Ivar Ivask Essay - Critical Essays

Ivask, Ivar


Ivask, Ivar 1927–

Ivask is an Estonian-born poet and scholar now residing in America. His love and homesickness for the natural beauty of his native land inform his poetry. His verse is further marked by a palpably physical lyricism and acute sensitivity to nature. Ivask has been the editor of World Literature Today since 1967. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 37-40, rev. ed.)

Alexander Aspel

[Dr. Ivar Ivask], whose scholarly and incisive criticism has won him unanimous recognition also as the best literary critic of the younger generation in free Estonian literature, reveals himself in [Tähtede tähendus], which is his first [volume of verse], as a poet of remarkable talent and unusual depth. The title "Meaning of the Stars" … refers to a sentence written long ago by the grandmother of the poet, but it refers through the poems of the collection also to the Milky Way, to companionship and, last but not least, to the correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm in a unified world.

Pointing to the poet's origins, the title summarizes aptly the poetic substance of the volume which lies in the discovery of the poet's inner identity and of his relation to the world through the experience of an immediate contact with fundamental realities. This contact occurs in situations of everyday life, which release suddenly the sensation of a break-through and of participation with the fullness of life. (pp. 373-74)

Condensed to few striking images and elliptic statements, the pattern of reduction and rebirth runs through most of Ivask's dramatic poems. It runs also through the whole cycle of travel poems, where Vienna, Paris, and the Mediterranean world are met as revelations of their particular essences.

The dramatic poems of rebirth are balanced in this collection by a series of simple, often epigrammatic yet singularly transparent poems, in free verse, where the poet senses the faint echoes of his ancestral past….

Ivask's poetry meets the age-long current of elemental and animistic realism in Estonian poetry, yet it shows close affinities also with the new poetry of Being apparent in many countries of Europe and Latin America. (p. 374)

Alexander Aspel, "Books in Various Languages: 'Tähtede tähendus'," in Books Abroad (copyright 1965 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 39, No. 3, Summer, 1965, pp. 373-74.

Mall JüRma


Ivask's fifth collection of poetry has a remarkably meaningful title, Verikivi (Bloodstone), which sounds somewhat like an anagram of his name. Actually the title refers to a family ring that Ivask inherited from his father. The ring symbolizes not only the latest cycle in the poet's life, but other cycles as well….

It is the author's most personal book of verse, reflecting his innermost feelings. Alongside meditative nature poetry, motifs of life and death, separation, loss and rediscovery of love dominate. Death of family members and the loss of a close friend have influenced the author's verse.

The loss of his fatherland is … deeply felt after a visit to Estonia. The poems reflect the rediscovery of one's home as an intimate and secure place and a new appreciation of the world. They speak about the search for "life's vein of gold in the dust and ashes of dreams." Such lines were inspired by the exhausted gold mines of Colorado. Themes of loneliness, rootlessness, alienation, homelessness and assimilation occur. The forests of Colorado remind the poet of the pines and fir trees of his northern homeland. He compares his co-exiles with aerial rooted mangroves, detached from their native soil, yet continuing to grow in a foreign environment. (p. 470)

Despite all disillusionment, the poet's creative spirit forges forward with unsubdued vitality…. Ivask's latest poetry is not only a reflection of sad and painful memories, it is a creative act that gives significance and substance to his life and work…. His free verse is supple, and its often deliberately simple wording seems to engage the reader in a direct dialogue. (pp. 470-71)

Mall Jürma, "World Literature in Review: 'Verikivi. Luuletusi 1973–1976'," in World Literature Today (copyright 1977 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 51, No. 3, Summer, 1977, pp. 470-71.

Valev Uibopuu

"Life Collection" is [a volume] of selected Estonian poems … illustrated with [Ivask's] own pen-and-ink drawings which reflect well the spirit of the book. He has elected not to arrange the material chronologically, but rather thematically and associatively. This proves to be an excellent idea, as it has permitted the poet to impart to this selection nuances which transform it in many ways into something completely new. It presents the author's profile in sharper relief and through recurring motifs points out what he considers most essential.

This way of looking at a poet's production reminds us of studying growth rings in a tree—we see the individual's personality at the same time as we see his development. The fact that the recurrence of images through the years and even decades does not become a burden to the reader is proof of the vitality and freshness of Ivask's poetic gift. The very titles of the seven sections in the volume dramatically embody his thematic reach…. "Time Is the Artery of Space," in which the philosophical implications of the author's world view are particularly evident, is perhaps the most aptly named section.

Ivask has, without doubt, added considerably to the already varied landscape of Estonian poetry. Even the dimensions of its themes have been widened in a manner which might be called geographic expansiveness. Ivask's subject matter shows a Viking-like agility. Since the day of Gustav Suits (1884–1956), no Estonian poet has worked within so open a system of international coordinates, remaining at the same time deeply Estonian. In this respect he has fulfilled the promise of his first collection, "The Meaning of Stars."… Homeland as a...

(The entire section is 704 words.)