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Chronicals of Lake Narocz by Mieczyslaw Lisiewicz

This long out of print autobiographical work by this Polish author is reproduced here in full. I have transcribed the work and present it here for all to read. Copyright remains the property of the owners whoever and wherever they are. If anyone who is reading this has any historical facts, documents, maps or photographs about Narocz I would be very grateful if you would contact me, Alan at Landschaft I hope readers enjoy, as I have, the tales from this forgotten corner of the world.

Chapter II: The Map


lake Dryswiaty, Czapliniec peninsula, Lithuania, Bailystok, Lida, Wilno, Smorgen, Molodeczno, Slonim, Oszmiany, Smorgonie, Postawy, Miastro, Batoryno, lake Swir, lake Szawakszta, Terazdwor, Uzla, Usla forest, Dunilowice, Czysciec, Syrmierz, Szemetowszczyzna, Kobylnik, Bojary, Dziahile, Dokszyce, Polock, river Wilja, river Niemen, river Dzisna, river Berezyna, river Naroczanka, Iwanki, Mykitki, Miecienieta, Kacienieta, Zielonki, Holubinki, Blizniaki, Wnuki, Posaki, Rozkosz, Trudopol, Naddarek, Pociecha


Lisiewicz starts by relating his life in the theatre, with allegories drawn upon the artificial stage landscapes. He reflects upon a moment in time spent between fighting in in the Great War in Lithuania at Czapliniec (Czapliniek is in the West Pomeranian voivodship of modern Poland [Zachodnio-Pomorskie in Polish]); a moment of reflection before a shellburst destroys his reverie. He reflects now on that pinpoint of memory and decides that Lithuania (pre-war borders - now Belorussia) is where he would spend his holiday. He pores over maps and relates the geography of the region, whose landscape is formed in glacial times into a series of shallow lakes. The author relates some folk history of the Narocz environs.

Further reading



Multimap - map of Pomerania

Chapter II: The Text

FOR some time I was up to the eyes in theatre life. The only outlook which I then had the opportunity of seeing before me was the artificial horizon. At one side of the stage, always in the sombre darkness of the decorations, there hung vertically a huge roll of cloth, reaching from the floor high up into the lofty heights of the stage's upper structure. In case of need an electric motor unwound this roll of cloth, pull-ing it semicircularly on steel rails and thus closing the back part of the stage. A reflector shone upon the unwound cloth, pouring rivers of blue light on it. This was my sky. If there was a storm about to begin on the stage, or when a more gloomy atmosphere was required for a thriller, the light was lowered. Someone shouted then: "Lower the lights, Mr. Wasko"and Mr. Wasko extinguished the blue light, add-ing some darker colours, for instance) purple and dark yellow, to imitate sunset.

Together with the reflectors, a cloud projector was set in motion. There were true clouds, photographed by a specia-list. First fixed on plates, then changed into slides and mounted on a revolving drum, conjured into an unchanging shape, they travelled round and round on the half-dark cloth. Thus even the poor clouds were forcedrather like a blind horse that pulls a treadmillto co-operate in the work of human deception. There was yet another machine that threw lightnings and thunders among the clouds. The accompani-ment was the rolling of a big drum.

When words, sweet like artificial honey, or terrible like artificial pyres, were spoken on the stage, then on the artificial skies phantoms of one-time powerful cloud formations were running again and again. What a sky it was! Blue, till you were sick of it, or dark, till you had also enough of it. With a true sky it had just as much in common as a living ram leading a flock composed of Easter lambs made of sugar or plaster of Paris.

No wonder that everything was unreal under this artificial sky. Sometimes the decorations had to imitate a lake or the sea. There was Peer Gynt struggling more or less success-fullywith the waves, or Bernard Shaw pairing lovers into queer couples. Sometimes there was a forest on the stage. And then, Marcholt/ with his odd princess, would plunge into it and shout into the world of ply-wood, painted cloth and reflectors: "0 my sunshine! 0 my blessed!" Fauns and wood-nymphs would dance round Marcholt, and he, wear-ing a king's crown made of paper, would recite solemnly: "For in a forest, it is as in a church."

It was, in spite of everything, a tragic world. It was locked from behind with mighty iron doors and concrete walls, and at the front with a heavy steel curtain. It was a world guarded all the time by firemen in brass casques in case it would burn down and perish in the ashes of oblivion, like so many plays that were acted there and then forgotten.

The month of March was gone. The cloud projector moved less and less energetically. The clouds moved slowly and more slowly on the horizon, as if they were becoming exhausted. The great, fiery words of the classics fled into the dusty shelves of libraries. Count Henry's black evening dress was deposited into some naphthalene-scented depths; the gigantic decorations were removed for storage. A few chairs and a bed were all that was left to satisfy the needs of someone's willing imagination.

The time of departure was near. Where was I to go? Then I remembered a strange experience. Once upon a time the changing fates of the Great War had driven me to Lithuania. During one of the short lulls in fighting I found myself suddenly on the shore of the lake Dryswiaty. There, standing on Czapliniec peninsula, I saw the clear waters of the gulf, its glittering waves in midday sun, the endless wanderings ot the ribs and creases on the surface, driven by the wind, the shadows of fishes which swam just under the water's surface. And I felt a sharp pain in my heart, some-thing like a sob shook my inside, unvoiced, as no cry was uttered. It must have been the same pain, sharp and real, which, is felt by cage birds when they see other birds, free, above them, flying in the clouds. I was acutely aware of my bondage brought about by warand this fact, in face of the calm and quietness of the lake, made me feel rebellious. I felt )ust this natural revolt of an animal forced to do things against its instinct and its will. All this grey reality of war, all the bayonets, motor cycles, armoured cars and vehicles, shells and hand-grenades seemed to me just a bad nightmare, an intolerable injustice. I felt like throwing off the yoke of subjugation. I would stay over this lake, watch the fishes, the waves, the sun, drink the enchanted potion of days and quiet nights, till the bottom of the cup would appear, till my thirst for freedom would be quenched.

But my pacifistic dreams were brutally interrupted by burst-ing shells which drove me away from the peninsula. In a moment of most idyllic contemplation I heard a characteristic whine, followed by a muffled thud, a swarm of steel bees rushed across the branches of the trees and an avalanche of cut leaves fell on me. I had to make for shelter, willy-nilly. Such is the fate of those who think of problems of peace at not quite appropriate moments.

But . . . I was often told by old fishermen that, on whomso-ever the fishes have cast their charm, he will henceforth belong to water, and will not be happy unless he lives near water. My short stay over the Dryswiaty lake has roused my old longing for water. And surely, it was because of that, that for years afterwards, whenever I tried to imagine water, I thought of this corner of the world Lithuania."

Lithuania! I see old pines, small rivers in deep canyons. I can read the earth's history written in hieroglyphics of coloured clay, in layers of marl-stone and of sand. I think of the ancient geological epochs of glacial numbness, followed by the vivid lite of the triassic and jurassic periods; of seas that have gone dry; of extinct forests of pillworts and ferns which became the soil of the present hills with their oak groves. Like blackening silver lay- the waters amidst the rich green of the shores. Where their surface is calm, it reflects the sky, full of wallowing shapes of clouds. They move about slowly, heavy and big-bellied monsters, dark or fire-like, snowy or violet. Between them there are patches of blue sky. It is not the rich blue of the Greek skies, or the proud blue of the Italian heavens, but a pale, somnolent blue, always sprinkled with downy mists and pearl-like fans of clouds of the stratus type.

Lithuania is a land of pale colours. It happened once that I had to travel by air over it, from Bialystok to Lida, from Lida to Wilno, from Wilno to Smorgon and Molodeczno, thence to Slonim. The weather was excellent. I do remem-ber vividly all the different shades of green, from the smoky emerald of forests to the almost overdone showiness of green grass growing on marshy ground. All green colours were interspersed with the redness of iron containing clays and the brown colours of the marshes. The lakes looked blue against black spots of cultivated arable land; golden were the spots of stubble-fields. Autumn was approaching. All die mellow colours were interwoven with the rich purple of the wild vine-shoot joined together with lines of birch alleys, planted on both sides of the roads and highways, alleys of an almost transparent, delicate grey.

The earth's perfection radiated with peace and stillness.

And then I made up my mind : I would spend my holidays in Lithuania. I bought a big map of the borderland and I brooded every day over it.

"What on earth are you doing with this huge sheet of paper?" asked my wife in amazement.

"Fixing my holidays," said I.

"Would it not be better to go to 'Cook's' and make inquiries?"

I did not agree to such a suggestion. I love looking at maps. Every time I have a map in my hands, I feel some kind of surprise. So all those coloured spots, lines and dots should represent earth? But soon my ever-vivid imagination begins to work : the colours take shapes of living things, the chaos of printed names disappears. A wide horizon opens behind the net of meridians and parallels of latitude. And lo! l'm standing on the summit of a sky-high mountain (maybe it is the same mountam to which Christ was led by Satan when he wanted to show Him all the riches of the world). Stand-ing there I see: Mirrors of waters filling valleys; dark forests covering the hill slopes; rivers winding through ravines; tiny cottages dispersed over the wide area of flat country. Where-ever my eye can reach, I see traces of man's activities: high-ways built through forests and fields, wooden andiron bridges over rivers, wind-mills on hills. Even there, where juniper thickets and other forest shrubs have made roofs of shadow, I can see hidden human paths, a whole net of them, as they criss-cross near some rivulet. I feel somehow I could tread those paths with the same confidence that I would walk on a road of solid stone. I know, as if I were born there, on which side the sun rises and whither the evening shadows run before sunset. I know even (nothing will escape my awareness) in what thickets the hunted game will hide, where the wading birds will look for their food, how the deer will choose to quench their thirst at a stream, flowing through a meadow, blue with thistles in blossom.

My vision goes even further! It can penetrate the earth's interior and extract from it well-hidden secrets. No shape will remain unexposed even if it is well camouflaged under the leaves of wild hop and the thorny boughs of blackberry. I shall bring to light an old tomb, a Roman wall, an early Slavonic fortress, the foundations of some ruined mill. I see everything and I can do everythingthat is the magic of the map.

I like best of all to gaze at the northern parts of Oszmiany and Smorgonie districts around Postawy. There the majority of the map's green patches have been placed. Their monotony is interrupted by blue varieties. They form the lake Narocz with a group of interconnected lakes, Miastro and Batoryno. These are relics of a very old vintage, liquid remnants of earth's last geological period, the glacial epoch, which bound three quarters of the continents of both Europe and Asia with ice. When the earth at last made an effort to throw away the icy armour, and turn its cold body to the ever warmer rays of sun, the glaciers began to melt away. From under their feet wells of water sprang out, tears of sorrow about the glacier's near doom. Cold arid murmuring, they filled the earthly concavity, scratched with moraines, till it sputtered its marshy blood, till it sank under the weight of the melting snow. Thus, a huge mediterranean sea was formed, measur-ing some- 930 miles across its most distant tips. Under the blowing north wind enormous waves run from. this place where now are the lakes Swir and Great Szwaksztato the forests and marshes known to-day by the queer name "Terazdwor." Water was roaring there where now are the virgin forests of Uzlo and the ancient woods of Dunilowice, the marshes "Czysciec"" and the poor pastures of Syrmierz. One can distinctly recognize the shores of this inland sea, formed by the hills near Szemetowszczyzna and Kobyinik which enclose the horizon in those districts; by the rounded hills near Bojary and Dziahile, by the steep rocks of Dokszyce and those further East, just behind the mildly profiled valleys near Polock.

After the great glacial floods had dried away, the shallower parts of the sea have covered themselves with water plants which sprang up from the deposits, whereas the greater depths of the sea became separate lakes. It was probably in their present shape that they were first discovered by the nomadic crowds of skin-clad people who wandered to the south and the east. Seeing the charm and beauty of the waters of Narocz Lake, the abundance of fish and the quietness of the place, they settled down and remained there for ever.

To-day Narocz has a surface of 32 square miles. Lake Miastro is smaller, only four and a half square miles, Batoryno, three square miles, is the smallest of the lot.

The glaciers were gone at last. And then, all the hidden wells and sources which hitherto were frostbound, spouted water more plentifully than ever. Dashing along the valleys, the water formed rivers. They collected numerous streams and brooks, uniting them into stronger currents, and made their ways -in two directions : some became southbound, others northbound. They divided the country between themselves like victorious kings. Whereas each drop of water out of the lake Narocz flows north into the rivers Wilja and Niemen, the very closely situated lake Miadziol (which has very solid shores and numerous islands) sends all its waters south into the rivers Dzisna and Berezyna.

There was only one bond that united the lakes of yore: a virgin forest. It surrounded the lakes' shores, wide, deep and impenetrable, a real sea of wood. From one end of the horizon to the other there grew pines and oaks, yew-trees and ash-trees; and wherever the ground was marshy, there were bushes of juniper-and dwarf birch, the first sign (or perhaps the last remnant) of the arctic tundra. But the forest had, to succumb slowly to the human axe; it shrank and fell to pieces; and to-day it is like an enormous jig-saw puzzle, all taken apart, which no one will be ever able to put together again. The forests' largest patch of green by the lakes is called Uzla.

Like a living creature, came the forest Uzla to the shores of Lake Narocz to drink to satiety its clear waters, and to reflect i-n it the image of her tall trees. The rest of the forest's green body is crawling on the sands, clays and marshes where the estuary of the river Naroczanka meets the river Wilja to flow henceforward as one river.

Round the lakes there are black dots of hamlets, 'villages and settlements. Their queernames tell all the legendary stories of a small country district. There are among them such places as: lwanki, Mykitki, Mycienieta ahd Kacienieta, Zielonki, Holubinki, Blizniaki, Wnuki - which remind you in abridged form of the pleasures and sorrows of domestic life in the country. Such other names as Posazki, Rozkosz, Trudopol, Naddarek and Pociecha seem to be mute witnesses of some intimate stories ot the whiskered gentry of bygone days. You could guess among those long forgotten affairs the story of a dowry given to a romantic lady-of-grace" by a Lithuanian "Stolnik," in settlement of an old and complicated' love-affair. You may guess the story of the "Toil" with which a village had to be rebuilt three times because a bad neighbour burned it down each time. Now a "Trudopol," bearing a name which is half Polish and half Greek, reminds us of days which are gone for ever. Who would remember to-day with what bold wit did a poor nobleman wile this hamlet "Naddarek" (Additional Gift) from the rich magnate? For what form of service was this village "Pociecha" (Consola-tion) given, as in kind, in arable land? Was it for a mare that was lost in the magnate's service? Maybe for a fortune lost in a long and unjust law-suit? Nobody knows and nobody would care to tell you. Even a tombstone in the parish church is silent about it. No wonder that everything and everybody, men, beasts, earth and forest alike, are silent. It's Lithuania. Lithuania which is always reticent, suspicious and taciturn towards a stranger, always dusky and always mysterious.