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Mačernis was born in the village of Šarnelė (now in Plungė district municipality), to the parents Vladas Mačernis and Elžbieta Mačernienė and was the 2nd eldest among his 13 siblings (of whom 6 died in early childhood). He grew up in his home village, where he wrote most of his poems. His grandmother, who died in 1934, appears in most of his poems as a warm and pleasant memory, as the poet's relation with his grandmother was much closer than the one with his mother.
In 1935 he finished Seda Progymnasium and continued his education in Telšiai Gymnasium. It was in the gymnasium that Vytautas started writing poems. His biographers describe his personality as withdrawn and thoughtful during those years.
Vytautas Mačernis studied English language and literature in Kaunas and philosophy at the University of Vilnius. He would attend lectures related to Lithuanistics, as well as those delivered by Vincas Krėvė, Vincas Mykolaitis-Putinas, take part in the seminars by Balys Sruoga. In 1943 when the university was shut down during the Nazi occupation, he went back to his home village, where he self-studied astronomy and physics, translated works of Oscar Milosz, studied French, having had plans to study in the University of Sorbone. Mačernis was keen on languages and could speak German, English, French, Italian, Russian, Latin and Greek, apart from his native Samogitian and Standard Lithuanian ones.
Mačernis died in 1944.
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Mačernis dedicated his short life for searching the purpose of human life. His first poem was published in 1936, the last one – in October 1944. He had written sonnets, visions, triolets, songs and short aphoristic poems.
The only cycle he could finish was "Vizijos" (Visions, 1939–1942). He had also created 81 sonnets of the cycle "Metai" (Years) out of the 96 planned, 14 "Songs of Myself", as well as the prologue of the poem "Žmogaus apnuoginta širdis" (Person's Denuded Heart).
Many poems written by Vytautas Mačernis are philosophical, strongly linked to existentialism, as the lyrical subject often experiences spiritual suffering over not comprehending the world, being alien in it. The outer world is often depicted as hostile and incognisable. In the cycle "Visions" the world holds the image of a "fierce night", "vagrant wind", "wandering bird lost in space".
- Kvietkauskas, Mindaugas (2011). Transitions of Lithuanian Postmodernism: Lithuanian Literature in the Post-Soviet Period. Rodopi. p. 295. ISBN 9401207283. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
- Greene, Roland; Cushman, Stephen (2016). The Princeton Handbook of World Poetries. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400880638. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
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