Highlights of His Works That Reveal the Lives of the People He Served
The poem Metai (The Seasons) consists of 4 parts: “Joys of Spring,” “Summer Toils,” “Autumn Wealth,” and “Winter Cares.” In these 4 idylls, totaling 2997 hexameters, the natural setting of Lithuania Minor, its people, their work, and their customs are depicted. The poem forms a realistic portrayal of Lithuanian peasant life in the 18th century, as it was affected by colonization. Germans, Austrians, Swiss, and French were brought in and given special consideration by the government. They became the upper class of landlords and officials while the indigenous inhabitants became the lower class of serfs. In The Seasons the village life of the latter is patriarchal. The natural virtues idealized by the Pietist movement– diligence, piety, honesty, and submission to authority– flourish. The social consciousness of the people is largely dormant. There are only a few characters who accuse the gentry and the government of exploiting the people. However, such characters are not portrayed sympathetically; they are considered degenerates by the villagers in the poem and by its author. The poet tells his readers that all men were created equal in the beginning and that only later did some become lords and others serfs. Donelaitis calls the latter burai (boors), and shows deep sympathy for them. He reprimands their evil exploiters, but he does not raise any protest against the system of serfdom.
The contrast between the classes coincided with national and moral divisions. The villagers were Lithuanian. The immigrant colonists tended to weaken their virtues with their drunkenness and backsliding from the church. The poet condemns their vices and urges his Lithuanians (the Lietuvninkai) to preserve their traditions–language, customs, and dress. In a word he preaches passive resistance with some exceptions. The author recognizes certain desirable traits in the newcomers. For instance, he urges Lithuanian women to learn industriousness and other useful virtues from the German women. It is evident that with the passing of the old patriarchal culture, the Lithuanian village with its traditions was sinking in the immigrant culture.
The Seasons followed the tendency not to portray cities and aristocrats but rather the natural setting of the village and its inhabitants; the peasants were not sentimentalized stereotypes. People in The Seasons are drawn realistically, with their labors, experiences, cares, and primitive mentality, abounding with mythology. Thirdly, Donelaitis is characterized by his clear stand in the social, ethnic, and moral clash between the immigrant colonists and the old Lithuanian inhabitants.
The Seasons does not have any single, simple plot, with detailed characters. The characters are sketchy; they are simply good or bad. Donelaitis does not give detailed description of objects or persons. He shows them, acting and speaking, even larger than life. The poet knows the psychology of peasant and serf, and creates original images.
His subject touches upon practical life in an agricultural society; he is able to recreate in words the world and the speech of the rustics he portrays.
He felt that he should teach his rustics the true way of life and wisdom based upon the principles of moderation, cheerful humble acceptance of reality, and satisfaction with life. These precepts grow partly out of the influence of the Pietist philosophy, partly out of his vocation as a priest, partly out of his varied experience of life.
In 1775 the Autman, i.e. administrator of the royal estate in Tolminkiemis, Ruhig, started the separation proceedings for the common pasturelands of the royal estate and the village. This conflict with the royal estate lasted for a long time and was resolved by a court in favor of the parish only five years after Donelaitis’ death
Donelaitis died on February 18, 1780, at age of 67. He was buried under the church of Tolminkiemis.
Tolminkiemis is only 15 km from the present border of southwestern Lithuania. Under extended German rule the Lithuanian name of the village was preserved in the German transcription Tolminkemen. After World War II the Russians changed it to Chystye Prudy and colonized it with their own people. The church and other buildings erected by Donelaitis were destroyed. From under the ruins of the church, in the crypt of which the pastors of the parish were customarily buried, the presumed remains of Donelaitis were recovered. Based on skull structure, the appearance of the poet has been reconstructed.
English is the seventh language in which the works of Donelaitis have been translated. His work provides insight into the culture, soul, and destiny of a nation which even in the time of oppression made itself heard through the voice of Kristijonas Donelaitis (Christian Donalitius). The Seasons has become a part of Western cultural heritage.
Encyclopedia Lituanica, Boston, 1972, p.p.94-99
Introduction to The Seasons by Elena Tumas in commemorative publication of 250 anniversary of Donelaitis’ birth.
Los Angeles: Lithuanian Days Publishers, 1967, p.p.9-21
The Life and Age of Kristijonas Donelaitis by Aleksas Vaskelis
Lituanus, Vol.10, Number 1, Spring 1964, Chicago, p.p.8-33