Valev Uibopuu

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 704

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"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 space has grown in Ivask's work to almost global proportions, both through the discovery of similarities with his native land or, then, their absence. The relationship between native country and the world has become for Ivask an interaction between micro- and macrocosmos, the first being contained in the second. Where this is not so, it is the poet's task to look for it….

It is not surprising that one of the main aspects of Ivask's verse is nature poetry. In this he might seem to be following in the footsteps of Bernard Kangro, but his poetry has an individual, nearly mystical cast. Merging with nature is part of this, as is experiencing it on equal terms and looking in it for similes of life and death: "I fall with every drop of rain / And I am freed in every flaming leaf / I fly with the wind from tree to tree / To be reborn in your womb of earth" (1965). Poems like "Close to Earth, Close to Soil, Close to Grass" (1971) or "Forests of Pine, Fir, Alder, Birch" (1969) are poetic expressions of pantheistic faith. Trees and shrubs, mushrooms and moss, flowers, berries and rocks, cats and fish all represent it symbolically and become means of incantation for the poet-shaman. Yet nature is for Ivask universal, including Mediterranean olive trees as well as the pines and firs of the North….

A fundamentally nature-worshiping, pantheistic world view is but a step away from the cosmic experience of reality, and Ivask's poetry proves this. The cycle "Time Is the Artery of Space" contains the largest number and the best poems giving expression to this feeling. The entire universe is to Ivask as much a poetic object as any detail in nature…. (p. 324)

The present selection shows that Ivask has followed in his verse technique the general evolution of our period: the full rhyme of his early years has disappeared completely in later collections. He has retained and perfected the already mentioned gift for poetic imagery. By a fusion of concrete and abstract elements, he often achieves surprising results, as in the poem "The Moon's Skull in the Lake" (1965). Summing up, we may say that in twenty years of poetic activity Ivar Ivask has created for himself in Estonian poetry a distinct place which without him would not have existed. At the same time, the generous universality of his life perception raises him above the limits of narrowly restrictive nationalism. (pp. 324-25)

Valev Uibopuu, "World Literature in Review: 'Elukogu: Valitud luuletused," in World Literature Today (copyright 1979 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 53, No. 2, Spring, 1979, pp. 324-25.


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