Kudirka’s National Anthem behests will live forever

Lithuanian leaders sing the national anthem

For the sixth time in a row, all Lithuanians, in their Homeland and abroad alike, celebrating the Lithuanian King Mindaugas’ coronation every year on 6 July, have coalesced for singing Lithuania’s National Anthem in over 30 countries worldwide. Behind the heart-gripping but simple verses there stands Vincas Kudirka, an outstanding 19-century public activist, publicist, song and satire writer and the author of Lithuania’s national anthem.

Regimantas Tamošaitis, associate professor at Vilnius University, known for his research into Kudirka’s literary legacy and life, kindly agreed to share with the Lithuania Tribune some of his insights about the author of the National Anthem.

How would you describe Vincas Kudirka?

He’s great and one of the greatest the nation has ever had: a Lithuanian Gogol, vitriolic and passionate satiric. Also, a pathetic poet, fiery publicist and, of course, the author of the National Hymn above all.

What has been his impact on Lithuanian literature?

When I ever catch myself musing about Kudirka and his impact on the Lithuanian culture, I often wonder whether anyone else besides him could have been able to create a hymn that is so unique, excellent and relevant for all times.

To tell the truth, sometimes I am aghast at the thought that, if not Kudirka, our national anthem would have been written perhaps just recently, perhaps by some contemporary author.

But the thought makes me shiver and sends goose-bumps all over my flesh. As today’s nearly all national symbols we have seem distorted, modernly deformed or contorted with individualistic suffers- lacking monumentality, a modern hymn would be similar. Differently from the modernists striving for self-expression and individual expression, Vincas Kudirka did not seek any individualism, that need would have been incomprehensible to him.

Therefore, he has done something unique, which suits all, regardless of time.

Vincas Kudirka

As plain and simple National Anthem is, can it be interpreted in any way?

It is tantamount to asking if there is any other interpretation of the prayer Our Holy Father…It is hardly possible to interpret it otherwise, as anthem is as simple as the prayer. No hidden implications, nothing to be deciphered between the lines like in some of other literary works of the century.

So again, it is a very fundamental text, a moral time-proof formula of our nation. In other words, (it is) a manifestation of Lithuanian-ness, pronounced at a time when the dawn of Lithuanian consciousness started shimmering. Until then, the formula had been consisting of live blood, shed profusely on so numerous occasions. Though out of the consciousness yet, but active, it was already there…

It had been so until the necessity of having the nation’s will united ahead of a looming danger appeared- then it (formula) reached the daylight of the language and the budding nation’s consciousness.

Sure, there’s out there some of what I call post-modernistic “nagging” over our anthem in some modern textual analyses. But they are not worth talking about, as negative consciousness tends to search for dark dots even on the Sun.

Let it be, but from all aspects National Anthem is exclusively successful, transparent and clear.

I believe it will remain that way for ever, exhibiting the strength of our Motherland, its glorious past and presence which participants we are united in a single family with a unique language, culture and history. That we possess all this like a gift is like a miracle of fate and beyond it.

And to quote Adomas Mickevičius, only person who ever has been stripped of the gift can comprehend the loss-it is akin to loss of parents- and the meaning of the gift.

National Anthem is written in a secular language, free of religious connotations, though the Christian paradigm is evident. Is that part of its eternity?

Our wellbeing relies on our harmony, and it is about the people’s relations, as well as the light of consciousness and understanding and being in the truth.

To me national anthem is manifestation of the drive of life, strength and will, a kind of a religious formula of existence, expressed, however, in a very simple civil language.

The classic and romantic rhetoric that Vincas Kudirka used in it gives it aristocratic beauty, some peculiar aesthetic patina, which makes the text of hymn out of the ordinary - very special and national as if the ancestors’ paintings in a royal palace.

Lithuanian national anthem sung in the US
Foto: Organizatorių archyvas

Therefore, no modernistic stylists would be able to re-paint it without destroying the meaning of the text.

So again, this is a text we have to live by, but not interpret (it), though activity of mind and awareness of modernity sometimes ill-serve as the deterrence from truth and impels to question everything, the text including.

Still, what is the message that the simple words of anthem being mechanically sung both by primary school children, parliamentarians and best athletes convey us from the past?

The message for all of us is the following: when put together, we make the nation of Lithuanians. As we often tend to define a nation according to some formal characteristics, like a common territory and language, there’s a lot more beyond this, perhaps being felt in the hearts- some hardly identifiable spiritual substance that crops up with a deluge of high-spirited emotions we may, for example, feel when singing folklore songs together. Namely the substance turns a simple congregation of people into one nation and serves later as the commandments, or behests for the nation’s spirit’s rejuvenation and wakening of its consciousness.

What are the behests?

“Let your sons ladle the strength from the past…” It means the roots of our nation - the past and our traditions - nourish us. Unfortunately, many tend to forget it, but the bottom-line is the following: nation is like a tree, it cannot grow without roots.

“Let your children walk the ways of virtue only…”?

It’s a behest to keep purity on all levels - both of mind, feelings, words and behaviour. Only purity allows dip out water from the source of the past. If the bowl is unclean, whatever we ladle out will get dirty. So the behest is to have the bowl - man - clean in all regards all the time.

“Let (people) work for your benefit and the people’s wellbeing…”?

It’s a command to unselfishly serve others - labour without aiming to use the fruits of labour just for your own purpose, a clearly Christian command.

And then there comes this line: “Let the Sun take away from Lithuania all kinds of its darkness…”

This refers to deity; remember: our ancestors worshipped nature and saw a manifestation of God in the Sun.

Then we come to this: “Let both the Light and Truth lead our strides…”

When darkness is gone, eliminated, then logically the perception of Light and Truth is clear. Those two spiritual principles come in an inseparable unity, but it is so in all faiths.

And last but not least: “Let the love of Lithuania burn in our hearts…”

After Truth is perceived, true Love is born. But not the love we imagine on a daily level. The real love is absolute and unconditional, requiring a long way to go to the broader perception of it.

Wisdom often is expressed with simple words. Upon seeing a simple but wise text, many tend to marvel at the simplicity.

So are the Kudirka National Anthem’s behests - very simple but emanating lots of wisdom. As we all belong to a single cohesive formation, the nation, whose spirit has always been pure and waiting for our personal resolutions, the Kudirka behests in National Anthem will always remain important and inviting.

Some literature adepts say Vincas Kudirka would have secured a more significant place in Lithuanian literature textbooks, if it weren't for his satires. Do you agree?

Well, indeed there is some sense in this. But securing a place in history was not his goal.

I pay a tremendous respect to him for his satiric works. Namely, they have prevented him from becoming the nation’s monumental symbol for ever, as irony and power are always on the course of collision: sarcasm aims to destroy authoritarian power structures. Remember that no regime ever liked other sarcastic authors, be it Ignas Šeinius or Balys Sruoga.

I dare say, if it weren't for his National Anthem, perhaps nobody would remember Kudirka today.

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