The Lithuanian Seimas (parliament) has declared 2021 the Year of the poet Vytautas Mačernis, marking the 100th anniversary of his birth. Schools are organizing writing contests, and various cultural institutions are staging readings of his work, particularly in the area of Plungė, near where he was born. Klaipėda native Audrius Sabūnas, studying civil engineering in Japan, hopes to post readings of Mačernis’ work on YouTube in several languages.
Mačernis himself knew eight languages, not including his mother tongue – the dialect spoken in Žemaitija, the western region of Lithuania where he was born. He studied English at Vytautas Magnus University, then philosophy at the University of Vilnius, and was hoping to continue his studies at the Sorbonne, but was killed in 1944 by shrapnel from an explosion at the young age of 23.
His poetry reflects his search for self, for God and the meaning of life, and thus still appeals to young Lithuanians everywhere. A sensitive soul living through war and occupations, he wrote poems expressing suffering, depression, and a hostile world. He is widely known for his sonnets, and especially what he called his “Visions” and poems called “Songs of Myself”, and was one of the acknowledged leaders of the “new” Lithuanian poetry.
According to the declaration by Seimas, the study of Mačernis’ work and its context is important for historical consciousness and cultural identity.