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A selection from the poems of the modern Estonian poet Uku Masing in English and German translation
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 Material Information
Title: A selection from the poems of the modern Estonian poet Uku Masing in English and German translation
Physical Description: 31 leaves : ; 29 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Oras, Ants, 1900-
Publisher: s.n.
Place of Publication: S.l
Publication Date: 1957?]
 Subjects
Subjects / Keywords: Estonian literature   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
 Notes
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
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."
Statement of Responsibility: by Ants Oras.
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Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 46413874
ocm46413874
Classification: lcc - PH631 .O73 1957
System ID: AA00012813:00002

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Full Text







A SELECTION FR.:OM THE POEMS

OF THE

MODERN ESTONIAN POET UKU MAKING

IN

ENGLISH AND GERMAN TRANSLATION

With a Biographical Note appended




Contents

PAGE

1. Song of Warriors Retreating Before Ghosts............... ........,3,7
(2 English versions and 1 German version)

2. Easter Morning Creed..........,........................ ....3,6,
(2 English versions and 1 German version)

3. Darkness Defies Light....................................... .2,9
(1 English and 1 German version)

4. August Night Ecstasy............,......* ................... ..... ..0*,8
(1 English and 1 German version)

5, Of :othing but Faith.......................... ...............,10
(1 English and 1 German version)

6. Only the Mists are Real...................................*...6,10
(1 English and 1 German version)

7. One Beautiful Day............. ...................o.........o ,8
(1 English and 1 German version)

8. Song of the Warrior Preparing for Battle with Ghosts............... 2,10
(1 English and 1 German version)

9, Dem Erbfeind bangt vor der Verneinung............... .................9

10. A Short Biographical Note on the Poet...... .... ..................12













FOUR POEMS IN THE ENGLISH TRANSLATION

OF

ANTS ORAS


Song of Warriors Retreating


Before Ghosts


We are the pipers whose country is gone, we the rabble whose course
Follows wind-scattered clouds in the sky, whose sagging home is their horse.
To the blue of the distant horizon we keep plodding our dust-covered way,
If the land should cease, we shall'kindle the shimmering waves of the bay.
We tread on our shadows, our hands, torn banners, ragged with fight,
Point to a region still free--God's towering mountains of light.
Our horses are nags, and bone echoes bone, and our swords are but rust,
But our souls burn like torches of legend whose pitch flames bright through the dust,
Wounds open, feet sore with pebbles, we straggle through puddle and stench,
A legion, beaten in battle, whose heart is a blood-filled'trench.
Pipes, dinted by bullets, sound shrill, dry gullets groan, smothered with sand,
But our pride is.not broken--the trumpet stays fiimly clutched in our hand.
Vast forests are blazing behind us, fires blacken, destroyed by the hosts'
Of the King, who, we know, will undo us--black Death, the ruler of ghosts.

Yet we are the last defenders,'weIpipers and fighters in rags,
Defeated, despoiled of our pay, tired riders who cling to their nags,

We 'may long for angels' wings, but the'stubborn urge of Thy slaves,
O God, is powerless to hold Thy vision, the blessing it craves.
We may wait for the White Ship's sail while our smouldering bridges crash:
The last swaying pillars, we know it, will crumble to rubble and ash.
Our only friend is the road and our joy the country whose soil'
Our eyes shall never behold through the sweat of pain and toil.
Yet wherever'we die, we rejoice, for our tingling blood will tell
Its defiant tale to the foe: it will ring, a victor's bell.
Why care for the stain and the yearning and the smoke that flames and showers,
For high on the Tree Everlasting our hearts will burst open like flowers!
We'are the pipers whose homeland is gone, dim thought of the past,
We, seekers of wind-scattered clouds, our backbone the White Ship's 'mast.
We, strugglers to azure horizons, our longing, our spear and our sword,
And our eyes in the wilderness mirror the infinite land of the Lord.




(2)


Darkness Defies Light

Behind gates of tourmaline God shuts ashen eyes
Heavy taste of poppy on his lipshe sighs and dreams,
Long, a thousand years ago; winds from far-off skies
Touched his leaden eyelids, but the airy swirling streams
Came like summer clouds drawn by the breath of his divinity
Far above the earth which they shall nevermore behold,
Whirled in misty swathes to the top of blue infinity,
Light-grey shrouds to hide from mankind his sun's bright gold.

Behind gates of tourmaline, tired of drowsing, God
Sits with restless hands on his knees, his features tense
With great thoughts of Sabbath, as shadows flit and nod
On the face of power whose wishes are immense.
Shall he go and see his children? Will his brilliance blind them?
Surely trees and cuckoos't song and brooks will be the same,
Men at night will pray to him and feel his breath behind them,
Afraid he may withdraw from them the blessing of his name,

But the Angel locks the gates of tourmaline, the Lord
Shuts his eyes and sleeps again, the thicket of his brows
Darkens, a deep forest, vast and unexplored.
And men court perdition, forget their prayers and vows,
Renounce the guiding stars and the flocking clouds that fly to him,
Turn green woods to desert and make swamps of seas and lakes.
When the last trees shudder, the last tempests stir and cry to him
Will he understand our despair when he awakes?



Song of the Warrior Preparing for Battle with Ghosts

Declare war? Why? I shall wage my war, a reaper
With sickle and scythe.
My foes' thirst is hot and deep, but my steel cuts deeper--
Let malice writhe
I shall fall as a victor--not in the glory of victory;
Yet the blood-soaked ditch
Of my breast shall grow the tree that the ghosts' maledictory
Murmurs bewitch;
My soul is a wound, bit, wounded, it conquers the regions
Of Death's dark horde,
And my heart shall not suffer the hoofs of its trampling legions,
Even torn and gored.
Heart, torn and gored, look up--their shield is cloven,
Their pride is dead,
For I am the angels' luminous banner, woven
Of mist-spun thread.
Bone-eating bane, fierce greed whose blunted blade is
No cause for boasts,
Thus God, my Lord, decreed: There shall be but Hades
And Night for ghosts.
Why the disgrace of war? 0 you, all-seeing,
Whose footstep treads
The stars, let'my enemies' house be but peopled with fleeing,
Unbodied heads




(3)


Easter Morning Creed

Sixty-eight times in its orbit 6f fire turns the wheel of existence,
Of bright gain and burning loss,
Till the funeral of flowers and white clouds that recede into distance,
Then the heart must bear its cross.
Add a few days for your friend, among alder and willow
Whose pollen floats light in the spring.
Plant firmly the tree at his head, with soft moss that he liked for his pil:
Under shadows that flicker and swing.
Ere the shepherds start tuning their pipes and the penfolds awaken
I shall find my cool .quickening'rill.
As surely as heaven is our dome, as its core is live fire to embolden
You who falter-as RS is my name:
I shall live on the day when the blossoming earth takes my golden
Body, transfigured to flame.





II.

SIX POEMS IN THE ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF W. K. MATTHEWS



Song of Soldiers Retreating before Ghosts

We are trumpeters stripped of our holdings that once taught our folly to brag,
And all that we have now are visions and each man the sorriest nag.
The'azure horizons still summon down hummocked and dust-smothered ways,
And, if the land suddenly ceased, we should tread on a watery blaze.
We ride on our shadows, deploying no flags but our suppliant hands,
And we seek for the mountains of G6d and beyond them the sea-washed sands.
Our horses are weary with movement, and rib bone thrusts out beside bone;
Our swords are corroded with rust and as heavy and awkward as stone;
Our feet are naked and bleeding; our bodies are bitter with pain;
Our minds are as earth grown sodden with blood of the vanquished slain;
Our trumpets are dinted and broken; our anthems encumbered with dust;
Yet.we go our predestined way, and our music pierces through rust.
The forests are blazing behind us, the fields full of acrid breath:
We know that our forces are followed by those of the ghost king'Death
And that we are the last defenders, forlorn hope's ragged array,
Defeated and long abandoned, the men with arrears of pay.
Our flagging ardour is kindled by splendour of angels' wings,
But you are beyond our possession, 0 God of created things.
We dream of the White Ship's canvas, the trail behind us in flames,
And the smouldering ashes'growing in heaps of forgotten names
Our only comrade the road, we rejoice in the promised beach,
Although we know that its curve is for ever out of our reach.
It does not matter one jot where we die, for blood is to spend,
And valour that laughs at the victor was ever the dying man's friend.
What of it that weariness wastes us and suns beat fierce on our brows




(h)


Our hearts are as light as the blossom on God's everlasting boughs.
We are trumpeters stripped of our holdings and free from the lead of the.past;
We still have the azure horizon; our hopes are the White Ship's mast;
The clouds stream like pennants and signal the goal towards which we press;
And our eyes refigure the vision of heaven in the wilderness.



One Beautiful Day

Yoir feet are calm to-day and do not tire
Me, but my crude eyes cannot see the hollow
Skiff of the sky where the cloud-fishes wallow
Between your passing toes in livid gyres.
My rafters blossomed out of building fires
What death-tick beetle's patient greed could swallow?
He too, released from masquerades to follow,
Lifts wings Your joy has tutored to aspire.

You, Lord, alone can call the tempest's hoary
Hands from the happy woods left in my keeping,
And spread the coming days in ordered story,
Like a green carpet blessed by prayer andSweeping
To the year's end; for, when the sun's last glory
Fails, Yours will be the only life that knows no sleeping.



August Night Ecstasy


Oh, now my complaint is ended
Against those who merit the edge of my hostile volition
And yet have not felt it.
God's empire is not more splendid,
Or the White Ship's* triumphant apparition,
For there is a moon, and a cloud-fashioned eagle,
And its straining head is I;
For there is a wind, and legend-shaken trees,
And a temple chant that is I.
That which now passes over house-tops
With the gentle tread of an elf,
That which now twitters in the verdure
Is not aware of self.
Is it not, ah joyl my heart's, my very heart's bird?


Lord God, I again feel your presence
Like the white wings of delight,
And to your gown clings radiance
As of virid stars in the night.
Are you not looking now through the tangled branches?
Stroking the reddening apples?
Will it ever come, if this is not the happy
Noon of my day?

*)A symbol of salvation used in the prophecies of the Estonian sectarian preacher
Maltsvet. The tragic story of the vigils for the mysterious vessel is familiar to
readers of English from "The White Ship" (Finn.'Valkea laiva') of the Finnish authoreE
Aino Kallas.




(5)


0 miracle! I do not regret the ruined time that blanches
Cheeks when you rise on my way,
Smiling at me through gladness,
As if you had long expected to have word
Of me and thought: What is that sadness
Which keeps him from imagining himself to be a bird,
Shaking a white foam of pinions,
Shot with flames of sylvan green,
Envied by the sea's cloud-minions
And by those who worship the seen?
Risen flame of Manala* beaches, I am a believer
Once more, for there is a hurrying moon and a cloud-bird,
And its lost importunate head is I;
For there is a wind, and in your garden the tall trees
Are down,and there, hands raised, am I.



Of Nothing but Faith

Jesus, silver-eyed and robed in all your graces,
When you walked the desert, fingers gently grasping
Irised whorls and circles, not the angel faces,
Nor God's self could recognize these loathly regions.
And how soft your passage over lakes where legions
Of fish fry moved freely! But your hand felt grasses,
Where a tiny fish the storms had tossed lay gasping
In its final throes, blind to the light that passes.
And you picked it up and walked on slowly, seeking
For its kin from which but violent storms could sever
It, Then these once found, its new love started speaking:
"Saviour, I would stay with you from now for ever."

Jesus, I repeat your name like kind caresses
To the dusk, the lamplight, and the lights fixed higher.
Do you know, the echo of your footfall blesses?
Wanderer in wastes, I bow to you with laughter
And I gladly clasp my hands in dust-stained prayer,
Cull me candid heavenly lilies that hereafter
These may grace the Dead Sea's topmost lifeless layer.
There is not a joy to equal that of singing
How you walk the coloured world in shine and shower,
Or of kneeling where your feet have taught the clinging
Earth and buried bones to put out leaf and flower,
Or of loving you as stars are loved by one in prison-
Brilliant stars, and trees, and the white-winged and airy
Drift of summer clouds. Ah, when you had arisen,
Was the earth still mute to the brown feet of Mary?


*) The Estonian Hades




(6)


Only the Mists are Real

Winds are whirled spindles that use has not worn;
I but a tenuous tissue of gloom
That God's taper fingers of one-piece bone
Wove in the stars' warm weaving-room.
Winds are whirled spindles. But who has said
What is the yarn of the earth's faced shrouds?
Frail lustre of mists, say their essence fled,
Spent that my head did not reach to the clouds.



Easter Credo

Sixty-eight are the fiery wheel's revolutions,
These and perhaps no more,
Then come the funeral of azure .flowers and cloudy ablutions,
And the cross lies at heart's door.
Add for your friend a few days culled from ample heaven,
Dusty with vernal leaves;
Plant in your body a tree that has shaded the level
Of his eyes' pendent eaves.
Ere the pure stars are extinguished and light enlarges,
See my mounting path swing;
Ere the shepherds have piped together their charges
I have come on a cooling spring.
I am sure that as heaven's azure plies doing,
As Ha' is the name I was given at birth,
I shall live on the day of my golden body's homing,
Bone-blossoms springing from earth.

Taken from W. K. Matthews
"Modern Estonian Poetry," Universl
of Florida Press, Gainesville 195:
pp. 114-119.




(7)


III.

NEUN GEDICHTE IN DER DEUTSCHEN UBERTRAGUNG

VON

ANTS ORAS


Gesang der vor Gespenstern zurUckweichenden Krieger

Wir sind die Pfeifer der Fliten, das Volk ohne Heimat und Herd,
wir, die Sucher der flimmernden Wolken, die Reiter auf grindigem Pferd--
die Beschauer der blauenden Ferne, der wankende, staubige Hauf:
bleibt kein Land uns mehr Ubrig, so lodert vom Blick uns der Ozean auf.
Unsre Banner sind betende Hande, unsre Schatten, so nahe wie fern,
sind der Pfad, drauf wir ziehn--nnser Ziel sind die himmlischen Hugel des Herrn,
Unsre Klepper sind mude, an Knochen knarrt Knochen, es rostet das.Schwert,
doch die pechige Fackel der Sage flammt Glut, die die Herzen verzehrt.
Unsre Zehn sind vom Kiese zerschunden, der schwarende Leib zuckt im Krampf,
unsre Seelen sind Grgben, durchsickert von Blut. nach verlorenem Kampf.
Mit durchlcherten FlUen, verstaubten Gesangen, verknacherter Hand
ziehn wir dennoch und spielen wir, stolz den Blick in die Weiten gewandt,
Hinterm RUcken uns brennen die TWlder, die fruchtlose Ebene loht,
und wir wissen es wohl, es verfolgt uns der Kdnig der Geister-der Tod.

Doch sind wir die letzten Verteidiger, die Pfeifer, zerlumpt und zerfetzt,
wir kennen den Lohn nicht--wir kennen die gespenstische Schar, die uns hetzt.

Sollen Schwingen der Engel uns schUtzen? Deine Knechte, trotz Hoffart und Spott,
ersehnen sie wohl., doch der Segen deiner Hande entgleitet uns, Gott!
Alle BrUcken sind hin, doch zuweilen uns winkt das weissschimmernde Schiff--
wir hoffen und schauen--und wissen, es scheitert das Boot uns am Riff.
Unser einziger Freund ist die Strasse, fern flimmert die KUste im Licht--
das Ziel, das wir suchen, erreichen wir nicht und beklagen es nicht.!
Wo wir immer auch sterben, wir furchten es nicht, denn es 1iutet und t'nt
und es donnert im .Blut eine Glocke, wenn den Sieger der Fallende hihnt.
Mag uns nichts als die Hoffnung umgaukeln, uns umwehen der schwelende Wind--
elnst gluhn unsre Herzen am Baume des Herrn, dessen Bluten sie sindl
Wir, die elenden Pfeifer der Fh1ten, ohne Heimatland, Ruhe und Rast,
sehn den flimmernden Himmel, das schimmernde Schiff--unser Ruckgrat sein Mast,
Unser Ruckgrat der Speer, der uns schutzt, und die Wolke das Ziel, das uns lenkt:
unser Blick widerspiegelt die Grbsse des Herrn, in die WUste gedrangt,




(8)


Ein schiner Tag

Du wandelst heut so sacht auf sanften Fussen,
dass ich des Himmels Tiefen nicht mehr sehe-
das umgekippte Schiff, wo um die Zehe
dir weisse Wolkenfische schimmernd schiessen.
In meinem Dachgeblk, draus Strahlen spriessen,
schweigt jetzt die Totenuhr, der ohne Wehe
der Neugeburt die Flammen deiner HUhe
das zarte FlHgelpaar mit Licht umgiessen.

0, zhhme deine grauen Wetterhunde,
dass sie den Forst der Wonne nicht gefihrden;
den wanderfrohen Tag, die grUne Stunde
lass jetzt uns Betenden zum Teppich werden!
Denn in des Herbstgeriesels Blatterschwunde
bleibst du der Einzige, der wacht auf Erden.



Abend im August

Wie den Abend fullt das Zwitschern dieser SchwalbenI
Bald weilt trub der Blick auf leeren Nestern,
sudw'rts l ngs der Sternenfurchen allenthalben
zieht dahin die frohe Brut von western,
friierend in der Erde harren Samen.

Hinter jedem Blatt singt zirpend eine Grille-
einer grossen Uhr gesch]ftiges Ticken.
Heute weckts dich wohl aus deiner Schlummerstille-
schau durch deiner schweren Ture LUcken
hin ins Dammer, draus die Tbne kamen,

Schau herab und lass mich ewig deiner denken,
denken jede gleitende Sekunde
:iider Wipfel, die sich welk im Winde senken,
denken an die Wiederkehr der Stunde,
Wo die V'dgel ihren RUckweg nahmenj

Lass mich denken an die Wiederkehr der Tage,
da der Frost das Lied und Zirpen titet,
an die ide, wo im Forste, wo am Hage
keine Grille geigt, kein Vogel flbtet,
nur die Seele nennt die FHlle deiner Namend




(9)


Die Finsternis trotzt dem Licht

Hinterm Tor aus Turmalin, im Munde dunkler Mohn,
schlummert Gott in Frieden, es berUhrte die ermatteten
Aschenaugen ihm kein Wind seit tausend Jahren schon,
und auch dann kam jeder linde Hauch wie aus umschatteten,
weichen Wolken, schwimmenden, nur sanft mit Licht durchwobenen,
gleitend ob der fernen, die sie nie mehr sehn, der Welt:
steigend ins Erhabne ziehn die endlos hoch Erhobenen
Um die Sonne ihrer Fdden silbergraues Zelt,

Hinterm Tor aus Turmalin, im Munde Schlummersaft,
sitzt ermudet Gott, es zuckt die Hand im Schosse ihm.
Wie ein leiser Schatten, der am Sabbath Sorge schafft,
wehts ums heitre Antlitz, schleichts hinein ins Herz, ins grosse, ihm.
Soll er gehn zu'seinen Kindern? Werden sie's ertragen?
Kuckucksruf und Murmelbach sind sacht, der Wald schweigt still,
doch sie warren seines Schrittes, gramen sich und fragen,
ob er nicht sein Angesicht der Welt entwenden will.

Hohes Tor aus Turmalin-der Engel schliesst es bald,
Gott schliesst seine Augen und verschliesst sich allen BEngnissen,
seine Brauen starren wie ein unerforschter Wald,
Doch die Menschheit wandert zu unendlichen Verhangnissen,
schndet helles Sternenlicht, besudelt hohe Himmelsstrecken,
stampft die Wc.ikenr in den Kot, den Hain zur Wustenei..
Wenn die letzten Bhume brausen, ihn die letzten StUrme wecken,
sieht er uns, die Blinden, noch? Versteht er unsern Schrei?



Dem Erbfeind bangt vor der Verneinung

Er sitzt in seiner Ewigkeit und sieht
des schnurrenden Kreisels Schatten in der Leere,
er sieht den Widder, der den Schutzen flieht,
auf dass die tiefe Nacht den Bolzen were,
Nie streifen an sein d9amerndes Gebiet
die Schweife irrender Kometenheere,
zu seines dunklen Gartens BUschen zieht
kein DUrstender und pfluckt die reife Beere,

Denn nur die Menschen kennen ihn und bangen
vor seinen rissigen Lippen, deren wunde
Erbittrung ihre Not mit Wermut wurzt,
Er fUrchtet den Verneinungswind-umfangen
von Schlaf, umschleiert er den Sturm der Stunde,
die ihn einst blutenden Munds ins Tiefe stlrzt.




(10)


Nur der Nebel ist fest

Der Wind ist eine Spindel, aus Ulmen geschnitzt,
ich bin flatterndes DImmergewebe im Wind,
das Gott, der im einsamen Sternhause sitzt,
aus dunklem Gebeine des Einhorns spinnt.
Der Wind ist eine Spindel-doch woher der Zwirn
am irdischen Spinnrad, so nebelhaft leicht,
so durchstrahlt und durchfasert von fenem Gestirn,
dass mein Haupt nie die Wolken erreicht?



Gesang vor dem Kampfe mit Geistern

Erklare ich Krieg? Nein, wozu denn? Ich kampfe als Schnitter,
die Sichel mein Schwert.
Die ich ernte, verlernen den Hunger, vergessen, was bitter
im Herzen geschwart.
Wenn ich fall, so sieg ich in Fall-nicht in glorieumglnnzter,
verherrlichter Kraft:
aus der Grube der Brust wuchern VWlder geschlagner Gespenster-
nur die Seele zerklafft.
Nur die klaffende Seele verblutet, doch nahm ich dem Trosse
der Toten das Lead,
nie zertrampelt das Herz mehr der Huf ihrer stampfenden Rosse-
es scheucht sie und bannt.
Es scheucht sie und bannt und verdammt sie und demUtigt jeden,
den Stolz Uberheft,
denn ich bin das Tuch, das die Engel aus zitternden Fdden
der Nebel gewebt.
Nein, die lebenzerfressenden Wichte sind Motten, nicht Meister
majest;tischer Macht,
mein gewaltiger Gott ja bestimmte zum Wohnsitz der Geister
nur Hades und Nacht.
Soll ich Krieg fThren? Wozu die Schmach' 0 mein sterneumstaubter
Gebieter, das Haus
meiner Feinde bewohne nur kraftlos entk'rperter Haupter
zerflatternder Grausl



Von nichts als Glauben

Jesus, silberaugiger Erliser,
als du, in den Fingern Regenbogenschiller,
langsam durch die Wildnis wandertest zu bUser
Stund im Schreckensland, das Gott und Engel mieden-
o wie glittst du Ubern See, das Herz voll Frieden,
um das Fischlein, das der Sturm im Schlamm verstrickte,
heimzufUhren, als es unter dir in stiller
Sterbensnot sich wand--wie mild dein Auge blicktel
Und an jedem Fischnest trugst du es vorUber,
sp~htest in die Tiefe, suchtest allerenden.
Als es endlich dann sein Heim fand, sprach es: Lieber,
lieber Jesus, lass mich nimmer los aus deinen Handeni




(11)


Jesus, wie liebkosend nenn ich deinen Namen,
nenne ihn der Nacht, der Lampe und den Sternen.
Welch ein Wunder wars, als deine Schritte kameni
Lichterloh schlug auf das Blut zu deinen Fernen.
Wulstenwandrer, schau mein Antlitz an, verklar es--
lass mich lachend staubbedeckte Hinde falten,
sich im todesschwangern Schoss des Toten Meeres
Uppige Wasserrosen himmelsgross entfalten.

0 die Freude, dir zu lauschen, wenn du singend
ziehst durch laue LUfte, knieend dir zu FUssen
anzustaunen all die Pracht, dem Schutt entspringend,
wenn aus brUckelnden Gerippen Blumen spriessen,
dich zu lieben wie die Sterne, wie die Baume-
Freude wolkengleichen Schwebens und Entfliehens.
Sag, als du dich aufschwangst durch die lichten Rdume,
schwieg die Erde unterm braunen Fuss Mariens?



Glaubensbekenntnis am Ostermorgen

Achtundsechzigmal dreht sich die flammende Achse des Raumes-
trag es, solange du must:
beim Begrabnis der blauenden Blumen, des wolkigen Flaumes
legt sich das Kreuz auf die Brust.
Dann wolle dem Freunde vom Himmel noch etliche Tage gestatten,
von FrUhlingssamen bestaubt--
pflanze den Baum in den Leib, dessen schwingender Schatten
ihm umschaukelt das Haupt.
Ehe die funkelnden Sterne am Morgen verddmmern,
erblicke ich, lockend und hell,
meinen Pfad--eh die Hirten die FlBten gestimmt ihren Lammern,
erspUr ich den kihlenden Quell.
Ja, ich weiss es--denn deckt mich die W6lbung nicht lachenden Scheines?
Ist mein Sonnenname nich Ra?-
wenn der Tag kommt, wo strahlend die Gruft meines golden Gebeines
mich lunmbijl'it, ist das Dasein mir da,




(12)


A SHORT BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE ON THE POET

by

Ivar Ivask
St. Olaf College

U k u M a s i n g (b. 1909), for many years professor of Theology at the Univer-
sity of Tartu, may be considered one of the most original Estonian thinkers. His spe-
cial fields of interest'were .Comparative Religion and Semitic Languages. His essays
exhibit a very polished, exemplary Estonian prose style. His intellectual inquiry, his
natural bent for mythology and mysticism, his wonderful command of the resources of the
Estonian language all come together in his poetry. Masing was indeed a poet-thinker,
a descendant of that great'line of minds to which belong Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and
Blake' Like William Blake, he illustrated his own poems (in an expressionist-symbolistic
style). But this affinity does not stop at that and could be pursued even further;
the twin poles of Masing's poetical imagination are likewise a child-like, "innocent"
lyricism and a prophetic, visionary ruthlesness that has often as its source. the Apoca-
lypse. The astonishing poexs: that Masing wrote between his twenty-first and twenty-fifth
year of life were collected in his first book of verse with the musical title: Neemed
vihmade lahte--Promontories Into the Gulf of Rains (Tartu 1935. second ed. Stockholm
1959). It is known that Masing had ready for print a second volume of verse Ark9-
opteryksi vari--The Shadow of the Archaeopteryx, but the printing of this volume was
made impossible by the loss of Estonian independence in 1940; the following years of
various foreign occupations were-hardly auspicious for the publication of such complex
modern religious verse. However, it is significant to know at least the title of the
second collection of Ming's poetry, because it brings out in relief the independent
originality as well as rosmic design underlying Masing's poetic thought. Pr6montories
Into the Gulf of Rains refers to the separation of dry land from the waters, i.e. the
poet's thinking is beginning to assume more definite shape in the chaos of his conflict-
ing sensibilities. Only The Shadow of the Archaeopteryx (the primeval bird) points to
the beginning of organic life or a more systematic interpretation of the world, a soaring
above and surveying of one's domain.

Judging by the titles of these collections and certain poems, Masing's thought
envisages a slow though independent mattring process. Nevertheless, the frame of refer-
ence of the bulk of the 51 poems that make R Promontories Into the Gulf of Rains is
clearly Biblical and they also draw heavily from a multitude of sources from the h'ar-
flung field of Comparative Religion. The first book of the young poet is arranged in
three sections:' "A Narrow Path Amidst the Woods" (that leads to God), "The Son of Man
on the White Ship" (that brings Christ's Salvation), and "Death is a Night-Shelter on
the Field" (from which Man longs for an eternal "home"). The titles of the individual
poems are revealed only in the table of contents, hence the whole volume can be read
like one long visionary poem or may be separated into individual self-contained poems
according to page and title. Few of the titles are short, most have the length of a
full sentence and may be considered concentrated poetic statements in themselves.
For example "Feeling that All Hopes are Powerless", "Satan is Powerful'if He is Be-
lieved", "God's Way on the Suffering Morning", "Darkness Defies Light", "Of Nothing
but Faith", "Thinking of Death in the Middle of Summer", "Also the Last Morning is too
Dark", "Only the Mists are Real", and "Three Prayers to Make My Face Shine".

Masing's vocabulary rivals that of the greatest Estonian poet Marie Under,
He has at his command a wealth of different nuances of old peasant speech, the most
recent neologisms by Johannes Aavik (the reformer of modern Estonian) and he does not




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hesitate to quote on occasion'even from Latin liturgical texts, :Stylistically Masing
seems at times to be so6methihgof an Estonian counterpart to Eliot and Pound.' Although
a dynamically expanding aid contracting kind of free" verse seems to be most appropriate
to Masing's restless mind he has written some of the"most memorable Estonian sonnets
(e.g. the series of sonnets entitled "Three Prayers to Make iy Face Shine")' He
frequently resorts most skilfully 'to alliteration ani assonarce as in such a powerful
lines I"gkki nad paikesekohin keerutai koskede v im'u"--"Suddenly the sunts rustling
whirled them into the dominion of the waterfalls". The warm lyricism of such poems as'
"One Beautiful Day" presents little difficulty to the reader accustomed to'a more
traditional type ofF*poetry. However.' there are a number of poems whose stricture is
logical and reminds 'onei in it conomntated power of surrealism at tis best. It is
poems like these that puzzled most readers and'6ritics upon ithe publication in.1935
of Masing's Promontories Into'the Gulf of Ra'i.'' The shortest example ,of this type of
poem is the magically evocative "Only the Mists are Real" (see Ants Ors'" excellent
German version cn p. 10). The longest experimental. poem'of "this volume is "Valge
Laeva Laul"--"The Song of the Whit6e Ship" which demands very close reading and about
the same imaginative kind of interpretation as" (say) Mallarmi's "erse or H8iderlin's "
late poetry. The complex symbolism of "The Song of the White Ship" blends'-just as 'the
shorter and simpler "Song of Warriors Retreating Before -Ghosts1--the striving of Man'
for the salvation of his soul with the struggle of a people for freedom. ThO "Song of
Warriors Retreating Before Ghosts" was written already in"the early thirties but the
full impact of thisAshattering vision was understood Tully only by the refugees whose
continual forced flJght fulfilled this. prophecy by the young poet. toa terrigfyig
degree. "The Song of the White Ship" can be compared in some respects to the greatV
poem "Deutschland" by the Endlish poet-theologian Gerard Manley Hopkins.* The remain-
ing shorter poems of Masing deal with the ecstasy of the iystic experiencing the"
uniono mystica" and then againtwith the terrible doubts that assail him in the. despair-
ing emptiness that inevitably follows such flights of the soul.' Although`Masing'ranges
quite freely in tiae'and space, now referring to ancient Egyptian burial customs, then
again to light years, he is yet always profoundly rooted in nature6and most of his
profuse imagery grows out of the close observation of natural phenomBna.
This' is what the'leading Estonian critic"Ants "Oras (Univ. of Florida) has to say
about Uku Masing, a member of the so-called "Arbujad"'or "Logmaricers" group" of poets
that came into prominence in the middle thirties: "The work of Talvik and Alver formed
a speirbhad for the pre-war resurgence of symbolism and artistic discipline, the: closest
precede-t to which is found in the Young Est6nia movement. They were not alone, how-
ever. The religious nmsticism of the orientalist. 'T U k u 'M a s i n g (Promontories
Into the Gulf of Rains, 1935) was equally sincere, and the symb6lism of his. visionary
verse often rivals theirs in intensity. Masing is more obscure, partly because of his
numerous esoteric allusions, but the varied rhythms and "intricate rij me schemes of this
long hymnic piece--in a way a counterpart to Rilke s Book of Hours-constantly 'create
an impression, of s~phonic music.' The imagery, somemes 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 5t his readers, especially among' the
younger Estonian refugees in the West, for whom this book has become almost the.
Estonian equivalent of HUlderlin's late poetry -one of the real monuments of'their
literature" (Storia delle Letterature Baltiche, Giacomo Devoto ed., Milano 1957,
pp. 63-64).
There is little doubt that Masing is .aaong the most difficult and ci'plex af
Estonian poets, which acurunts for the fpreat difficulties involved in'his adequate
translation as well as a critically, satisfactory interpretation'of his mystical
poetry. The best translations into English and German so far are by Ants Oras,
In a literature where poetesses such as Marie Under and Betti Alver have brought
poetry to its greatest power and perfection, there are some critics who not only
venture to place Uku Masing next to such famous poets as Gustiv Suits, Talvik'and Kant
gro, but who even dare to proclaim 'hi the most original Estonian male poetj the author
of the present short note is evidently among them.



































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