Friday, April 30, 2010

April 30: Juhan Liiv (1864-1913)

[visual description: portrait of poet Juhan Liiv as a young man, he appears to be fair-haired with light eyes; his expression is serious]

When I was only a little boy
A ringing was ringing in my mind.

And when I grew older
The ringing went louder.

Now I am almost buried in it,
My bosom is ruined under it,

My spirit and life are ringing sounds - Too cramped for them are earthly bounds!

--"Ringing" by Juhan Liiv (1910), as translated here

Estonian poet Juhan Liiv was born in this date in 1864, in the village of Alatskivi. He struggled with mental illness as a young man, and had trouble holding a job. His first story, "The Shadow," was published when he was thirty, and remains a classic of Estonian literature. But by the time it was published, he was staying at a clinic in Tartu, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. A literary editor found his work and a volume of almost 500 poems by Liiv was published in 1909. Some of this poetry reflects Liiv's feelings of doom and fear, and his experiences as a poor and misunderstood man; other pages contain romantic or patriotic verses that found an appreciative audience.

Liiv died from pneumonia in winter 1913, after being thrown off a train (he didn't have a ticket, and unfortunately he didn't take his coat when he was ejected in a remote area). Today, Liiv is considered one of the finest poets in Estonian literature. His grave in his home village has a handsome marker, and the farm where he was raised is now a museum. Some of his writings have been set to music. Alatskivi also offers an annual Juhan Liiv Prize for Poetry.

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