A survey of Estonian literature


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A survey of Estonian literature
Physical Description:
31 leaves : ; 29 cm.
Oras, Ants, 1900-
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Subjects / Keywords:
Estonian literature   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Ants Oras.
General Note:
Caption title.
General Note:
"A private copy of the original English MS which was translated into Italian as 'Letteratura Estone' and published in ... 1957."

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University of Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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oclc - 46413874
lcc - PH631 .O73 1957
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Professor of English
University of Florida
(Formerly University of Tartu)

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Professor of English
University of'Florida
(Formerly University of Tartu)


I. Origins ............ ...........................o.........1

II. National Awakening, ........................... ......3

III. "Young Estonia"...... ..............................6

IV, The "Siuru" Group.....................................12

Va Realism, o................ .............o............... 16

Vi. Reaction to Realism.................................O20

VIIo After the Second World War.......................... ,23

A Note on the Author and His Country..... .....,,,,....26

NOTE: This is a private copy of the original English MS which
was translated into Italian as "Letteratura Estone"
and published in the copyrighted volume Storia delle
Letterature Baltiche, Giacomo Devoto edo, "Nuova
Accademia Editrice", Milano 1957, oh pp. 13-72,

-L',. c-, ^ s4q


The literature of the Estonians, a Finno-Ugrian people closely related to the
Finns, is of comparatively recent date, if we do not count their extraordinarily
rich folk poetry which has remained alive well into the present century and has
been recorded in hundreds of thousands of manuscript pages, several thousand of
which have been perpetuated in print. As far as history and prehistoric archeology
are able to tell, the Estonians are the earliest inhabitants of an area situated
due south of Finland, about two hundred kilometers west of the present Leningrad,
surrounded on three sides by water the Baltic Sea and Lake Peipus -, and un-
protected by any natural boundaries only in the south, where it borders on present-
day Latvia. This geographical situation was never sufficiently safe to ward off
raids from outside, but until relatively recently it kept Estonia from being com-
pletely engulfed by Slavic expansionism, enabling the inhabitants to preserve
their language, customs, and ancient lore. Until the early thirteenth century, the
Estonians,although temporarily losing parts of their territory, about equally
often managed to keep their Germanic and Slavic invaders in check by successful
counter-attacks. Then, assailed almost simultaneously by Scandinavians and by
German adventurers pressing north-eastward under the disguise of a religious
crusade, they after a long struggle lost their independence,

Christianity, imposed upon them by the victorious aliens, brought for them
decimation, economic enslavement, and eventually the loss of personal liberty,
but, at least for a long time, hardly any spiritual relief. Not until Sweden,
by that time a democratic nation, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
temporarily weakened the grip on them of their alien landlords, the descendants of
the Teutonic Knights, were the barriers slightly lowered that prevented them from
acquiring any education. The Great Northern War, after massacres reducing the
population to only a fraction of its original number, brought Estonia under Russian
domination, restored the power of the foreign upper class to its previous level
and postponed intellectual development for over a century.

The folk poetry of the Estonians, their only means of exercising verbal artistry
during these dark centuries, is too extensive a subject to be discussed here in
any detail. Its form, the so-called "regivgrsid" semi-quantitative octosylla-
bic verses, trochaic when sung, but otherwise artfully varied in their rhythm,
highly alliterative, and rich in parallelism and picturesque periphrastic formulae
is almost exactly identical with that of the Finnish folk runes. Mainly lyrical,
this poetry abounds in primitive animism. Its formal sturcture encourages a lux-
urious revelling in variations on a basic theme. While highly musical, it is
also capable of rugged realism, but the element of artistic play is always very
marked. Ballads and epic songs are less frequent than in Finland. Feeling is
seldom expressed directly: the Estonian folk singers preferred to suggest it.by
their general tone and imagery. The concept of "Ilo" beauty, delight, play, all
in one word is prominent in these songs, but their dominant key is melancholy.
All facets of early Estonian life are expressed in them with force and varied
beauty. As a typical and conveniently brief example the following song may be
quote d


Helise, helise, h1ali,
Kdlise, k6lise, keeli,
Laja vastu, laasi suuri.
KUll on aega vaiki olla,
Kui saan alla musta mulla,
Valge laudade vahele,
Kena kerstu keskeelle,

(Ring, ring, voice, Sound, sound, speech, Resound, great forest. There will be time
to be silent When I rest in the black earth, Between white boards, In the
comely coffin.)

While the speech stress is always on the first syllable, the musical stress
makes these lines trochaic. Much of the charm of this form consists in the well-
regulated contrast between these two rhythms, which no translations have been
able to reproduce.

Although such songs echoed through centuries of Estonian life, they went un-
recorded. The first printed books a Roman Catholic catechism published in 1517,
now lost, and a Lutheran catechism brought out in 1535 formed the beginning of a
meagre trickle of religious literature mostly written in awkward foreigners'
Estonian. In the sermons of Georg Muller (c. 1600-1606), interesting as linguistic
and historical documents, the author claims to be "half dead with shame" because
the "silly sheep" of his congregation were unable "to sing properly" the uncouth
prose translations of protestant hymns then available. Intrigues among the
foreign clergy itself delayed the publication of sermons and prayer books in the
vernacular, as well as the translation of the Bible, which through the good
offices of the Swedish ecclesiastical authorities had been made ready for the
press at least as early as 1680, but did not appear until 1739, in a text
spoiled by last-minute Germanisms inserted by a proof-reading ecclesiastic The
New Testament had appeared in 1686 in the dialect of South Estonia, and in 1715
in that of North Estonia. Anton Thor-Helle's complete North Estonian Bible
established the supremacy of that dialect.

The syllabo-accentual prosody of German poetry as defined by Martin Opitz,
which was to oust the Estonian folk metre, was first used in feeble experiments
made by Tallinn schoolmasters for the amusement of the wealthy burghers of that
city, and subsequently in a metrical hymn book published in 1656. It was in this
metrical tradition that an Estonian, Kasu Hans, sexton of the church of Puhja
near Tartu, composed a simple but not unmoving elegy on the destruction of Tartu
and the deportation of its people in 1708. This moralizing piece in unpretentious
couplets is the first poem by an Estonian whose author's name has come down to us.

Despite the foundation of the University of Tartu by King Gustavus Adolphus in
1632, local Baltic-German opposition made it all but impossible for Estonians to
acquire much education even under the friendly Swedes. The situation deteriorated
immeasurably when the Baltic nobility after the Great Northern War recovered all
the ground it had lost, forcing the rural population into serfdom. The spirit of
enlightenment, represented by some German-trained pedagogues, pastors and doctors,
and the religious movement of the Moravian brethren, which sincerely considered
all men equal before God, diffused some literacy and produced some didactic and
religious literature, stimulating such Estonians as Michael Ignatius (1713-1777) and
Mango Hans (born c. 1720) to voluminous if by no means artistic literary activity.
Sermons, prayers, sentimental stories, didactic narratives impressing on the


country folk the need for obedience to their betters, almanachs containing prac-
tical advice as well as some primitive fiction were all the spiritual nourishment
available to the Estonian small-holder who knew only his own language. Some
scholarly-minded individuals like A. W. Hupel (1739-1819) systematically studied
social conditions in the rural districts, produced solid linguistic studies in
German, and collected proverbs and riddles. It was Hupel who provided Herder with
the Estonian folk songs included in the latter's famous Volkslieder I (1778).

Under the relatively liberal Tsar Alexander I conditions changed somewhat for.
the better. The university of Tartu, closed since the Great Northern War, was
reopened, rural education was improved. Serfdom was abolished but the land became
the inalienable property of the great landlords, the tenants being compelled to do
corvee under pain of physical punishment or eviction. Yet the mirage of freedom
was in the air, and loopholes for at least a few individuals had been created.
An Estophil movement, believing in the possibility of a native Estonian culture, came
into being. Scholarly men like Otto Wilhelm Masing (1763-1832) and Johann Heinrich
Rosenplanter (1782-1846) edited periodicals for the study of Estonian lore.
Masing also published an Estonian weekly, Marahva Ngddala-leht (The Country Folk's
Weekly), in which he successfully demonstrated the possibility of a pointedly intell-
ectual Estonian style,

The first real artist to write in Estonian, however, was a young man, K r i s t i a n
J a a k P e t e r s o n (1801-22), a poor bell-ringer's son who went to study
classics in Tartu but died before taking any degree. In his contributions to
Rosenplanter's Ehstnische Originalblatter fu*r Deutsche his idealizing mind conjured
up a picturesque national Pantheon modelled on Finnish mythology, which may have
had some influence on later Estonian mythologists of romantic leanings. However,
his real importance lies in his poetry, influenced by Pindar, Horace, Theocritus,
Milton and the free rhythms of Klopstock, but kindled with an enthusiasm and life
of its own. He translated Greek Anacreontics, but his best poems were odes in
irregular metres with a touch of genuine classical grandeur. Although Masing's
encyclopaedist rationalism saw nothing of value in these odes and they remained
unpublished, the early nineteenth century revived Peterson's memory, His youthfully
bold figure, flaunting colourful Es3,'[I.n _n national dress. in sedate Tartu, arrived
too early on the scene to have any effect on his contemporaries,


After the death of Alexander I, the reactionary rule of Nicholas I for a while
frustrated the hopes harboured by the Estonians. The Baltic nobility, again firmly
entrenched, indulged in monstrous abuses of their power, encroaching on their
tenants' land, carrying out mass evictions and sowing despair that often led to local
revolts, always ruthlessly suppressed, Germanization seemed the only way out for
the educated, blind conformism prevailed among the bourgeoisie. It was to a large
extent through literature that this situation was changed. A small group of
exceptional men and women, inspired by the romantic belief in the existence of a
national genius, revived the hopes of the people. A national Renaissance was

Two men, both bearing Germanized names according to the custom of the time,
F r i e d ri c h R.o b e r t F h 1 ma n n (1798-1850) and Frie d r i c h
Re i n h o d K re u t z w a 1 d (1803-1882), were largely responsible
for this change. FPhlmann, the initiator, founded the Learned Estonian Society

in Tartu, an organization which methodically promoted the study of the Estonian
language, culture, and ancient lore, Under the influence of the Finnish Kalevala,
and probably also taking some hints from Peterson, he constructed a highly
poetical monotheistic cosmogony and sketched the plan for a national epic on the
legendary hero Kalevipoeg, the son of the ancient king Kalev. In a number of tales
vaguely reflecting folk tradition he illustrated his conception of what the
genius of the Estonians was like. Some of these, especially the tale of Koit
and MHmarik (Dawn and Afterglow), the chaste lovers who meet only in the white nights
of midsummer, became internationally known and inspired poets in several languages,
Fdhlmann's poetical output, though slender, includes some remarkable items, above all
"The Old Man's Song Before His Death", a magnificent ode in Asclepiads, moving and

After Fdhlmann's premature death his friend Kreutzwald, practicing as a provincial
doctor in the small town of Voru, but already known as a poet and an authority
on folklore, was invited by the Learned Estonian Society to continue the work
on the son of Kalev. After five years of concentrated effort he produced a first
version and after four more years, the final text of the epic poem Kalevipoeg
(1857-1861). Following Ldnnrot's plan in compiling the Kalevala, he included as
much authentic folk material as he could find, composing the connecting links
in the same metre and style. There is, however, much more of Kreutzwald in the
Estonian epic than there is of Linnrot in the Finnish one, Kreutzwald's neo-classicist
rhetoric and Ossianic haze stand out very perceptibly from among the authentic
parts. Besides, his metre is less flexible and varied, and he had failed fully
to assimilate the profound animism of Estonian folk poetry. Even so, the total
effect is powerful. Kalevipoeg, the gigantic hero of superhuman. strength, conqueror
of the evil demons and hell, the voyager to the end of the world, burdens himself
with tragic guilt. He is maimed by his magic sword, and his hand is imprisoned in
a rock, to emerge from it only when freedom shall dawn over Estonia: but that
time will come, Kalevipoeg's mighty hand will be raised, and "'all torches will
burst aflame at both ends."

The effect of Kalevipoeg, while not immediate, proved enormous. A great past
had been created for the subjugated Estonian nation. In the words of the Estophil
enthusiast Georg Schulz-Bertram, "the beggar discovered that he was really a
prince". As a stimulus for the Estonian national awakening, Kalevipoeg can hardly
be overrated.

Kreutzwald's other work, not counting his didactically tinctured prose, became
much less popular. His lyrics were too reserved, and his philosophic epic in
ottava rima, Lembitu (1885) was too undogmatic and esoteric for his time. In
his relations with his contemporaries, he remained critical and aloof, shunning
the role of leader.

The leader for the time being, Johann Woldemar Jannsen(1819-1890), editor of the
first Estonian newspapers, Perno Postimees (1857-1863) and Tartu Postimees
(1864-1880), was much less critical, of a jovial nature, free and easy and not
always independent, but successful in promoting national interests. The times
had changed once more. Under Alexander II serfdom was abolished in Russia in
1861, and conditions in the Baltic provinces were likewise improved. It was made
possible for tenants to buy their land, and the opportunity was eagerly taken.
Illiteracy disappeared almost entirely in Estonia and a large, hopeful audience
listened to the voices proclaiming an Estonian Renaissance. A great song festival
organized in Tartu in 1869 further inflamed national hopes. An Estonian Literary
Society was founded in the same city, and attempts were made to obtain permission


for a higher school to educate Estonians in their own language. The most poignant
literary expression of the feelings of those days was the poetry of Jannsen's
gifted daughter Lydia, who under the pen-name of L y d i a K o i d u 1 a (1843-1886)
produced powerful patriotic lyrics, simple, straightforward, sincere and musical,
Koidula's own fate was tragic. Having married a Germanized Latvian doctor, she
spent her last years in the Russian island fortress of Kronstadt, longing for her
native land until she died of cancer at the age offorty-three. During this period
of exile, she wrote her best and most moving verse, tormented not only by home-
sickness but by the awareness that a new danger, that of forcible Russification,
was threatening her people,

Koidula's verse has the force of burning conviction and intense feeling. Much
of it, set to music, is still sung wherever Estonian is spoken. Her plays and
stories are less impressive, but her comedies did much to stimulate the rise of a
national theatre. None of the other lyricists of the national awakening Friedrich
Kuhlbars, Mihkel Veske and others can be compared to her, the "Nightingale of the
Ema River", as she was popularly called, Historical novels romanticizing the
national past e.g. by E. Bornhdhe (1862-1923) and A. Saal (1861-1931) were
avidly read but can hardly count as serious literature. Epic poems (e.g, Jakob
Liiv's The Desert Lion), ballads, for instance those of Jakob Tammm and Jaan Bergmann,
introduced new motifs and enriched and invigorated-versification, but for a couple
of decades no outstanding literary figure appeared. A wave of Russification not
foreseen by the fiery patriot Carl Robert Jakobsoh (1841-1882), who had hoped to
find help from the Tsar against the Baltic Barons soon made free expression almost
impossible, National scholarship, less exposed ideologically, was effectively
promoted by the brilliant work on folklore of Dr, Jakob Hurt (1839-1907) but
otherwise the years before the turn of the century formed a depressing anticlimax
to the times of Kalevipoeg and Koidula's lyrics,

Even so, literary production had greatly increased, a considerable national press
had been created, prosperity had advanced rapidly, and the demand for new reading
matter grew apace. In the chilling atmosphere of those years, the predominant
taste was for realism. It was fully met by the spendthrift talent of E d u a r d
W i 1 d e (1865-1933), a professional journalist of prodigious versatility, who
after producing hosts of sketchy but vivid, often humorous short stories soon
displayed first-rate gifts as a novelist, A man of unusual boldness, always ready
to take risks with the authorities, ironical, cheerful, sarcastic, but also capable
of tragic force, Wilde spent his talents and his life with equal carelessness, A
Social Democrat as well as an uncompromising patriot, he became a rolling stone,
moving from country to country, writing for newspapers abroad, and incidentally
studying contemporary literary trends in the West, It was abroad that he realized
the importance of Zola and the naturalists. The fruit of this realization was
the powerful novel To a Cold Country (1896), a story of rural oppression eventually
landing its victims in Siberian forced labour camps, Wilde's sharp eye for realistic
detail, his close study of his milieu, his unrivalled-command of expressive,
idiomatic folk speech and his inexhaustible narrative gusto appear with equal
force in his long historical novels, the best of which is The War at Mahtra
(1902), dealing with a peasant revolt in North Estonia and its sanguinary aftermath.
Since Wilde used to write at top speed, these early books of his are uneven, but
they still make absorbing reading, He discards all idealization, all romantic
haze. With the possible exception of some Baltic German figures, his characters
stand out in bold relief, as convincing as life, Quiet and dramatic scenes are
presented with equal skill, but the mass scenes, descriptions of crowds in action,
are especially effective. While lyrical patriotism is strictly avoided, the


situations speak for themselves: so, the indirect appeal to national feeling
is most stirring. The inverted romanticism, the naturalistic exaggeration of
Zola are conspicuous by their absence, the outlook is thoroughly sane, always
retaining a nice sense of proportion, but a fiery temperament, held under control
by a fine irony, is evident throughout.

In his later work, produced after a younger generation had proclaimed exacting
artistic standards, Wilde's acute intelligence enabled him to.maintain his pre-
eminence. While retaining all his ease and intellectual dash, he became one of
the subtlest and most careful masters of Estonian prose. In his last novel, The
Milkman of MKekula (1916), an emotional triangle an elderly county squire's affair
with his milkman's young wife is treated with such worldly wisdom, tender detach-
ment and superior craftmanship that the book still remains a classic, as in their
own way do also his brilliantly constructed comedies The Inconceivable Miracle
(1912) and The Fire-Dragon (1913).

Wilde's vast popularity, extending through all classes of Estonian society, made
effective competition extremely difficult. Nevertheless, there was solid merit in
the caustic social criticism of Ernst Peterson's rural stories, and the more genial
temper of A u g u s t K i t z b e r g (1856-1927), expressed in warm-hearted
tales on South-Estonian themes (e.g. Brother Henn, 1901), won numerous admirers.
Kitzberg's successful comedies prepared the way for the more fastidious and
searching art of his realistic drama on the first Russian Revolution in Estonia,
In the Whirlwind (1906), and of his romantically coloured tragedy The Werewolf
(1912). The strength of characterization and the emotional force of these plays
secured for them a lasting place on the Estonian stage.

Poetry was at a discount about 1900. The quiet, pensive lyrics of Karl Eduard
Sbt (1862- ) and the musical love poems of Anna Haava (186h-1997) were unable
to restore the balance. The most notable poet of the period, J u h a n L i i v
(1864-1913), failed to find publishers for his best verse. Liiv, who started as
a writer of realistic but lyrically tinged stories about human failures, (The
Shadow, etc.), soon became a victim to manic depression. Only fragments of his
verse, the bulk of which he destroyed in a moment of despair, were rescued and
published by friends. These odds and ends gleams in the black insanity that
remained his lot until his death are among the most precious possessions. of
Estonian literature. Simple in their form, often sounding like folk songs, they
have unusual symbolic suggestiveness. Most of them are painted grey in grey, with
frequent darker patches, but there are flashes of ecstatic light. Liiv, the
"walking, living grave", as he styled himself, was not self-centered. A profound
patriotism constantly breaks forth. Cynicism may flicker up, but the essence of
his poetry is a longing for better times for his country a land, as he thought,
beset with materialism, whose vacillations he compares to those of the ancient
Israel of the prophets, coveting the gold of the Syrian monarchs, yet for all
that his homeland which he begs God to protect. The music of these unassuming,
utterly spontaneous lyrics often has its own unforgettable subtlety and depth.


The Russian revolution of 1905, coming in the wake of the unsuccessful Russo-
Japanese war, exposed the weakness of the Tsarist system, warning the great Baltic
landowners that the end of their feudal rule was approaching. Revolts flared up


among the rural population, and although bloody reprisals stayed the hand of the
masses for a while, concessions had to be made, ensuring greater civic liberties,
which could not be completely withdrawn. The fact that they had once been granted
was sufficient to strengthen the confidence of the non-German majority in the Baltic
countries. Economic iniative among the farmers gained momentum every year. An
improved international market for agricultural produce enabled them to pay off
their debts and to accumulate capital. New methods of production were introduced in
the cities, where industry began to flourish as never before. A large part of the
new financial reserves was used for educational and cultural purposes, more and more
Estonians attended the better schools and universities, primarily the native
university of Tartu. The press, relieved of many restrictions, publicly sifted
the new problems facing the country, political parties were organized, and
educational societies started founding Estonian schools in order to counteract the
official policy of Russification. The Estonian Literary Society, reestablished
in 1907, and the Estonian National Museum in Tartu formed important centres for
the preservation of national culture. The art of the drama found stimulating
centres in the "Vanemuine" theatre in Tartu and the "Estonia" theatre in Tallinn,
both far superior to .the somewhat amateurish stages o-f the local termans and Ruskiai,.
Most of the smaller towns soon built theatres odf their ova Literary life profited
immensely from this new climate of prosperity ind energetic activity in all fields.
A young gifted generation formulated nrew ideals and opened new perspectives
pointing far beyond Baltic and Russian provincia-lism. *::The focal point for these
fresh aspirations was the Young Estonia (lioor Eesti) group.

The seminal personality in this group, its ideological leader as well as its most
important poet, was G u s t a v S u i t s (1883-1956), a rural schoolmaster's
son born in the vicinity of Tartu. His restless, imaginative mind made him a
leader of men while he was still in his teens. Reading widely and intensively,
he already as a boy recognized the limitations of the cultural atmosphere of
Estonia, and soon decided to do his best towards enlivening it by publishing symposia
containing work by younger writers, Official reprimands and temporary expulsion
from his school failed to deter him from such prohibited extra-curricular activities.
A summer visit to Finland, where literature was buoyantly alive, confirmed his
conviction of the need to let fresh intellectual air into Estonia so as to integrate
her more closely into Western culture without damaging her national identity.
These were ambitious plans, but Suits proved equal to them, His first volume of
verse, The Fire of Life (1905), had an electrifying effect on his contemporaries.
Its militant vitality, idealism and belief in the future of his country, its
stirring, frequently dactylic rhythms and revolutionary imagery seemed to inaugurate
a new era. While still lacking in depth, these early verses of Suits had an
infectious quality of exuberance, closely akin to the poetry of the Finnish s'torm-
and-stress genius Eino Leino, who had become a personal friend of Suits and
strongly influenced him. This volume immediately established Suits as the natural
leader of aspiring youth. The best younger talents and a number of older writers
rallied around him when he published his sumptuously produced "Young Estonia"
albums, the first volume of which opened with his rousing Marseillaise of youth,
"Let us grow, the rising generation,"

Suits moved to Finland to study literature and aesthetics at the University of
Helsinki, but he kept in close touch with Tartu, which became the headquarters
of Young Estonia, Next to him, the main figures in the new group were Friedebert
Tuglas, whose firmly stylized tales and keen critical essays had begun to attract
general attention; the lyricist and philologist Villem Ridala, a lover of Italian


poetry; the publicist Bernhard Linde, shrewd in practical matters and skillful
in managing the financial affairs of the group, but also challenging as an essayist,
and the linguist and language reformer Jo h a n n e s A a v i k, who with
great ingenuity and success proceeded to suggest lexicographic, morphological
and syntactic innovations calculated to enrich and make more flexible a language
still not sufficiently cultivated in all its aspects.

The main slogan of the Young Estonians was the cry for more European culture:
"Let us be Estonians, but let us likewise become Europeans." The French Symbolists,
Baudelaire, Stefan George, Nietzsche, Georg Brandes, Ibsen, Bergson, but also Marx
and Kautsky were explored and propagated. No unified Philosophy emerged except the
urge for greater individualism, fuller perfection and a more vivid manifestation
of one's artistic self. Hosts of new ideas, often conflicting, were put into
circulation. Introspective moods alternated with keen appraisals of the political
and social situation. Socialist tendencies, individualistically interpreted,
went hand in hand with a patriotic determination to make Estonia a creative
participant in modern cultural life, and soon also with a strong emphasis on the
need for political liberation from foreign powers.

The unresolved contradictions of this turmoil of ideas, together with the feeling
that his personal leadership, at least outside of literature, had not come up to
his early expectations, and that the political reaction soon following the
revolution of 190$ might prove fatal to Estonia, deeply affected Suits's mind and
caused him to turn in upon himself. This introspective, pessimistic mood is
reflected in his second volume of verse, The Land of Winds (1913), in which
Estonia has become a country of chilly atmospherical cross-currents corresponding
to similar conflicts in himself. All his exuberance is gone, He analyzes his own
moods, duplicated in the landscapes of lonely fens and moors which he depicts.
In "Under the Quivering Aspens", one of his most famous lyrics, he listens to the
voice of the universe, remote and cool, yet more congenial than any human voice.
In "Evening over the Meadows" he sees the scales of justice suspended in the starry
skies, yet percieves no justice in the stunted world of his contemporaries. The
gloomiest of these poems, the "Song of Estonia", sees contemporary life as a morass
in which the poet, the "child of death", will soon be engulfed, while still
singing of a better day, the day of Estonia. His sarcasm often becomes very sharp,
but its background is one of transcendental longing, His early dreams, their
hazess blazing with solar systems," are dismissed, his own "big words, big words"
of the past seem youthful folly. He grows the flower of his verse in a sterile
soil, surrounded by the graveyard of past years. All that remains for him is
"the windy tomb of gleams and sounds." "Am I fire or smoke?" asks the poet
(Suits means "smoke"). This bleak disillusionment may temporarily recede in the
light of a brilliant winter morning, or may yield ground to warm, heart-felt tones
as in"The Passing Bell,"an elegy on the death of his mother, simple and moving one
of the most moving poems in the language. Torn between many trends of thought,
"tired of reading famous dreams", the poet retires into spiritual solitude: "When
the last bridge to life is broken, one thing remains to strain towards the Land
of Winds. The dawn in the winter sky and its shower of radiance still remain."

Artistically this volume is brilliant. Suits has abjured facile fluency and works
towards a higher, more esoteric symbolism. His form, usually.strong, terse yet
many-faceted, may on occasion overflow into irregular rhythms, but he still
generally prefers traditional patterns sonnets, terza rima, quatrains, often
subtly modified by the insertion, or addition, of rhymeless lines. His extra-
ordinary rich diction sensitively and originally exploits the resources of the


Estonian dialects. His word order is beginning to show a Horatian complexity,
possibly learned from the remarkable Finnish'poet Otto Manninen, a close friend
of his. Throughout the book there.is the feeling of a background of vast spaces.

This volume became one of the principal landmarks in Estonian poetry. The versatile
perfection of its form and the searching, never satisfied spirit behind it, which
in a highly individual way remoulded the essence of European symbolism, has not
yet ceased to influence Estonian verse. Standards were established and impulses
given that were to prove of first importance for the literature of Estonia,

However gloomy the Land of Wind may seem, it is almost idyllic compared with its
successor, All Is But a Dream (1922), the title of which is borrowed from Calder6n.
This is a nightmarish book, full of an atmosphere of violence, war and revolution,
in which the individual and all laws of reason seem lost. The aloofness of the
previous volume is gone. Suits again reacts passionately to the events that befall
his country and the world. His satire and sarcasm are much sharper, but as before
his mind often turns to "the justice of starry spaces". Among poems of a fierce,
accusing intensity there are others of philosophic reflection and deep pity for the
fate of mankind. In the title poem, the illusoriness of the affairs of this world -
a mere speck in a universe of circling stars is forcibly conveyed, but its final
moral is an active one: the poet is a prophet whose duty it is to preserve the
glowing embers of the spirit. The immediate impact of this book did not equal that
of its predecessor, but its long-term influence may have been even greater. The
sweeping power of many of these poems exceeds any of Suits's earlier achievements.

In these two volumes Suits established a tradition of perfectionism and spiritual
inquiry that was to have a lasting influence. His long poem in Estonian folk
metres, the beautiful "ballad" Childbirth, proved less influential, perhaps
because the unique skill with which the difficult traditional form was handled
seemed inimitable. Then, for a couple of decades, he seemed to have almost ceased
writing verse, being absorbed in scholarship and his duties as professor of
Estonian and comparative Literature at Tartu. His late verse will be dealt with
in the final section of this survey.

No poet of the Young Estonia period is quite comparable to Suits. V i 1 1 e m
G r u n t h a 1 R i d a 1 a (1885-1942) at first seemed almost equally striking
with his experiments in classical metres, his capricious "figure poems", and his
sensitive land- and seascapes re-evoking the scenery of his native island home.
A highly selective, learned and sophisticated diction enhanced the charm of these
pictures of contemplative solitude. However, Ridala was too static, too lacking
in problems and symbolic depth to develop significantly. His long epic and
descriptive poems, partly in folk metres and partly in ottava rima and Spenserian
stanzas, for that reason fell flat, despite many beauties. Ridala, incidentally,
successfully translated Leopardi and Carducci and attempted the Divine Comedy.

A more haunting figure, partly belonging to an earlier period but associated with
the Young Estonians, is the mystic dreamer E r n s t E n n o (1875-193)), who
kept entirely outside of contemporary controversies, immersing himself in a remote
world of his own. The rationalism of his time left him quite unaffected. A
touch of Eastern theosophy, mingled with Christianity but often verging on Pantheism,
never expressed in clear terms intellectually a diffuse creed, but deep in
feeling results in an outwardly simple but inwardly complex poetry that was
almost ignored in its time, but has since been growing on many readers and today
makes us regard Enno as one of the most genuine poets of the first two decades of


this century. His form is unassuming but its subdued music is difficult to resist.
Everyday motifs suddenly acquire a stirring quality in his verse. Enno was one
of the first Estonian poets to write vers libre, which suited his atmosphere of
visionary twilight. Hardly anybody else has been as successful as Enno in
capturing the effect of the white midsummer nights of the North.

Next to Suits the most important author of Young Estonia is, however, the prose
writer F r i e d e b e r t T u g 1 a s (1886- ), as deliberate and indefatigable
as Suits in his search for formal perfection and more voluminous in his critical
work, which guided (and perhaps in some respects misguided) generations of readers.
He launched forth into literature even earlier than Suits, His first published
stories are full-blooded, realistic and a strange fact in view of the consistent
high seriousness of his later work genuinely humorous. But Neo-Romantic and
symbolist influences, partly French, partly Russian, and partly the example of
Edgar Allan Poe soon transformed Tuglas's manner, which became increasingly
fantastic and flamboyant, although his form always remained controlled. Revolutionary
activities forced him at an early date to leave his country for a number of years,
Finland and Paris becoming his favourite places of exile, from which he from
time to time surreptitiously returned home. Despite his interrupted formal
education, he became one of the most erudite Estonians of his time. His literary
creed, if not profound, was consistent in its Symbolist trend. The ideal that
inspired his ceaseless literary efforts was that of the mythopoeic writer the
creator of figures and motifs embodying the irrational collective impulses of man,
Before reaching this stage, however, he passed through a period of impressionistic
realism, often very sensitive, as in his stories "Love in a Summer Night" and "Bird-
cherry Blossom". Thereupon his efforts were concentrated on the creation of an
extremely condensed, rhythmical, as it were supra-personal style, combining a highly
ornamental quality with sparseness and tension. There is some Wagnerian richness
in the mythical tale of the love of a giantess for a mortal "At the End of the
World", but in other pieces this colourful exuberance is firmly checked, for instance
in the story of a monkey left alone with a dog after his master's death, "Popi and
Huhuu". His tour-de-force of picturesque vividness and erudite fantasy, "The Day
of the Androgyn", in which the hero, half man and half woman, undergoes physical
luxury, was much attacked for its lack of convincing psychology. Written a number
of years before Virginia Woolf's Orlando, it has many of the same qualities. In
its own strictly pictorial way it is a masterpieced- CQmplex psychological situations
hardly interested Tuglas, but his descriptive gifts, the purity and strength of his
language, and his ability to build up striking symbolic situations were first-rate,

After The Day of the Androgyn Tuglas for many years ceased writing fiction. When
he tried it again he, characteristically, produced a semi-autobiographical novel
of childhood, Little Illimar, beautifully delineating the rural world in which he
himself had been raised. Children, animals, primitive creatures of little
intellection but much sensitivity form the centre of most of his creative prose,
Tuglas' world is aesthetic rather than intellectual. In his extensive, often
brilliantly written critical prose, too, his thought becomes interesting mainly
when he is dealing with purely artistic problems. He was seldom able to identify
himself imaginatively with complex personalities. Nevertheless, his striking
formulations of aesthetic principles, helped by his close observation of his own
formally sophisticated practice, make his essays a pleasure to read. In his later
years historical and sociological interests began to predominate. One of his
great merits was his willingness to recognize excellence in others, however different
from himself. As editor of the leading Estonian literary monthly Looming (Creation)
he threw the doors wide open to young men of talent. Shut off behind the Communist


curtain, he has not in recent years produced anything of more than formal value,
but until the second world war he remained a central figure in Estonian literary life,
remarkable for the consistently high quality of his work and for the openness of
mind which made him welcome new promising developments.

Both in Suits and in Tuglas we find the interesting phenomenon of the blase decadence
of Western Europe intruding into a young but vital literature and getting transformed
in the process. Suits deepened it, using its subtle technique to express the
reactions of a disillusioned but still exceedingly active idealist. In Tuglas
there was no real disillusionment. His approach is basically robust and straight-
forward, excluding most of the problematic aspects of Symbolism and selecting
certain features of it to strengthen his own technical mastery. His concentration
on primitive psychology, while limiting his scope, greatly increased his effective-
ness in rerdering emotional and sensory responses. His love for the remote and the
exotic was shared by A 1 e ks a n d e r T a s s a (1882- ), whose slender
but valuable output consists mainly of sometimes exquisitely stylized archaic
stories, often in a scriptural manner, Both he and Tuglas loved to record scenes
observed in their dreams,

The earlier work of the author who was destined to become Estonia's most remarkable
novelist, Ant on Hans en T a m m s a a r e (1878-1940), also moves in
the Young Estonia orbit. Tammsaare started as a full-fledged rural realist, but
soon changed over to impressionistic novels dealing with the Bohemian aspects of
academic life and already showing his passion for long debates and paradoxical
argument. His real contribution was to be made later. The fragmentary, obscure
but intense stories of the gifted eccentric J a a n 0 k s (1884-1918) often
reveal a desperate depth of feeling counterbalanced by cynicism ("Dark Child of
Man"). Karl Ast-Rumor's (1886- ) sensual, sometimes coarse realism was blended
with romantic pathos in novels and stories displaying a strong narrative gift and
a rich, racy style (e.g. "Step into the Shadow").

The total achievement of Young Estonia cannot be suggested by adding up its parts.
It completely routed Baltic cultural provincialism. The intellectual horizon was
immeasurably widened, the problems of the West became those of Estonia. German
and Russian literature fell into their proper places as parts of a much larger whole.
Above all, a restless spirit of inquiry and aspiration had been created that did
not stop short of the highest goals. In the short span of some ten years the literary
language had gained enormously in richness, elasticity and strength. Close contacts
with kindred Finland, where similar changes were taking place, strengthened the
feeling of Finno-Ugrian cultural unity and stimulated rivalry with the sister nation,
An extensive intellectual class, independent and critical, had arisen. Estonia had
come of age.

Political and social changes naturally played an important part in this development,
All municipal and local governments had gradually fallen into Estonian hands.
Prosperity both in town and country was growing space. Bickerings between conserva-
tives, liberals and Social-Democrats did not prevent the parties from working for the
cause of a national culture, which soon became the cause of national independence.
The first world war, with the Russian February Revolution of 1917, only intensified
these trends. The Bolshevik threat confirmed the conviction of the Estonian leaders
that only secession from Russia could ensure a flowering national life. Just
before the German march into Estonian capital of Tallinn, on February 24, 1918,
a declaration of independence was promulgated by the representatives of the Estonian


Diet. When the Germans left Estonia after the armistice with the Western powers
and Communist forces began to pour into the country, everybody, including detachments
of schoolboys, rose up to meet the eastern menace. The wai, aggravated by Baltic-
German attacks from the south, lasted about sixteen months, at the end of which
Soviet Russia, not yet strong enough militarily, concluded a peace treaty, according
to the terms of which Estonia was to become independent for all time, A new era
had started.


The great ferment and excitement of minds that culminated in these events found
expression in literature some time before the turn of the tide. Young Estonia,
itself revolutionary, produced an aftermath of even more revolutionary verse and
prose. This intensified revolution at first took the form of a heightened individual-
ism, subjective and lyrical in verse and prose. A nfew group of writers, seemingly
unconcerned with political or sociological'problems, emphasized pure aestheticism
in an outburst of artistic self- assertion, so violent that it transcended mere l'art
pour l'art: the element of personal elation in it was unusually strong. Austerity
and monastic isolation were set aside,' The poet, too exuberant for loneliness,
left his ivory tower: he wanted contact with the masses, hoping to win them for his
new perception of impetuously flowering beauty. The writers representing this
attitude chose for themselves the name of a mythical bird "Siuru", corresponding
to their conception of a new fairyland of poetic enchantment. Travelling around
the country, they recited often chanted their'lyrics and stories. Their success
was astonishing. Approximately from 1917 to 1920, during a period of the most
dangerous outward crises, poetry was constantly in the news and verse was bought
and read more avidly than any other form of literature, While this sensational
success gradually subsided, some of these new-comers continued to occupy the centre
of the literary scene: there were some first-rate talents among them.

The greatest of these "Siuru" poets was a woman, M a r i e Un d e r (1833- ),
a writer whose earlier verse, printed in the various publications of Young Estonia,
had manifested a delicate feminine sensibility without creating any sensation. Her
Sonnets (1917), however the first volume published with the "Siuru" imprint -
immediately put her in the foreground of literary interest. In these verses, an un-
mistakably feminine temperament, fully released by exciting changes in the author's
personal life, expresses .itself with few conventional restraints. The manner is
richly coloured and impressionistic, kept in check by the strict form of the sonnet
but often seeming to overflow its bounds in dancing Alexandrines. The gloom of
that era is reflected in somewhat later volumes, especially in Bleeding Wound (1921),
where the sufferings of the nation in its struggle for independence, combined with
stimuli from the German expressionist movement, evoke some powerful reactions
against the injustice of fate and mankind. Here Under begins to delve more deeply
into herself as well. 'While still often resorting to complex traditional forms,
such as terza rima, which in Estonian at least demands rigorous discipline, she
fills them with A vehemence of feeling, imagery and rhythm that forcibly strains the
formal framework, Urban scenery, with much emphasis on the drab misery' of people in
great cities, often replaces the rural brilliance or idyllic charm of her earlier
landscapes. Here and there we get torn, sprung, irregular, restless rhythms. This
process continues in her next volume but one, one of her finest, Voice from:the
Shadow (1927), where a profound neurotic unrest becomes even more explosive, while
her ever increasing mastery of style and ability to shape what she sees lends sharply


drawn outline even to her most phantasmagoric fever visions, such as, e.g. "Moon
of the Dead" or the unique "Song of the Sleepless". In the last-named poem, a
condition which the author feels to border on insanity is emphasized by the almost
ruthless but masterfully controlled crescendo of the varying rhythms. A series of
obsessive visions strikes the mind with the force of hallucinations that yet form
into an overpoweringly unified total impression. The best of an over-excited pulse
is suggested with almost painful vividness until the desperate resignation of the
conclusion affords release from extreme tension. .'This piece represents the highwater
mark of intense self-outpouring in Under's output, as well as in all Estonian poetry.

A similar kind of intensity, but in the major key, fills the parallel volume, Delight
in a Beautiful Day, composed during the same period. 1923-27. Its mood of exuberance
is like that' of the Sonnets, except that the author's power of expression and
freedom of movement have become incomparably greater and that she passes far beyond
subjective experience to objective presentation, often of a visionary quality.
Even short poems often create an illusion of startling magnitude. The boldness of
the figures of speech, the criss-cross rhymes, the changing line lengths, the sharp
contrasts of tone had the'impetuous crescendos nearly always contribute to a
symphonic unity of effect. The very poignancy of the experiences invests them with
a symbolic validity.

While the starting'point in these two books still as a rule is in the poetess's
self, her legendary ballads in Eclipse of Happiness (1929) only indirectly reflect
her ego. The same'phantasmic quality of vision recurs here in an obviously
legitimate context, no matter whether she chooses for her subject the suicidal
despair of a mother who has drowned her child and goes to join her in the white
breakers of the sea; the picturesque witchery of nature transferring a teeming
lake to another site as a retort to a lover's broken pledge; or Leah's longing for
Jacob, brought to consummation by the aid of magic. Grotesque diablerie in some
poems is brought off triumphantly by the sheer force of a Rabelaisian richness of
language. New resources of stylistic wealth and realistic individualization
establish Under as one of the finest and most original successors of the romantic

A new period of self-scrutiny, metaphysical quest and ultimate self-transcendence
is marked by A Stone off the Heart (1935). In language even more condensed and
pointed than before Under works her way towards an acceptance of'reality at a
higher level. The final result is a deepened, luminous serenity, especially in a
series of dramatic sonnets describing her struggles as well as her recovery of
spiritual health and equipoise. Thus Under, reinvigorated, courageous and impassioned,
became sufficiently equipped to cope poetically with the harrowing experiences of
the second World War. This latest phase of her development, however, belongs in
the last section of the present survey.

Marie Under's rapid rise from the status of "Princess of Siuru", as she was nicknamed
in 1917, to that of the most powerful poet in the Estonian language could not have
been possible without the existence of great personal resources as well as of a
profound and wide culture. Although she seldom produced a piece of critical prose,
her numerous translations of French, German, Norwegian and Russian verse illustrate
the extent and intensity of her interests.

The figure next'to her in importance in the "Siuru" movement, H e n r i k
V i s n a p u u, (1889-1951), was less deeply anchored in the culture of the past


and more extreme in his literary experiments. Earning his daily bread as a village
schoolmaster, Visnapuu made his first literary appearance with pretentious stunts
imitating the Russian futurists, but his real work as a poet was not made public
until 1917, when his volume of love poetry Amores placed him in the centre of
attention. In the introductory poem Visnapuu "boldly, joins the company of bards",
and despite much unevenness, the rest of the volume, with its alternation of
stormy emotions and tenderness, justifies this claim. Less cultivated and less
profound than Marie Under, Visnapuu in this volume and'a succession of others
still delves deeply into his emotions and, in addition, displays a capacity for
sheer verbal music, not infrequently onomatopoetic, that in its own way remains
unsurpassed in the language. Bold rhythmical experimentation, coupled with an
equal-boldness of imagery, sometimes verging on crudity but often breath-takingly
vivid, enlivens his verse throughout. An assumed cynicism is unable to disguise
an underlying genuineness. The basic note, subsequently to be presented in a
subtler form, is struck in the first lyri6 of Amores: "It is given to me to be
eternally young, always maddened with joy, always tender, always austere". A
strong penchant for self-dramatization goes side by side with an almost child-like
simplicity of feeling, sophisticated mainly in the virtuosity of the metrical
form used to express it.

Visnapuu histrionically styled himself "the king of poems" in imitation of the
popular Russian poet Igor-Severyanin, the singer of "Pine-apples in Champagne"
and "Creme des Violettes", who had settled in Estonia. Actually, Visnapuu's
talent was much greater than Severyanin's, and he soon developed far beyond the
level of that bird-like singer. Some of his later poems on the terrors of war,
with their haunting refrains, show him capable of deep humanity. The love poems de-
voted to his wife, who died early, are tragic and sincere. His formal experiments,
especially with off-rhymes, dissonant rhymes and intricate'internal echoes, appear
at their best in such a poem as "Trip on'a Winter Morning", filled with bird
imagery, subtle suggestions of bird song, and a crystal-clear freshness of feeling.
In his longer pieces, particularly in some of his narrative poems, experimentation
degenerates into monotonous mannerism. His plays, some of them symbolic resuscitations
of the heroic past, are excellent only in their lyrical moments. Towards the end
of the twenties, Visnapuu attempted the role of a patriotic ideologist in verse,
but here, he was really successful only in his evocations of atmosphere and
feeling. Some of his landscape pieces have a slow, hypnotic, irresistible rhythm,
His merits as an editor and organizer of literary life were considerable, and were
to become of real importance during his period of exile after the second world

Despite his systematic study of literary technique, Visnapuu, more than most poets,
depehded on instinct, inspiration and emotional stimulus: hence his striking
successes and his equally striking failures. Johannes Semper ( 1892- ), the
versatile aesthete of the "Siuru" group, was mainly a cerebral poet, registering
everything his mind but unable to yield himself completely to anything. In his
first volume Pierrot (1917), he managed beautifully to catch evanescent moods and to
draw graceful lyrical silhouettes with something of the delicate fragility of
Watteau. Always interested in intellectual adventure, he yet never fully developed
a tone and manner of his own. His most'valuable'work Was done as an essayist,
editor and translator (Verhaeren, Dante, Whitman, Hugo, etc.). In his critical
work he often cogently analyzed the'purely intellectual aspects of his subjects,
excelled in vivid portrait sketches, but tended to miss the emotional core of the
writers discussed. One of his novels, Jealousy (1934), is penetrating in its
psychological analysis, and his travel books, picturesque, precise in their
observation, and intellectually pointed, are most stimulating.


August Alle, the gifted but undisciplined enfant terrible of "Siuru", original
in his moments of lyrical and satirical inspiration, but incapable of prolonged
effort; Jaan Karner, prolific in poetry, fiction, criticism and the drama, but
memorable only for a handful of sincerely rhetorical poems influenced by his
favourite Shiller; and the poetical constructivist and drawing-room iconoclast
Johannes Vares-Barbarus belong in the fringe of the group. Homely warmth, often
suffused with humour, and a simple purity of melody characterize the delightful
dialect verse of A r t u r A d s o n (1889- ), the husband of Marie Under.
As a playwright, notably in his drama on Kreutzwald and Koidula The Father of Poetry
and the Muse, he was gifted with delicate psychological perception, dramatic
skill, and the ability to create a period atmosphere. He became one of the leading
dramatic critics of the country.

One of the most flamboyant figures of "Siuru" was A u g u s t Ga i 1 i t
(1891- ), the "Kraftgenie" and principal prose writer of the movement. Never
hesitating to exaggerate, fully prepared to make a story or even a novel consist
almost entirely of purple patches, overflowing with fantasy, and witty to boot,
he was a romantic and eccentric akin'to the unconventional rovers and dreamers with
whom the prose of the European North, especially Scandinavia, abounds.' His
psychology was that of dreams and fairy taleS rather than of real life, but his
stories have dramatic drive and their humour, alternating with deliberately lurid
fancy, was infectious. There was nothing forced about Gailit's extravaganzas:
they poured forth spontaneously and abundantly. His first well-known volume of
stories Satan's Whirligig (1917), while still immature, already showed the tumbling
ease of his style, but his gift of robust comedy does not become apparent until
his next book, Fairy Country. In The Purple Death he came close to writing science
fiction, but with the science replaced by a riot of feelings and events. His
principal work, a series'of loosely connected stories about a Bohemian hero,
Toomas Nipernaadi (1928), appeared long after "Siuru" .was defunct, but continued
its tradition,'ignoring all realistic restraints. Nipernaadi, the poetical vaga-
bond and rogue, lives in a Cloud Cuckoo Land of delightful impossibilities,
fair maidens, often abandoned but nearly always longing, and precarious adventure,
in which courage as well as cunning enable him to overcome all obstacles. Such
a subject could easily have palled on his readers if Gailit's fine sense of
comedy, his ability to sketch striking characters and his narrative elan had not
kept them constantly exhilarated. The book enjoyed a great popularity and was
often translated. Despite his spontaneity, Gailit was from the first a very
careful-stylist who worked hard on his prose. As an essayist he cared little about
decorum, but his sense of fun dissolved malice into pleased laughter (Clowns
and Fauns, etc.).

"Siuru" for a while.put everything else into the shade, Hence the original if
untutored lyrical gift of He n r i k Ad a m s o n (1891-1946), a recluse
communing with nature in a densely forested part of south-western Estonia, went
almost entirely'unnoticed, although his dialect verse had an unusual degree of
rhythmical life, imaginal wealth and directness. 'Another outsider, the learned
J a a n L d o (1872-1939) engrossed in the Edda, Homer and ancient Estonian lore,
produced a remarkable volume of ballad-like, archaic poetry Visions (1916), the
masculine strength and austere dignity of which made no concessions to the growing
taste for lyrical luxuriance. The tide turned after the war with Russia, when
the claims"of everyday life began to reassert themselves. In this more sober
atmosphere, the desire to see the teeming activities of the new republic reflected
in literature encouraged the rise of a new realistic movement. The need for such
a change was vociferously declared by the young writer A 1 b e r t K i v i k a s
(1898- ) in his pamphlet Down with Lyrical Chocolate, instead of which he
demanded good succulent chops of realistic prose. While this propaganda was crude,


Kivikas soon succeeded in backing it with solid achievement. Under the disguise
of a pseudonym he already had produced a volume of attractive, straightforward
rural stories, but the fashion of the time had tempted him into quasi-expressionistic
experiments. Now he dropped his disguise and proceeded to describe country life
under the new agrarian reform in a series of freshly and poetically conceived
novels (St. George's Day, 1921, etc.). Meditative if not profound, serious if not
sophisticated, Livikas mistook the nature of his gifts in later attempts critically
to dissect the new social structure of Estonia, but his treatment of the experiences
and ideological struggles of schoolboys descended from the proletariat but engaged
in the fight against communism (Baptized with Fire, Names on a Marble Plinth I-I-)
shows strength, breadth, and sincere self-analysis.


Some older authors, who had never abandoned realism, expanded in the more congenial
life of liberated.Estonia, e.g. Jakob Mandmets (1871-1930) and 0 s k a r L u t s
(1887- ? ). Luts, uneven but spirited and singularly able to discover poetry
in the workaday world, had already made a name for himself with his buoyant
stories about life in a village school (Spring, 1912, etc.). After some semi-
lyrical interludes, he resumed his realistic manner, preferring subjects from
the quiet backwaters of city life, which he populated with sympathetically and
humorously drawn figures of the waifs and cheerful misfits of urban society
(e.g. Backyard).

Another author, hitherto considered promising but not important, A. H, T a m m-
s a a r e, underwent a thorough transformation in the twenties, soon becoming
the foremost novelist of Estonia, her greatest realist, who went deep below the
surface to uncover the world of irrational impulses and instincts, without abandoning
the firm framework of the traditional novel. A prolonged illness gave him ample
time for meditation. He emerged from it with a far more searching mind than
before, rejecting facile solutions and accepting the paradoxical truths of existence.
The paradox in his biblical play Judith (1921) is thoroughgoing: Holofernes
is a peace-loving dreamer, whereas udith, who loves him, yearns for dominance and
wants to bear heroes. She kills him because she is unable to break through his
idealistic aloofness. Thereupon Tammsaare turns to the rustic environment of
his childhood, finding problematic characters in the most primitive country side.
Hamsun as well as Dostoyevsky may have somewhat influenced him in his first rural
masterpiece, The Farmer of Kbrboja (1922), the story of a conflict between deep-
seated, perverse pride and a love which is partly spiritual and partly pure,
overmastering passion. The hero, a half-reformed village profligate back from
jail, is a mercurial creature of impulses, yet reaches tragic stature by the depth
of his feelings. The unfailing logic with which human irrationality is presented,
the naturalness with which one seemingly paradoxical situation grows out of another,
leading to the final catastrophe, and the discreet, subdued atmosphere make this
an unusual book. Spurred on by the success of this novel, Tammsaare then in the
course of seven years produced a work of truly epic proportions, the five volumes
of Truth and Justice (1926-1933), covering over a quarter of a century of Estonia's
social and political development. The centre of the first volume, and in a sense
of the entire work, is the Vargam'e farm situated in a lonely spot among deep bogs
and fens. Its master, Andres Paas, a headstrong man, prepared to sacrifice
everything for his piece of rather barren land, is the very type of the North-
Estonian farmer with his religion of hard work and attachment to the soil. This
passion for him becomes truth and justice, but its conflict with Christian ethics-


for he is a Bible-reading man-creates insoluble problems. His wife succumbs in the
severe struggle with nature, a second wife, less fragile than the first, survives
and bears him a son, but no peace of mind is achieved. The figures are palpably
real, the harshness of this world is fully conveyed, but there is tenderness in the
scenes dealing with children, and grim humour in the rivalry between Andres and his
neighbour, the equally unyielding but incurably flighty admirer of "people of
fierce blood",Pearu, a man of pranks and malicious practical jokes. Andres's son
Indrek, a sensitive youth with a different conception of justice, in the second
volume leaves the farm to study in Tartu, at the Maurus High-school, a peculiar
establishment mainly catering for country boys, with an eccentric staff consisting
of the intelligent jetsam and flotsam of the teaching profession. The headmaster
Maurus, an eery character, torn between patriotic idealism, fear of the authorities,
sympathy for his pupils, and plain greed, dominates this volume. Long dialogues
raising numberless questions without trying to solve them, deepen the atmosphere
of intense uncertainty and unreality. The unanswered questions become even more
numerous in the third part, which has for its background the revolution of 1905 with
its soaring hopes, ideological cleavages and crushing disappointments. The end of
this part takes Indrek back to his home farm, where he administers to his ailing,
tortured mother the poison she craves: he becomes her murderer in the name of
love. The pages in which the son takes this guilt upon himself are among the most
harrowing in Estonian literature. The spiritual bankruptcy of Indrek, who has no
faith left but still longs for it, is led to almost unbearable lengths in the fourth
volume in which the young lawyer's marriage, based on very real feelings, is
wrecked in a ruthlessly depicted milieu of upstarts and social climbers. In the
final part Indrek returns home to Vargamde to salvage something of his ruined self.
His questioning find no logical answers, but his mind slowly recovers in the
"voluntary forced labour" of trying to re-build the prosperity of the all but mori-
bund farm, whose importance his reason denies but whose atmosphere irresistibly
grows upon him. The figure of Tiina, a girl whom he many years earlier had restored
to health by awakening in her the faith in miracles, and who now repays her debt,
movingly haunts this volume, i'ruth and justice are felt to exist as the novel ends,
but no rational explanation for this belief is offered.

The plot of Truth and Justice is often loosely constructed and its logic is frequently
the logic of unreason, but it is more searching than most novels of this century.
It goes to the very roots of ethics, shirking no contradictions and accepting them
as inevitable. As in the poetry of Suits and Under, it is this probing quality
that grips the reader. At the same time Tammsaare unfolds a vast, richly peopled
scene of a period of struggle and unrest. His unforced style beautifies nothing
and seldom becomes emphatic, rising and falling in exact accordance with the subject.
It is capable of great force. There are few things more impressive than the
atmosphere of deep peace in the last volume, when Indrek, skiing over the deep snow
of the darkening countryside, feels how the wounds in his mind are beginning to
heal. Like few writers, Tammsaare was able to convey the feel of reality without
resorting to photographic naturalism or to the lyrical welter of rhythm and colour
of impressionist art.

Tammsaare's later volumes have a similar intellectual intensity and striking
moments of emotional and dramatic culmination, without equalling his masterpiece.
Rejecting final answers to anything, his reason remains sceptical while emotionally
he is longing for certainty. In the satirical allegory Old Nick of Hell Valley
and the political comedy The King Feels Cold realism is abandoned: the author plays
with ideas, barely suggesting the seriousness of his purposes.

Tammsaare's ambitious rival in the realistic novel, Ma i t M e t s a n u r k
(1879-1957), was a keen observer and vigorous stpry-teller and kept his mind wide


open to the problems of the time, but he probed less deep and too easily adapted his
solutions to prevailing fashions. Except for the gentle, ironical tenderness of a
few books such as The Life and Death of Taavet Soovere, he tended to be robust in his
approach. He liked sharp formulations of social and psychological problems without
quite grasping their complexity. His conception of Communism in The Traceless Grave
(1926), the story of a Bible-quoting party member in hiding from the authorities,
too often conflicts with reality. There is force and sweep in Red Wind (1928), another
novel about Communism, but the skeleton of thought remains too obtrusive: despite
an abundance of types, events and passions, all vividly presented, the book never
quite fuses the moral with the vision.

An even more robust writer, witty and cynical, Hu go Raudsep p (1883-died
in prison), deliberately carried realism to a point where it became grotesque
fantasy. One of the liveliest journalists and most wide-awake newspaper reviewers
of the twenties, Raudsepp delighted in turning his subjects inside out and discovering
absurdities in them. A worshipper of vitality, the "elan vital" of Bergson and the
"life Force" of Shaw, whom he superficially resembles, he had a keener eye for the
comic manifestations of this force than any contemporary of his. Preferring play-
writing to fiction, he at first produced some bold reinterpretations of scriptural
subjects (Samson the Judge, At the Landmarks of Sinai), which he followed up with
a series of comedies, the most celebrated of which was TMikujimrdi (1929). Although
essentially a caricature of country types, this play with its sparkling aphorisms,
pointed topical allusions and racy diction gave an impression of teeming life and
creative power. Elsewhere, especially in Sinimandria, Raudsepp's style, sometime,
condensed into lashing verse rhythms, overflows in gargantuan fashion, and his satire
runs riot. His complete lack of restraint, his malice and frequent coarseness all
stemmed from the urge for vital abundance of a person physically repressed
by long years of illness as a consumptive. These plays immediately revived the
general interest in the theatre, and several of them were highly successful abroad.
At the same time Raudsepp's influence was doubtless in part responsible for a
coarsening of fiber in a number of younger writers a development which in its
turn was to call forth a strong idealistic reaction.

The opposite pole of Reudsepp was K a r 1 A u g u s t Hi n d r ey (1875- ? ),
equally witty as a journalist, but of far more conservative instincts, even though
quite as unconventional on occasion. Hindrey, an old-fashioned liberal with the
full courage of his convictions, was at heart a romantic, but one who had the technique
of realism at his command, His philosophy of aristocratic independence found an
outlet in a heroic resuscitation of the early history of Estonia. in a number of
stories and novels of considerable power (The Vikings, Urmas and Merike, etc.). In
his psychological fiction (Flashlight, An Eventless Summer and others) he preferred
to deal with the intelligent bourgeoisie. Always stimulating and often surprising
in his subtle psychological approach, he was sharply opposed to materialistic
tendencies, to counterbalance which he strongly stressed the values of old, self-
respecting tradition. His stories about animals showed exceptional sympathy and

The rapid progress of Estonian life in the thirties created a favourable soil for
a renewed interest in the national past. Metsanurk, following in Hindrey's steps,
published in 1934 a novel about ancient Estonian warfare and victories (On the Umera
River), which found, many imitators. The most important of these was A u g u s t
M K 1 k (1900- ), who after much experimentation in a variety of styles
produced a novel on the Great Northern War, Dead Houses (1935), which dealt
graphically with one of the darkest periods in Estonian history, showing both its
misery and the resilience and strength of a small people capable of surviving
decades of plague, famine and whole-sale massacre. In his later historical novels


Mdlk loses his grip on reality. His best books deal with his island home of
Saaremaa, impressively reproducing the idiomatic speech and manners of a population
of hard-bitten fishermen and sailors (Stories of the Coast, The Flowering Sea, etc.).
In this genre his inspiration is free and full.

Hindrey's sane, subtle treatment of the life of the intelligent bourgeoisie may
have stimulated a gifted young writer, K a r 1 Ri s t i k i v i (1912- ),
whose first novels with surprising maturity and balance depicted the evolution
of young middle-class intellectuals. More out-of-the-way aspects of the psychology
of the intellectual class, often viewed psychoanalytically, appear in the bleaker
work of Reed Morn, Leo Anvelt, Aadu Hint, and others. A group of younger authors,
partly inspired by Metsanurk and Raudsepp, concentrated on the seamy side of life
among the poorer classes. The most outstanding of them was August Jakobson (1904- )Y
who attempted to rival Zola in his voluminous proletarian novels (The Slum of Poor
Sinners, 1927, etc.), although he in some of his later work paid tribute to the
popular demand for less lurid fiction. Giving free rein to his imagination, he
created a world of squalor, degeneracy and blind physical passion which had few
counterparts in Estonian reality but, perhaps for that very reason, at first attracted
general attention. There was a good deal of descriptive and narrative force in
these somewhat mindless visions, Jakobson became the central figure in the short-
lived "Literary Orbit" movement, the ostensible purpose of which was to bring
literature closer to actual life without sacrificing ethical and intellectual
values. In the field of prose fiction, only one of its adherents, the thoughtful
short-story writer P e e t Va 1 1 a k (1893- ), who with a touch of fancy but
much basic seriousness portrayed country life in South Estonia, consistently maintained
high artistic standards. Save for this exceptional case, the prose of the movement,
uninterested in the fertile multiplicity of life or in artistic discipline, tended
to degenerate into mere anti-capitalistic propaganda.

The "proletarian" realism of the "Literary Orbit" was bv its very nature unfavourable
to poetry, A former ultra-modernist, usually only noisy but sometimes incisive
in his experimentation with formal extremes, Erni Hiir (1900- ), lost what poetry
he had when he yielded to the dreary editorial style prescribed by the philosophy
of "social demand". The happier and more versatile talent of the temperamental
J u h a n S U t i s t e (1899-1945) likewise suffered from this reorientation.
After a few volumes positively bursting with vitality and aggressive boldness he
tried his hand at larger, non-lyrical subjects, writing verse novels, sometimes
polemically pointed, but his real strength became more apparent in brief impression-
istic landscape pieces and sketches of the life of the poorer part of the population,
mingling humour with pity. His flexible use of near-rhyme, permitting an abundant,
somewhat colloquial vocabulary, and the ease of his rhythmical flow secured for him
a good deal of popularity, even though he seldom produced anything as memorable
as his early lyrical reminiscences of the Estonian War of Liberation, in which he
had participated as a volunteer. Somewhat like the later Visnapuu, but with a
special facility and dramatic tension of his ovn, he liked to dwell on the homely
aspects of rural life. Having seen a good deal of the world, he produced effective
travel diaries in verse, containing some remarkable exotic landscapes and seascapes,
but lack of concentration and excessive fluency too often kept him from rising much
beyond the level of poetic journalism,



Gathering strength toward the end of the twenties but not emerging in full force
until the middle thirties, a new generation of writers turned its back on this
somewhat half-baked realism and the materialistic philosophy underlying it. A
number of younger critics and scholars, including, among others, the notable
folklorist 0 s k a r L o o r it s, the explorer of Finno-Ugrian epic poetry
Au g u st An n i s t, and the student of French prose rhythms A 1 e ks a n d e r
A s p e 1, had been attracted by the initial elan of the "Literary Orbit" group
but soon realized its shallowness. Most of them felt the need for more searching
inquiries into the nature of poetry, society, and the mind of man. T. S. Eliot's
earlier critical output with its urge for some ultimate balance and its religious
leanings, Paul Valery's esoteric perfectionism, the formal beauty and tormented
metaphysical longings of Baudelaire, the immeasurable, disciplined greatness and
fervour of Dante, the depth and harmony of Pushkin were among the principal influences
that made themselves felt in this period of strong reaction against a looser conception
of art. Numerous verse translations of Verhaeren, Rimbaud, Villon, Dante, Alexander
Blok, Dutch and Finnish poets, Catullus, Horace, Gustav FrUding, Baudelaire, Poe,
Pushkin, Pope, Shakespeare's sonnets, Moliere's and Ibsen's verse dramas, and many
others broadened the outlook on the possibilities inherent in poetical expression.
The art of the literary essay developed afresh, delving more deeply into matters of
principle. New periodicals notably Varamu in Tallinn, edited Henrik Visnapuu
and adhering to conservative standards, --an- its opposite pole, Akadeemia, a Tartu
publication, representing the younger generation of academically trained writers -
discarded compromise and engaged in lively intellectual debates. At the same time
a new group of poets claimed and, after meeting with some opposition, achieved
public recognition. A comprehensive anthology, Arbujad (Logomancers, 1938), edited
by the present writer, demonstrated the coherence and literary quality of the new

The earliest of these poets to make his debut was H e i t i T a 1 v i k (1904-194),
a Bohemian of great intellectual austerity, utterly uncompromising in his dedication
to the highest possible artistic standards. On the face of it a decadent absorbed inma-
cabre and apocalyptic visions, he was actually perhaps the poet with the greatest
sense of ethical responsibility in his generation. More intensely than most he
sensed the approaching "twilight of the gods", the weakening of the moral fibre
of the western world whose bulwarks seemed to crumble so easily under the impact
of totalitarian dogma and practice. Feeling that there was no physical escape from
this Neo-Barbarianism, Talvik was consciously fighting a rear-guard action against
the spirit of the returning Dark Ages. The poet's greatest task for him was to
impose spiritual order on the threatening chaos, "to enclose in slim stanzas the
blind rage of the elements". In this respect, his poetry is closely akin to the
philosophy of Julien.Benda: Talvik was one of the few "clerks" absolutely refusing
to have any truck with the Great Betrayal. Sparse as Talvik's output was, its
effect on his coevals was great. The epigrammatic sharpness and otherworldly
perspicuity of his short poems moved his readers in a way Sutiste, Hiir and their
group never did. His profound personal culture, never obtrusively presented, lent
intellectual largeness to his verse; his extreme sincerity added authority to his
voice. The chiselled neatness of his form, embodying a weighty, passionate substance,
made it difficult not to remember his poems.

The more ample talent of B e t t i A 1 v e r (1906- ), who married Talvik,
was of a similar cast. She had been a promising realistic novelist until she met
Talvik. Then, all of a sudden, she began to write verse of rare formal perfection
and imaginative boldness. Without any apparent effort, she had absorbed all the


poetic lessons of Young Estonia and "Siuru", adding to them an elegance, ease and
sparkle that were purely personal. Her narrative poem in rhymed iambic octo-
syllables, The Story of the White Crow (1931), dealt lightly with the love affairs
of young intellectuals, somewhat along the lines of Byron's Don Juan or Pushkin's
Eugene Qnegin, but like these poems, .it had its moments of deeper seriousness, and
its formal brilliance, its ironical pointedness, and its witty defiance of bourgeois
sedateness made it one of the most striking first volumes of verse in the thirties.
The lyrics of her next book. Dust and Fire (1936) carried her right into the
forefront of Estonian literature.. Disillusionment, dramatic and satirical force,
an unusual ability to create imagery of symbolic import, and a nostalgic metaphysical
urge combine in these poems into a whole of haunting intensity. Alver's exceptional
virtuosity may here sometimes still seem playful but the core of her poetry is
movingly serious. A rebellious soul, believing in a Platonic world of transcendental
truth, struggles with its own shortcomings and the inadequacy of human existence:
"You made earth hell, my soul, and heaven an epigram." Life to her is an enormous
hotel with labyrinthine passages, haunted by strangers "with forged passports-,
unintelligible words and flashing knives": "If we but knew where, where we shall
once travel from here?" Two twin sisters, the poetess's heart and her thioghlt, are
irreconcilably divided against each other, until "the pensive Muse" visits them: then
both.kneel quietly down to unlace her shoes. Like a painter, she is making sketches
in a lion's cage, knowing that even if the animal should spare her, she will never
be spared by the majestic beast drawn by herself. Reason, a blind warrior, wanders
lost in the wilderness, but a child comes to show him the way: the soul. The poet
is like the shadow of an ancient legend: "He sees all, all see him as through the
splinter of a diamond. Banners gleam in the refracted light, conquerors and conquered
hang on crosses, When the flame of doom flashes, he will sleep in the grass among
wild beasts". Thought, seemingly an airy phantom, never disappears: it will choose
its abode in the recesses of the universe, awaiting the moment of its return like
a gigantic angel or beast. Human longings can call the heavenly Titans back. But
if the earth should be destroyed, leaving them free to remain in their place of
rest, their flaming hands, moulding chaos, will re-create mankind, the earth, and

Such crystal-clear symbolism, almost allegory, dominates Alver's significant volume.
Everything becomes concrete and is visualized, yet far more is suggested than stated.
The metrical form, whether simple quatrains, sonnets, or more intricate measures,
always remains transparent, and the complex feeling and thought converge into
patterns combining great delicacy with strength. Alver admired Baudelaire, Heine
and Pushkin, and like theirs, her poetry, with all its passionateness, inner contrasts
and conflicts, remains artistically harmonious and balanced.

It is one of the many tragedies of Estonian literature that another volume of Alver's
lyrics, which the present writer has seen in manuscript, was lost in the vicissitudes
of the second world war. Some of her finest work has thus irretrievably perished.
Fortunately, a good deal, not collected in book form, managed to appear in periodicals.
It showed her scope to be constantly broadening. Native motifs and folk poetry
enriched her manner. Unlike Under, whose stature she closely approached, she
nearly always avoided expressing her personal feelings directly~ Ballads, symbolic
situations, sparsely drawn landscapes, "portrait poems", that is, delineations
of human types, lyrics sounding like folk ditties, carefully worked out longer
allegories were her favorite media of expression. Her poetic creed, stated in the
poem "Of the great Sweep", is, like Talvik's, that of a last defender of a higher
world., All of life, flames as well as embers, should be matter for verse; the largest
grains, the richest vats are there for the poet's enjoyment; yet, like a soldier,
he should hold his spear in readiness to defend the land of Faery: "Condense all
beams into your shield, even in the very heat of battle transmute all brass to gold;


and if you lack the severity to conquer, let at least your fall be heavy".
Alver's increasing gravity reaches its fullest expression in the long poem "Bread",
a sombre allegory of the life of man (and incidentally, of the Estonian people)
toiling for his daily bread the bread of the body as well as the spirit. In
this piece, as in many others, Alver's cosmopolitan imagery is gone: folk imagery
and folk rhythms are used with real sublimity.

The work of Talvik and Alver formed the spearhead for the pre-war resurgence of
symbolism and artistic discipline, the closest precedent to which is found in the
Young Estonia movement. They were not alone, however. The religious mysticism
of the orientalist U k u M a s i n g (.romontories into the Gulf of Rains, 1935)
was equally sincere, and the symbolism of his visionary verse often rivals theirs
in intensity. Masing is more obsure, partly because of his numerous esoteric
allusions, but the varied rhythms and intricate rhyme schemes of this long hymnic
piece in a way a counterpart to Rilke's Book of Hours constantly create an
impression of symphonic music, The imagery, sometimes Hebraic and sometimes very
intimate and homely, has grandeur, Masing remained an outsider, but the quality of
his work is becoming more and more apparent to his readers, especially among the
younger Estonian refugees in the West, for whom this book has become almost the
Estonian equivalent of H'dlderlin's late poetry one of the real monuments of their

The fresh, graceful spontaneity of K e r s t i M e r i 1 a a s (1913- ) and
the self-searchings of her husband A u g u st S a n g (191L- ) failed to reach
the maturity which their beginnings promised, when the Soviet occupation of Estonia
put an end to intellectual development. A slightly older poet B e r n a r d
K a n g r o (1910-. ), who succeeded in escaping westwards, accomplished more.
Kangro like them, represented in the Arbujad anthology, for which he suggested
the title had struck a new note from the outset. Into a poetry which had become
increasingly urbanized, he re-introduced nature, with a novel attention to all its
minutiae and animalcules, viewing every weed and insect, every moss and lichen with
eyes as keen as they were fervent. His assonantal sonnets, a form devised by himself,
showed an extreme precision of observation coupled with a strong feeling for the
vitality of natural phenomena. This microscopic intensity soon changed: it
became the transforming intensity of hallucinatory dreams. His form loosened and
and mellowed, at times becoming rapid and story, as in his "Wind Songs", and at
times full of the brooding quiet of mysterious folklore. The widening background
of his poetry reached far into the pre-historic, mythical past. A special fascination
attracted him to the smoky setting of old kiln-rooms. They evoked for him the
memory of innumerable toiling ancestors and their ghostly families. Lengthening
shadows shadows leading into the past figured among Kangro's favorite images.
Kangro may be claimed to have led to its culmination the romanticism of the old
Estonian farm, seen as the symbol of the entire history of Estonia. He has no equal
in reproducing its atmosphere.

All of these writers were Neo-Symbolists. There is more than a little of universality
of meaning in the controlled but rich verse of the best of them. The intellectual
element, very strong in Talvik and Alver, becomes more subdued in Masing and Kangro,
but it is patently there, as the magic of the deeper-than-rational is present even
in the most intellectually transparent of Alver's and Talvik's poems. A remarkable
new revival of poetry seemed to be beginning in Estonia, only to be interrupted by
the second world war with its concomitant, the annihilation of intellectual as
well as civic freedom by foreign powers.



By the beginning of the war that was to put an end to her independence, Estonia
had reached an enviable condition of material prosperity and cultural progress,
The finances of the country were sound, its internal political situation was so
stable that the few supporters of extreme factions had no hopes of shaking it
without active interference from outside. The educational standards of Estonia were
among the highest in Europe. More books were produced per capital than in any other
country, with the possible exception of Iceland, the best literary periodicals had
circulations that in at least one instance exceeded ten thousand not a low figure
for a population of 1,200,000 and the arts painting, sculpture, music, the theatre -
were flourishing, reaching not only the elite but the masses both in the larger and
the smaller populated centres. There were no extremes of wealth or poverty, and
illiteracy was a matter of the remote past. The American writer Marion Washburn
was not imagining things when she described Estonia as the only happy country she
had discovered. And yet there was an autumnal feeling in the air: the international
situation, with its lack of any kind of collective security, was only too obviously
threatening. The cultural flowering was, in a sense, a forced one: writers, artists,
scholars hurried, trying to accomplish what they could, since they felt there might
not be much time left. This fact goes far to explain the tragic undertone in the
poetry of the time, as well as its almost feverish idealism. Especially the younger
writers needed to discover the best in themselves before it was too late. A new
language, equal to the most exacting intellectual and artistic tasks, had been
created, new types of beauty and perfection seemed about to materialize provided
there was time. Hence the intensity, the absence of leisureliness in Estonian
literature before the great landslide,

The one thing needed, time, was denied to Estonia. She was occupied first by Soviet
Russia in 1940, then, after a year of anxiety, suffering, and mass deportations to
the arctic regions of Russia, by the German army, and finally, in 1944, again by
the Soviets, About a hundred thousand Estonians, including a very large proportion
of intellectuals, fled the country. Thousands perished on the way. An especially
great number of writers reached Sweden, many drifted into Germany. Those who were
left behind lost all chances of self-expression. Some journals continued to appear
under the Soviets, some literature was published, but none of that part of it which
has reached the Western world is of any artistic value: Soviet standardization
froze the writers' minds dead. Some authors notably August Jakobson were awarded
Stalin prizes for their effective adherence to so-called Socialist realism, the purpose
of which was to veil reality. The only opportunities for free expression were those
remaining to the refugees in the West.

An exiled group comprising only about eight per cent of the original population
of Estonia and, moreover, scattered all over the world for many of the displaced
persons subsequently went to Canada, the United States, South Africa and Australia -
could not normally be expected to support a thriving literature of its own. The
literary output in the Estonian language has quite inevitably dwindled. Even so,
the Estonian refugees are bringing out more books and periodicals than their compatriots
at home. Particularly in Sweden, a number of publishing firms above all the Estonian
Authors' Cooperative are busy turning out new titles, but they have serious compet-
itors in Canada. Nearly all the older authors this side of the Iron Curtain
steadily continue to write, and quite a few new names have become prominent. It is
difficult to view this recent refugee literature with a proper feeling of perspective,
and much of it is hard to obtain, but a few essential features may be pointed out.

The absence of professional theatres has practically killed the drama, but the
novelists remain productive. August M'lk, August Gailit, Karl Ristikivi, Albert
Kivikas are still making essential contributions, not infrequently surpassing
their earlier work. At first their main subject was the homeland they had left
behind, which they described in a tone of nostalgic reminiscence. Most of them have
passed that stage, concentrating instead on the experiences and psychology of their
exiled countrymen, usually in a realistic fashion. In one notable instance,
Ristikivi's All Souls' Night, the author has developed a new fantastic semi-
allegorical manner strikingly reflecting the uprooted psyche of the stateless.
Bernard Kangro combines a poetical imagination with considerable narrative gifts
in a series of long novels about his native Vdrumaa, partly historical and partly
dealing with the recent past, Va 1 e v U i b o p u u barely known before the
exodus, shows himself equally strong in the short story and the novel, frequently
choosing,for his milieu the rural scenery of his childhood, but displaying keen
psychological insight and a delicate discreetness of approach also in his analyses of
the refugee mind, e.g. in his sailors' novel Four Lights, Gert Helbemde, a new-comer,
specializes in historical novels re-creating the past of his native city, Tallinn.
Satirical but fundamentally serious talents, vividly and critically portraying the
past as well as the present are I 1 m a r T a 1 v e and Voldemar iun, the former
also known as perhaps the wittiest writer of feuilletons of the Estonian diaspora.
Ain Kalmus, a learned theologian., produces effective scriptural novels (The Prophet)
and novels about the early Christians (Fiery Chariots) in a slightly archaic style
reminiscent of Alexander Tassa but surpassing him. in scope and strength of inspiration
and masculine realism. Other authors Arvo Madgi, Arved Viirlaid, Aino Thoen, Peter
Lindsaar, Pedro Krusten, etc. maintain solid standards of craftmanship, writing
mostly in a realistic vein.

Some remarkable work has been done in poetry.. The most important names are still
old ones those of Marie Under, Gustav Suits, Bernard Kangro and Henrik Visnapuu.
During the war, while still in Estonia, M a r i e U n d e r in With Sorrowful
Mouth (19L2) brought out some of her finest poetry, purified into a new simplicity
by the sufferings of her nation. In her latest book, Sparks in Ashes (195h),
largely written in Sweden, a strong, generous mind passionately voices the plight
and pride of dispossessed but unbroken multitudes without indulging in the shrill
tones of uncontrolled hatred. S u i t s, the great pioneer and essentially the creator
of modern Estonian poetry, after decades of silence was stirred into writing new
verse by the experiences of war and exile. In Fire and Wind (1951) he shows him-
self as great a master of his medium as ever before and a deep sympathy for his
fellow exiles mellows and enriches his tone,. Most of this verse is subdued. The
imagery is often as distant and as full of unstated implication as that of Chinese
poetry. Melancholy predominates, but the last lines of the book "Youth -laughs,
laughs even in hell, though the blue vault above should crack to splinters" -
testify to the unbroken courage of this relentless pursuer of perfection. H e n r i k
V i s n a p u u, more prolific than either Suits or Under even in exile until his
death in New York in 1951, wrote.some impressive patriotic verse but achieved more
as an organizer of literary life, especially during his stay in Germany. His
memoirs showed the essential simplicity, even naivete, of his sincere mind, which
constructed for itself a simplified but moving version of Existentialism.

Ber n a r d K a n g r o, prominent enough in the "Arbujad" group just before the
war, achieved a new and higher status in exile. In his five volumes of lyrics
written abroud, the dream quality of his verse often becomes a nightmare quality.
The visionary breadth is frequently greater than before, the emotion more gripping,
the symbolism larger and stronger. Kangro's physical detachment from his country
makes its landscape, its people, its history appear in broader outline, with an


added poignancy and dignity. In addition to his work as poet and novelist Kangro now
occupies a central position as editor of the principal literary periodical of the
Estohian refugees, Tulimuld (Burnt Earth), published in Sweden.

New lyricists of talent are appearing from time to time. Modernist tendencies -
such as the surrealism of I 1 m a r L a a b a n have relatively little support,
but the experimental spirit is thoroughly.alive in the fine verbal artistry of
A 1 e k s i s R a n n i t and Harri Asi, both rich in musical invention. The
masculine, controlled tone of K a 1 j u L e p i k, the rhetorical elan of Arved
Viirlaid, the challenging.naturalism, bitter self-scrutiny and metrical virtuosity of
Iv a r G r n t h a the gloomy but intimate, epigrammatically pointed verse
of Ar n o Vi h a 1 em m and the discreet dialect poems of Raimond
K o 1 k hold out promises of sustained vitality for Estonian poetry.

The literary genre thatnext to the drama, has suffered most, is the essay.
There is less room for it in the shrunk periodicals now published.. But criticism
and intellectual controversy are by no means dead. Harald Parrest, Bernard Kangro,
Oskar Loorits, Ivar Ivask, Ilmar Laaban, Johannes Kaups to name only a few -
are among the writers who see to it that the cross-fertilization of minds through
intellectual debate does not cease. No new schools have emerged, but individual
thought remains keen: the exiled Estonians remain sharply opposed to standardization.




Ivar Ivask
(St. Olaf College)

In his widely translated book Baltic Eclipse (Victor Gollancz, London 1948)
Professor Oras writes about his own background: "I am an Estonian, a native
of the small Republic of Estonia, now under Soviet occupation, situated between
Finland in the north, the Baltic in the west, Latvia in the south and Russia
in the east. Born in Tallinn in 1900 as a schoolmaster's son, I, like nearly
all my compatriots, come from farming stock both on my father's and on my
mother's side. Most of the summer months of my childhood and adolescence
were spent on the farm on which my father was born. Since only Russian schools--
apart from a few specially privileged German ones and an Estonian high-school
for girls in Tartu--were permitted in my country, my education until 1917 was
exclusively in Russian. My teachers were mostly Russians and I was not permitted
to use my own language even in private talk when at school, though it goes
without saying that I, like my school friends, daily and hourly flouted this
decree: it only deepened our awareness of the national problem and turned us
into ardent patriots. It also made us look all the more eagerly towards the
more liberal West, with which we felt ourselves united by intellectual, religious
and ideological ties. When Soviet forces invaded Estonia in 1918 I joined the
Estonian Army. After the reopening of the University of Tartu as a national seat
of learning in 1919, I studied modern languages, literature and philosophy there-
at first as a soldier-student attached to a so-called Student's Battalion. Having
taken my degree in 1923, I continued my studies first in Leipzig and then, at
greater length, in Oxford; became a lecturer in English at my University in
1928; was appointed Docent in English Philology by the University of Helsinki
in 1939, and made Professor of English in Tartu later in the same year. My
interests until the recent war were almost exclusively literary and philological.
Teaching, research, criticism, translation of English and other poets into my
own language occupied most of my time. Many of my long vacations were spent in
the British Museum and the Bodleian Library. As a literary critic, I was a
spokesman of new movements at home and abroad, particularly of those struggling
for a new integration of the intellect with the emotions and imagination. As
a critic of cultural policy, I fought against the attempted ascendancy of German
intellectual influence. I was one of the founders of the Estonian P.E.N., whose
Secretary I was for many years, as well as of the Academic Anglo-Estonian Society
in Tartu. While preferring the West to the East, I yet worked hard to popularize
some of the principal achievements of Russian culture amrng the growing generation,
In politics I was what might best be described as a radical Liberal without
finding it possible to subscribe to any officially formulated creed. In this
I was as individualistic as most members of my race." (pp. 14-16),

About his country we read the following in the same book: "As for my country,
a good deal more must be said, since it figures very vaguely on the mental map
even of many highly educated people. It is larger than Denmark, but before the
war it had only just over 1,100,000 inhabitants. Sixty-seven per cent. of its
population lived by agriculture. Most of them were Lutherans, and the proportion
of persons of non-Estonian extraction was only 12 per cent. Our race, closely
akin to the Finns, and speaking a language very like Finnish-which is utterly
unlike Russian--had lived in its present home for over 1,000 years before any
Anglo-Saxons appeared on the British Isles. Wedged in between the East and West,


it was overrun innumerable times by the Danes, the Swedes, the Poles and above all
by the Germans and Russians. Few European nations have had as gloomy a past as ours.
Deprived of political liberty for 700 years, my people experienced grimmer oppression
even than the Poles, and over a much longer period. Decimation by war, famine,
pestilence and the inhuman conditions of serfdom under the Baltic German nobility
several times reduced it to only a fraction of its original number, notably during
the Great Northern War, when General Sheremetyev was able to announce triumphantly
to his sovereign, Peter the Great, that 'not a cock had been left crowing and not
a dog barking in the entire country.t But my ancestors, hardened, sturdy and
abounding in vitality, recovered from all vicissitudes. They multiplied again
and took again every opportunity of national advancement. When the first
faint breaths of Liberalism began to stir in Tsarist Russia during the
nineteenth century. Estonia, too, was reached by them. My people immediately
seized their chance. Having been freed from the depressing status of glebae
adscripti, they soon bought off nearly half of the soil they cultivated anid with
their improved resources succeeded in eliminating illiteracy almost completely from
their midst as early as by the 'eighties of the last century, when much of Western
Europe still groped in intellectual darkness. They secured for themselves
a strong economic foothold in the Germanized towns, soon took the initiative in
municipal politics and presently emerged as a full-fledged civilized nation with
every claim to political independence, Competing with the Baltic German ruling
class, they made co-operative organization do what lack of big money wou? otherwise
have prevented them from achieving, building better dairy farms, better banks,
better school houses and better theatres than their somewhat provincialized
taskmasters of the very recent past. Their vigour and independence resisted
Russification as successfully as they had overcome Germanization, 'Europe was
the watchword of the rising generation of the dawning twentieth century, but
'Europe' meant a Europe for Estonians, culture on the best European level, but
resting on a firm national basis. So it was as intellectually ma': hired members
of the European comity of nations that the Estonians taking advantage of the
professed principles of both Kerenski and Lenin. declared their secession from
the East in 1918, a few weeks after the Bolshevjiks going back on their quite
unambiguous promises, had cancelled th= elections or an Estonian Constituent
Assembly as soon as it appeared that these would result in an ignominious defeat
for them. It was as westerners that the Estonians fought against the Soviet
invaders, who followed on the heels of the retreating German forces of occupation
in the autumn of 1918. And when Soviet Russia in 1920, unconditionally and
'for ever,' renounced her claims on my country, obtaining in compensation
exceptional trade and transit facilities, Estonia launched out on her career of
independent nationhood as a democratic republic in the Western sense of the word..,,
For the first time in 700 years we were free to cultivate our garden, which we
did with zest, vigour and circumspection, tilling every inch of the ground as no
foreign master had ever dreamed of doing. But much of our fervour was due to the
feeling that our freedom might not last long. We wanted to come as near perfection
as possible, proving our mettle to ourselves as well as to the world,'even though
a blizzard from outside should eventually wreck our work. We knew these political
blizzards all too well.! (pp,16-18, 23). The flourishing of Estonian literature
during the years of i-aependence is concisely presented in this "Survey of Estonian
Literature." In 1940 Estonia was deprived of her hard-won independence by the
Soviet Uni6n and was involuntarily made another republic of the USSR.
From 1941-194 the country was ravaged by the Nazi occupation and since 1945 the
country has been sealed off by the Iron Curtain. From a population of 1,1009000 about
63,000 fled as refugees to the West. Among them was Professor Oras, whose
exile has lead him over Helsinki, Stockholm and Oxford to the University of Florida,


In the field of English literature, Professor Oras has published a great number
of scholarly articles along with the following books: Milton's Editors and
Commentators..1,695-1801 (2 parts. Tartu 1930-31), The Critical Ideas of T.S. Eliot
(Tartu 1932), Notes on Some Miltonic Usages (Tartu 1938) and On Some Aspects
of Shelley's Poetic Imagery(Tartu 1938),

Professor Oras has written extensively about different writers and works of
European literature in various Estonian periodicals. He supplemented this
activity as cultural intermediary with a profusion of masterful Estonian trans-
lations, which have made him the greatest translator in the language. The
following translations have been published in book-form: "Macbeth", "Romeo and
Juliet", "The Tempest", "Othello", "A Midsummernight s Dream","Julius Caesar'
"Anthony and Cleopatra", Coriolanus", and a selection of the "Sonnets" by
Shakespeare; "Le Misanthrope," "Tartuffe" and "Les Femmes Savantes" by Moliere;
"Torquato Tasso", "Iphigenia auf Tauris" and "Faust I" by Goethe. Besides
these major translations we have to mention also his versions of some of the
works by Shaw, Huxley. Thackeray, Mark Twain., He has translated poetry from the
following languages: English. French, German, Italian, Latin, Swedish, Finnish,
Russian a.o. From these translations we may stress particularly his versions of
poems by Goethe, Pushkin. Shelley, Fr'ding, Manninen, Valery, T.S. Eliot, R.Frost
and G. Benn, At present he is engaged on a translation of "Hamlet", It
should be noted that he has translated Estonian poetry into both English and
German as well.

Professor Oras' critical essays on Estonian literature surpass in evaluative
precision and sensitivity even the critical writings of Gustav Suits and
Friedebert Tuglas. He has helped to elucidate critically the nature of
Marie Under's classical poetic achievement as well as the contributions of
such younger poets of the thirties as Heiti Talvik and Betti Alver. He edited
and presented the last generation of poets still to mature in independent Estonia.
The title of this exciting anthology was Arbujad or Logomancers (Tartu 1938).
His collected critical essays about Estonian literature will be printed for
his 60th birthday by a refugee publisher in Sweden with the title Laiemasse Ringi
or In a Wider Circle,


A Selected Bibliography

a) History and General Introductions

Cathala, J., Portrait de 1'Estonie, Paris 1937

Jackson, Hampden J., Estonia, Allen & Unwin, London 1948, 272 p,

Meuvret, J., Historie des Pays Baltiquesj Paris 1934

Oras, A., Baltic Eclipse, V. Gollancz,London 1948

Pick, F. W., The Baltic Nations: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Boreas,
London 1952, 261 p.

Villecourt, L., LtEstonie, Paris 1932

b) The Language

Matthews, W. K., "Linguistic Aspects of Estonian", in The Slavonic
and East European Review, June 1954, pp. 291-317

Saagpakk, P. F,, An Estonian-English Dictionary, part I, Nordic
Press, New York 1955, 240 p. (with a concise Estonian
grammar in English by J. Aavik)

Saareste, A, Die Estnische Sprache,. Tartu 1932

c) Literary Histories

Harris, E. Howard, Estonian Literature, Boreas, London 1947, 80 p.

Estonian Literature In Exile, Boreas, London 1949, 36 p.

Oras, A., "Letteratura Estone" in Storia delle Letterature Baltiche,
Giacomo Devoto ed., Nuova Academia Editrice, Milano 1957,
pp. 13-72,
Suits, G., "Estnisk Littetatur" in Europat Litteratur l918-1939, ed.
A. Lundkvist, Forum, Stockholm 19l7, pp. 123-150.

d) Anthologies

Anthologie des Conteurs Estoniens, Sagittaire, Paris 1937

Estland bergttar /Noveller, Stockholm 1946, 184 p.


Estniska sagor och sagner, Stockholm 1945, L14 po

Lewis, A. v., Finnische und Estnische VolksmErchen, Jena 1922

Matthews, W. K., Anthology of'Modern'Estonian Poetry, Univ. of Florida
Press, Gainesville 1953, 161 p.

Oras, A.. Dies ist die Stunde/Acht estnische Dichter (to be published

e) Some Estonian fiction and poetry
to translation

Gailit, A., Mennesker paa en 0. Overs, av S. Wilde. Retzel, Kobenhavn
1944. 22T7 p

Toomas Nipernaadi. La Sixaene, Paris 1946. 328 p..

,Brinhande hjartan. Overs, av E. Stenius. Orto, Vadstena 1948.

Kangro, Bernard, Earthbound. Selected Poems. Translated by W. K.
Matthews. Lund 1951. 79 p.

_Flucht und Bleibe, Gedichte in Auswahl. Deutsch von H. Stock.
Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, Lund 195;. 96 p.,

Kirby, W. F., The Hero of Estonia, London 1895, 2 vols. ( A translation
of the Estonian epic "Kalevipoeg")

Lepik, Kalju, Kantat fir fl'~~t och Unglakbr. Overs, av S. Airik-
Priuhka. Stockholm 1995.

Milk, A., Im Angesicht des Himmels. Deutsch von P. v. Pezold, Herbig,
Berlin 1944. 300 p.

er gute Hafen. Deutsch von E. v. Wistinghausen. Herbig,
Berlin 1947. 338 po.

SDas blihende Meer. Herbig, Berlin u. Bonn 1949. 292 p.,
Het Lied van den Golfslag, Roman uit Estland, Philip
Kruseman, Den Haag 1945. 301 pe

MInd, Evald (=Kalmus, Ain), Natten dom for tidigt, Berattelse fran
ockuperat land. Harriers, Stockholm 1946, 270 p.

Natten kom for tidlig, Fortelling fra et okkupert land.
Oversatt av R. Nissen-Drejer. De Unges Forlag, Oslo (1946).
267 p.

,__ Natten kom for tidligb. Fortaelling fra Estland. Lohse,
Kobenhav- 1946. 179 Po.

Mdnd, E .,Nu mste manniskorna vara starka. Harriers, Stockholm 1946.
179 p.

Kungens g'ster. De Unges, Stockholm 1946. 100 p.

__ The Unfaithful. Muhlenberg Press, Philadelphia 1953.

____ Den Trolose. 0. Lohse Forlag, Kobenhavn 1956.
Oras, A., Slagskugga' ber Balticum. Overs, av W. Frej, Natur och Kultur,
Stockholm 1949. 244 p.

Selge V., Halvtannat 9r i Sovjetryssland. Dagbok fran ar 1941-1943.
F~rlaget Veka, Kalmar 1951. 451 p.

Suits, Gustav, Flames on the Wind. Compiled and Translated by W. K.
Matthews. Boreas Publishing Co., Ltd., London 1953. 80 p.

Tammsaare, A. H., La Terre-du-Voleur. Adaptation franjaise d'Elisabeth
Desmarest. Pierre Tremois, Paris 1946. 400 p. Preface by Jean Giono.

Indrek. Adaptation franpaise de E. Terrence. Pierre Tremois,
Paris. 277 p.

Jours d'tmeutes. Adaptation franchise de G. Audouin-Dubreul.
Pierre Trdmois, Paris 1947. 276 p.

SLes amours de Karin. Adaptation franqaise de G. Audouin-
Dubreul. Pierre Tr-mois, Paris 19L7. 289 p.

Retour A la Terre-du-Voleur. Adaptation frangaise de G. Audouin-
Dubreul. Pierre Tremois, Paris 1948, 320 p.

Husbonden pa K'rboja, Stockholm 1938.

Vargamfne, Leipzig 1938 (German transl, of part I).

Uibopuu, V., Fyra eldar. Overs. av R. Ljungdell, LT Fbrlag, Stockholm 1955.

Under, Marie, Stimme aus dem Schatten. Deutsch von H. Stock, Verlag
Herder, Freiburg 19h9. 77 p.

Child of Man, Compiled and Translated by W. W. Matthews.
Boreas Publishing Co., Ltd., London 1955. 96 p.

Veedam V., Vail, C. B., Sailing to Freedom. New York, London 1953. 255 p.

Zwilf Mann zuviel. Eine Flucht Uber den Ozean. Tatsachenbericht.
Schweizer Druck- und Verlagshaus AG, ZUrich 1953, 368 p.

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