Monday, 9 August 2021

Estonian writer Jaan Kaplinski dies

Estonia lost one of its acclaimed cultural figures yesterday. Jaan Kaplinski was an renowned poet, translator, philosopher and cultural spokesperson who passed away aged 80 after a period of serious illness. During his career Jaan Kaplinski published numerous collections of poetry, prose, and essays which have been translated into over fifteen languages. 

Jaan Kaplinski was born in Tartu on 22 January 1941 to an Estonian mother and Polish-Jewish father. His father was a professor of philology at Tartu University who was arrested by Soviet troops and later perished of starvation in a labour camp in 1945. In 2009 Kaplinski published the semi-autobiographical novel The Same River (Estonian: Seesama jõgi) which is set in Tartu during the 1960s.

Kaplinski was awarded many prizes during his career including the Baltic Assembly Prize for Literature, the Arts and Science (1997),  the Laureate of the European Literature Prize (Prix Européen de Littérature 2016) and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in the same year. He also has an asteroid named after him, main-belt asteroid 29528 Kaplinski.

In January Jaan Kaplinski celebrated his 80th birthday. To mark the occasion, a poetry program of Kaplinski's work was produced by the Tartu Poetry Theatre group and the literature circle "Ellips".

Poem by Jaan Kaplinski from his book 'The Wandering Border'

We started home, my son and I.
Twilight already. The young moon
stood in the western sky and beside it
a single star. I showed them to my son
and explained how the moon should be greeted
and that this star is the moon’s servant.
As we neared home, he said
that the moon is far, as far
as that place where we went.
I told him the moon is much, much farther
and reckoned: if one were to walk
ten kilometers each day, it would take
almost a hundred years to reach the moon.
But this was not what he wanted to hear.
The road was already almost dry.
The river was spread on the marsh; ducks and other waterfowl
crowed the beginning of night. The snow’s crust
crackled underfoot – it must
have been freezing again. All the houses’ windows
were dark. Only in our kitchen
a light shone. Beside our chimney, the shining moon,
and beside the moon, a single star.