Venclova’s Crow [Lithuania]

Country: Lithuania

In the striking words of Tomas Venclova in his poem ‘In the Lake Region’,
The past does not enlighten us—but still, it attempts
to say something. Perhaps the crow knows more about us
and about history’s dirt than we do ourselves.

Lithuania’s difficult past filled with suffering, certainly is not portrayed as something that is virtuous or holy. The past is described as something that attempts to inform us.

Venclcoa goes on to talk about how his Crow in the poem knows more about the people and history than the people themselves. To us, Venclova’s Crow represents Art. The deeper you venture into art forms to experience the past, more of history’s dirt and treasures are resurfaced.

Tomas Venclova was a Lithuanian poet born in 1937 who experienced firsthand the annexation and occupation of Lithuania by the USSR during and after the Second World War. He was one of the five founders of the  Lithuanian Helsinki Group whose main purpose was to ensure that the humanitarian articles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, were observed and fulfilled. In their efforts of monitoring human rights, the group would use research gained through first hand testimonials and fact-finding missions to publish reports of Soviet Human Rights abuses.

The Lithuanian group also took up the cases of Latvians and Estonians as well when it became clear that Helsinki groups were not going to be formed in the other two Baltic republics. Unfortunately, seven years after its foundation, the group ceased to exist in Lithuania. In 1977, Tomas Venclova’s dissident activities on behalf of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group led to his forced exile and residency in the US, where he teaches at Yale University.


Here is the translation of Venclova’s complete poem.


In the Lake Region by Tomas Venclova
Translated by Ellen Hinsey


When you open the door, everything falls into place—
the little ferry by the wharf, fir trees and thujas.
An old woman, feeding ducks, seems as old as Leni
Riefenstahl. At the base of the hill, chestnut trees, not yet in full bloom,
are younger—but probably as old as her films.
All is wet and bright. A hedgehog or God-knows-whose-soul
is rummaging in last year’s leaves. Dead water and living water
fill the plain. The twins Celsius and Fahrenheit
are predicting spring weather—while a shadow obscures
the past (just like the present). The first serene weeks scour the bridges
in a peaceful corner of Europe between Wannsee and Potsdam—where
much has happened, but, probably, nothing more will.
For days we have been watching a ragged crow—in the garden,
sometimes on the roof. The ancients would have said her
stubbornness augurs something. Emerging from the wood’s
depths, she lights on one antenna crossbar
then another, her surface bright as mercury
in a thermometer’s glass. But these are fever marks
we are incapable of understanding. The beginning of agony?
The past does not enlighten us—but still, it attempts
to say something. Perhaps the crow knows more about us
and about history’s dirt than we do ourselves.
Of what does she want to remind us? Of the black photos, the black headphones
of radio operators, black signatures under documents,
of the unarmed with their frozen pupils—of the prisoner’s boot or the trunk
of the refugee? Probably not. We will remember this anyway,
though it won’t make us any wiser. The bird signifies only stoicism
and patience. If you ask for them, your request will be granted.

Feature photo: Crows by Terry Madely, Flickr.



2 thoughts on “Venclova’s Crow [Lithuania]

  1. This was very thought-provoking, and I love the photo. Thank you for sharing it.

    Thank you also for visiting my short-story and wellness blog and for liking my “Frappachocolate” post. That blessed my heart.

    May God bless you.

    Best Regards,


    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the photo too! Thanks so much for your uplifting words Gwennon! I am so happy to be reading your honest comments. Take care and have a blessed New Year ahead too!!!


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