travelled across Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Finland, describing her trip in a book published in Japan. She then studied in Russian Vladivostok and at the Belarusian State University before settling in Minsk and marrying. She taught Japanese language for some time, becoming a librarian after the birth of her daughter.
This spring, Maxim Bogdanovich`s Literary Museum asked her to translate his poems into Japanese, in tanka style, ready for International Museum Day. She managed the difficult task, aided by her experience of having translated other Belarusian writers into her native language. For Yanka Kupala’s jubilee, she decided to translate his two famous poems, although Masako admits that she couldn’t understand some words, which are quite archaic; colleagues helped her to understand his intentions and imagery. She plans to publish her translations in Japan and tells us that Yakub Kolas’ works are next in her sights, as his 130th anniversary is celebrated this autumn...
Museum collections are expanding
2012 is the Year of Yanka Kupala in Belarus, with his birthday celebrated widely as a national holiday. Various gifts relating to his life and works have been donated, besides those wonderful translations into Japanese. We asked the Director of the Yanka Kupala State Literary Museum, Yelena Lashkevich, which other donations she has received.
She notes that the most valuable gifts have been given by those descended from friends of Kupala, including several signatures. One is found inside a book donated in 2010; he originally presented the edition to fellow poet Konstatsia Builo, at the 8th Congress of the Writers Union. This year, the daughter of the Russian writer Alexey Novikov-Priboy, who wrote Tsushima, visited the museum, donating books and photographs signed between 1935 and 1936. It’s known that Kupala and Novikov-Priboy were friends but the latter’s daughter only discovered the signatures recently.
Another set of visitors arrived recently from the banks of the Volga, from Tatarstan: a delegation from the Yanka Kupala Museum in the village of Pyachyshchy. It was there, at the local flour mill, that the refugee writer and his wife lived, in 1941 and 1942, having fled the war. Museum Director Rima Abyzova presented the Kupala museum with a picture drawn by the poet of the view from his room in the flour mill; you can just see the landing jetting of the river.
Kupala visited Latvia, and was friends with writer Yan Rainis from 1926. Researchers have carefully sought (and found) Kupala’s signatures within books kept by Jūrmala’s Memorial House-Museum of Yan Rainis and his partner — another poet called Aspasia. Many of the editions Kupala gave as gifts to Yan have been found inscribed, with the date marked November 19th, 1926. Written in Latin script but in Belarusian language, he wrote ‘Dear glorious Ya. Rainis…’
A hundred thousand fans
Belarusian-Latvian contacts are thriving, partly thanks to the works of Yanka Kupala and other literary men. Yelena Lashkevich notes that the main Belarusian school in Riga was renamed after Yanka Kupala in 2010. This May, an exhibition entitled Yanka Kupala in the Dialogue of Cultures opened there, organised with help from the Union of Belarusians of Latvia. The school is opening its own museum of Yanka Kupala, with a memorial plaque in honour of the writer to be unveiled. The Kupala Museum plans to donate copies of some documents, pictures and other exhibits.
Meanwhile, marking the 130th anniversary of Yanka Kupala’s birth, one of the squares in the Israeli city of Ashdod is being renamed after him. The sixth largest city in Israel, it became a twin city to Brest this year. The square is likely to have a clock with a memorial sign or stele, featuring a fern branch as a symbol of the Kupalie holiday and the writer himself.
Belarusians in Moscow also plan to unveil a plaque in honour of Yanka Kupala in that capital city and several locations are being considered: in 1915, he entered Moscow City People`s University (named after Shanyavsky); in 1916, he married Vladislava Stankevich at the Church of St. Piotr and St. Pavel; and, in 1942, he tragically died in the city.
The Year of Yanka Kupala continues, with several books published. One details his travels across Slovakia in October 1935, written by Mikola Trus. Exhibitions are also being held, with displays updated at the newly renovated Yanka Kupala Museum. Last year, it welcomed over 100,000 visitors — mostly schoolchildren, students and young professionals. The ‘people’s path’ to the house of the writer, as well as those places forever marked by his invisible presence, remain open to those who would drink of his creativity.
By Ivan Zhdanovich
Minsk — Vyazynka