Maps of Imagination: The Poetic Reality of Vilnius

Laimonas Briedis (Vilnius University)

Geography and literature share an affinity for assembling unknowable, invisible and changing elements of space into a readable, stable and harmonious vision of place. Both rely on symbols, images and facts to create a narrative that exists in between real and imaginary structures of the world. Poetry, as much as cartography, is a form of mnemonic art that allows time to become visible in space: a deliverance of the past into future. In essence, the map and text are perfect examples of the chronotope, a deliberate fusion of time and space with a singular goal of making reality a manageable construct of a specific, historically situated mindset. My paper is about reading Vilnius against the poetic cartography of the city’s memory. Due to traumatic demographical, linguistic and ideological changes of the last century, most Vilnius-themed poetry has been created outside Lithuania. Indeed, exile, annihilation and memory (or the lack thereof), have become a creative force behind the global dispersion of the literary geography of the city. Under such circumstances, in the words of Czeslaw Milosz, poetry becomes a testament of the place, for those “who are alive receive a mandate from those who are silent forever.  They can fulfill their duties only by trying to reconstruct precisely things as they were and by wresting the past from fiction and legends.” In essence, Milosz calls for a poetic apocatastasis, a reconstitution of (real but lost) space in imagination; and I will try to follow his suit.

Comments are closed.