Exile Poetry Collection Benamiai: Ideological Links

  • Inga Stepukonienė
Keywords: poetry of Siberian deportees, Benamiai, violations of personal and collective identity


During the war and the post-war years, a crisis of humanism opened up in the world – both in the public and in the literary life – and formed the self-awareness of an individual at a turning point in history. In the literature of Siberian exiles, it raised the sensations of horror, despair, and the end of the world. This feeling and poetical thinking actualizing reflections on marginal experiences and losses clearly opposed the literature of the Independence period, one of the characteristic features of which was a harmonious, bright, and hopeful perception of life. Marked by the longing for the native land and home, and by the apotheosis of the former meaningful life of the nation, the work of exiles most widely and deeply entailed this crisis of humanism in the twentieth century, the path of humanity’s self-annihilation that were reflected in poetry by the binary oppositions of life and death, reflections of depressive reality and apocalyptic stagnation, and vivid visual light and dark contrasts. In 1955, Vaclovas Gudaitis, himself a prisoner at the Inta camp of exiles, brought writing deportees together and compiled a manuscript collection of lyrical poetry from their contributions, Benamiai (The Homeless). This anthology comprised poems by seventeen authors. In 1989, the collection was edited and published by Professor Leonas Gudaitis. The poetry of Benamiai reflects violations of personal and collective identity. It reflects the coercive path of exiles that took them from their native homes to Inta. The identification of this region is associated with the chthonic world: it is aptly characterized by the iron cold, the deep freeze of the ground, Vorkuta’s snowstorms, the wastelands of Karaganda. It is an alien and forbidding space of complete external stagnation, lifeless and threatening death, in which the only sound is human lament. The common reality of an individual’s life suddenly turns into everything that is terrible: unbearable cold, hunger, screeching prison doors, torture, cruel violence, bullying, and servile labour. The symbols of the chthonic world – the black night of pain – become a metaphor for collective suffering. Finally, the human as such, debilitated by torture and hardship, not only loses one’s uniqueness and spiritual individuality, but also vital power, and eventually resembles a horrible chthonic creature – an attribute of currently inhabited space. Thus, in the poetic consciousness of the deportees, Siberia appears as a chthonic space of darkness in which the human and the nation are depreciated.