Johannes Semper

Poems Johannes Semper


Short stories

About Johannes Semper


Johannes Semper (pseudonyms Asm, Naatanael, 22./10. III 1892 - 21. II 1970) was a poet, prose writer, playwright, translator, and critic.

He was born in Paistu parish, Viljandi county. He studied at Viljandi in Heine private progymnasium and graduated from Pärnu gymnasium. From 1910-1914, he studied Germanic and Romance philology at Saint Petersburg University and from 1915-1916, architecture at Riga Polytechnical University that had been evacuated to Moscow. He was drafted by the Russian military and graduated Moscow Military School as an ensign in 1917. In Estonia, he was an officer and active in politics as well. He was the vice chairman of the Estonian Military Main Committee and a member of the Estonian Socialist Revolutionary Party. He took part in the Estonian War of Independence as a reserve division artilleryman and in 1920, he was promoted to lieutenant on the order of major-general Laidoner. From 1919-1920, he was a member of the Constituent Assembly. After abandoning politics, he enrolled in the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin (later named Humboldt University) where he studied ethnology, philosophy, and aesthetics from 1921-1925. From 1926-1927, he lived in Paris. He obtained his master’s degree from the University of Tartu with the thesis 'The structure of Andre Gide’s style' (1929). He was a member of the Estonian Writers’ Union from 1922-1941. From 1928-1940, he worked as a professor of aesthetics and stylistics at the University of Tartu and was the editor of the magazine Looming from 1930-1940. He was the chairman of the Estonian PEN Club (1928-1940). After the occupation of Estonia in 1940, he was the minister of education in Johannes Vares’ government and joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He was the director of the Ministry of Arts of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic from 1941-1948. During the war between Germany and the Soviet Union, he resided in the latter, edited radio shows in Moscow and directed ESSR National Art Groups (which were created in 1942 in Yaroslavl to service the divisions and home front of the Red Army). He returned to Estonia in 1944. He was a deputy of the I, II, VI and VII convocations of the Supreme Soviets of the ESSR and a member of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the ESSR from 1967-1970. He was a member of the Writers’ Union from 1943-1950, its chairman from 1946-1950 and vice chairman from 1958-1966. In 1950, he was expelled from the Writers’ Union and the CPSU on the grounds of being a bourgeois nationalist and cosmopolite. Both these memberships were restored, and he re-joined the Writers’ Union in 1955. He received various awards both in independent Estonia and the ESSR, e.g. the Estonian Head of State Prize in 1935 for his novel Armukadedus ('Jealousy', 1934) and in 1937 for his poetry collection Tuuleratas ('Pinwheel', 1936). He received the Order of the White Star, V Class (1940) and was the Merited Writer of the ESSR in 1945. He was awarded the State Prize of the Soviet Estonia (1947), the Order of Lenin (1962) and was the People’s Writer of the ESSR in 1964. He died in Tallinn and is buried at Metsakalmistu (Forest Cemetery).

He debuted in 1910 with an overview of Estonian literature in the Latvian language magazine Kahwi and his first poems were published in Young Estonia's publications in 1911. He was a member of the literary grouping Siuru and was also active in the Tarapita grouping. His first collections Pierrot (1917) and Jäljed liival ('Tracks in the Sand', 1920) include emotional and nature poetry. The collection Maa ja mereveersed rytmid ('The Rhythms of the Land and Seaside', 1922) has undertones of expressionism. He was one of the introducers of German expressionists in journals. Semper’s personal travel and big city experiences are found in poetry as well, e.g. in the collection Viis meelt ('Five Senses', 1926). His intellectual works are greatly influenced by Western European culture with French and Russian symbolist influences in his earlier writings.

His interest in psychoanalysis is expressed in the story collection Ellinor (1927) and his first novel Armukadedus ('Jealousy', 1934) is deeply psychological as well. The novel Kivi kivi peale (‘Stone on Stone’, 1939) focuses on social issues. Soviet ideology is present in his plays and the novel Punased nelgid ('Red Carnations', 1955). He also wrote the lyrics to the ESSR official anthem.

Semper has been characterized as an intellectual with a deep level of erudition, who played an important role in the development of Estonian aesthetic thought and in intermediating and interpreting foreign literature. He has translated from German, Russian, Italian, English, and French, e.g. La Vita Nuova by Dante, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by V. Hugo, Germinal by E. Zola, The Red and The Black by Stendhal and Dekameron by G. Boccaccio. He published articles and essays on foreign literature and literary trends, e.g. the essay collection Prantsuse vaim ('The French Spirit', 1934). In his essays, he wrote about literature, theater, music, and art. He was the first to use Freudian analysis methodology in Estonian literary research ('The Analysis of the Folklore and Motifs of Kalevipoeg', 1924). His cultural experience and well-read nature are evident in his travel writing as well, e.g. Risti-rästi läbi Euroopa ('Criss-Cross Through Europe', 1935).

A. K. (Translated by A. S.)


Books in Estonian

Pierrot. Tallinn: Siuru, 1917, 78 lk. [2. trükk: 1919.]
Jäljed liival. Tartu: Odamees, 1919, 76 lk. [Järgnevad trükid: 1920, 1921.]
Maa ja mereveersed rytmid: luuletused 1920-1921. Tartu: Tarapita, 1922, 79 lk.
Viis meelt. Tartu: J. Semper, 1926, 126 lk.
Päike rentslis. Tartu: Eesti Kirjanikkude Liit, 1930, 85 lk.
Tuuleratas. Tartu: Eesti Kirjanikkude Liit, 1936, 80 lk.
Ei vaikida saa: luuletusi 1941-1943. Moskva: ENSV Riiklik Kirjastus, 1943, 63 lk.
Valik luuletusi. Tallinn: Ilukirjandus ja Kunst, 1946, 290 lk.
Kuidas elaksid?. Tallinn: Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, 1958, 98 lk.
Ei vaikida saa. Koostanud Endel Sõgel. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1970, 56 lk.
Lehekülgi nagu lehti puult. Lõpetamata luuletustest valinud ja eessõna koostanud Paul Rummo. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1972, 112 lk.
Luuletused. Koostanud Ralf Parve. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1975, 208 lk [Sari: 'Väike luuleraamat'.] 
Sügise lävel. Koostanud Ralf Parve. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1976, 70 lk.

Armukadedus. Tartu: Noor-Eesti, 1934, 342 lk. [Järgnevad trükid: 1936, 1964.]
Kivi kivi peale. Tartu: Noor-Eesti, 1939, 407 lk. [Järgnevad trükid: 1947, 1963, 1982.]
Punased nelgid. Tallinn: Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, 1955, 407 lk. [Järgnevad trükid: 1959, 1965.]

Short stories
Hiina kett. Tartu: Odamees, 1918, 124 lk. [2. trükk: 1924.]
Ellinor. Tartu: Loodus, 1927, 182 lk.
Sillatalad. Tartu: Eesti Kirjanikkude Liit, 1927, 145 lk.

Aja käsk. Tallinn: Ilukirjandus ja Kunst, 1946, 91 lk.
Murrang. Tallinn: Ilukirjandus ja Kunst, 1949, 79 lk.
Näidendid. Tallinn: Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, 1961, 216 lk.

Monographs, articles and essays
Näokatted. Esseede kogu. Tartu: Odamees, 1919, 102 lk.
Kalevipoja rahvaluulemotiivide analüüs. Tartu: Noor-Eesti, 1924, 122 lk. [2. trükk: 1997.]
Meie kirjanduse teed. Kirjanduslikud arvustused. Tartu: Loodus, 1927, 194 lk.
André Gide’i stiili struktuur. Tartu: Akadeemiline Kirjandusühing, 1929, 97 lk.
Prantsuse vaim. Tartu: Noor-Eesti, 1934, 197 lk.
Teater iseseisva kunstialana. Artikleid ja esseid. Koostanud Lilian Vellerand. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1992, 203 lk.

Risti-rästi läbi Euroopa. Tartu: Noor-Eesti, 1935, 319 lk.
Lõuna Risti all. Tartu: Eesti Kirjanikkude Liit, 1937, 259 lk.
Mööda maid ja meresid. Reisimärkmeid. Tallinn: Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, 1958, 419 lk.

Memoirs and diaries
Matk minevikku 1. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1969, 319 lk.
Päevaraamatud. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2013, 421 lk.

Collected works
Teosed. 1. köide. Luuletused. Tallinn: Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, 1962, 360 lk.
Teosed. 2. köide. Kivi kivi peale. Tallinn: Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, 1963, 320 lk.
Teosed. 3. köide. Armukadedus. Romaan. Õed; Umbrohi. Novellid. Tallinn: Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, 1964, 303 lk.
Teosed. 4. köide. Punased nelgid. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1965, 432 lk.
Teosed. 5. köide. Reisikirjad. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1966, 524 lk.
Teosed. 6. köide. Novellid ja näidendid. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1967, 484 lk.
Teosed. 7. köide. Mõtterännakuid 1. Artikleid ja esseid. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1969, 458 lk.
Teosed. 8. köide. Mõtterännakuid 2. Artikleid ja esseid. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1971, 412 lk.
Teosed. 9. köide. Mõtterännakuid 3. Artikleid ja esseid. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1977, 480 lk.
Teosed. 10. köide. Luulerännakuid 1. Luuletõlkeid. Koostanud Nigol Andresen. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1975, 336 lk.
Teosed. 11. köide. Luulerännakuid 2. Luuletõlkeid. Koostanud Nigol Andresen. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1976, 368 lk.
Teosed. 12. köide. Mälestused. Koostanud ja järelsõna Erna Siirak. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1978, 491 lk.

About Johannes Semper
Erna Siirak, Johannes Semper. Lühimonograafia. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1969, 255 lk. [Sari 'Eesti kirjamehi'.]
Johannes Semper elus ja kirjanduses. Kogumik. Koostanud Ilmar Sikemäe. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1967, 431 lk.