Secular poetry

The secular poetry in Karaim language forms up the most significant part of the Karaims literary heritage in Lithuania. In a poetry collection “Karaj jyrlary” (“Karaim songs”, 1989) there were published many poetic creations in Karaim language both old poems deciphered from the manuscripts (for example, some written by Izaok (1533-1594), a famous Karaim poet from Trakai) and more recent ones sometimes known as songs.

Trakai’ castle in XIX cent.

A typical example of the ancient didactic poetry could be a poem “Hej, hej, kyzhyna” (“Hey, hey, girl”) by Salomon of Trakai, a well-known theologist of the 17-18th century and poet as well. Here the author strongly following ethical and literature traditions of his time teaches a girl, how to be respected and loved. The other important piece of Salomon of Trakai is a famous “Lamentation” for the remembrance of the victims of 1710 plague in Lithuania. This Lamentation contents an extraordinary expressive language, specific rhyme and versification. As usual, it is recited at the day of All Saints’.

Simon Kobecki (1865-1933),
a Karaim poet

Among later Karaim poets from Trakai Simon Kobecki (1865 – 1933) is a greatly distinguished figure. It is his poetry collection “Irlar” (“Songs”) that was published in Kiev in 1904 is considered the first printed book of Karaim secular poetry. Kobecki also wrote various plays, interludes, and vaudevilles. The most popular themes in Kobecki’ poetry are the beauty of Trakai landscape, longing for a native town, personality of Grand Duke Vytautas, patriotic feelings and, of course, love line.

One of the main topics in Karaims poetry is Trakai. The dear beauty of this town, longings for it and romantic past of the former capital city of Lithuania make impossible for all the poets to avoid writing about Trakai. Even a love poem mostly begins with some warm words for Trakai castle, its islands or lakes. So does Johošafat Kaplanovski, a poet of 18th century creating a poem “Anda kiusiančliarim” (There is my longing):

Šahary Trochnun
otrač tiuviul-mie,
Kalasy čiuvriadian
suvdan tiuviul-mie,
Kiermian karšydan
taštan tiuviul-mie.
Ol šatyr, ol čiebiar kiundia,
Ingirdia olturma
anda kiusiančliarim.

How this city is called – a green island?
Stone lumps of it are as hard as a rock.
And the castle by the lake – the eternity silence…
My beloved, how I would like in the nights
To sit by the lake there with you.

One of the most prominent figures of Karaim culture in the 20th century, Simon Firkovič (1897-1982) has written an impressively great number of poems. Many of them rather simple both in versification and themes. The nature of Trakai is of course actively present here, too. But even more, the various topics of Firkovič poetry – the main events of the society, Karaim cuisine specialties, didactic motives for youth and children, love ballads, etc. – everything reflects his broad attitudes and comprehensiveness of life. Firkovič in his rhymes has tried to transfer for next generations main Karaim traditions, also teach how to respect them and do not lose Karaim national identity. Being an excellent psychologist and having a brilliant sense of humor, he succeeded even in writing some small pieces for amateur theatre or different interludes reflecting the main actualities of those days as well as various features of human character. The performances of these pieces were quite popular.

Because the name of Vytautas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania is closely connected to the history of Karaims, Firkovič as many other poets had rhymed also two historic ballads – “Alankasar” (“Warrior”) and “Batyr bijnin tamaša aty” (“Grand Duke’s Wonderful Horse”). Many of his poems have become songs.

Šelumiel Lopato (1904-1923),
a Karaim poet

Love for Trakai and national patriotism is characteristic for the poetry of other poets as well. Jokūbas Maleckas (1889-1952) dedicated these topics a ballad “Ėki kyryj” (“Two shores”). And other poets as Mojsiej Pilecki (1874-1938), Michail Tinfovič (1912 – 1974), Zenon Firkovič (1906 – 1958), Simonas Kobeckas (1911 – 1985) also have grately contributed to these themes.

Michail Tinfovich (1912-1974),
a Karaim poet

A very special place among karaim artists of 20th century occupies Šelumiel Lopato (1904 – 1923) from Panevėžys. This highly talented person had to die by accidence at a very young age leaving for us not numerous, but extremely mature pieces of his philosophical poetry. It is only to guess how could his talent be developed.

The poetry of Lithuanian Karaims has not yet been examined deeply. From the general view it is to notice that each poet is rather individual in his poetic expressions. But common rethorics and some symbols as well as similar inspirations unite them. The poems often are of a very simple form, unpretentious. The by-lingual (in Karaim and Lithuanian) anthology of Karaim poetry published in 1997 in Vilnius makes that part of Karaim cultural heritage more accessible both for the readers and interested scientists.