Karl Eduard Sööt


About Karl Eduard Sööt

Karl Eduard Sööt (26./14. XII 1862 – 1. IX 1950) was one of the most important Estonian poets of the end of the 19th century, and a cultural figure who is known chiefly by Estonians today for his poetry for children.

He was born in the village of Lohkva in Tartu district, the son of a windmill-keeper. He grew up at Ilmatsalu in Tartu county. He attended primary school of the Tartu Teachers’ Seminary and from 1878 to 1881 Tartu county school. Later he took private lessons and attended the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Tartu, without enrolling. After completing his schooling he worked for a short time as a parish clerk at Ilmatsalu. He served in the Tsar’s army in Poland, after which he came back to Tartu, was active in the Vanemuine Society and from 1884 to 1892 was an actor in August Wiera’s troupe, playing proletarian types. From 1886 to 1893 he worked at the newspaper Olevik, as well as being business manager of the Olevik company (which embraced journals, a printing-house and a bookshop), which he left following disagreements with the editor-in-chief Ado Grenzstein, who in Sööt's opinion had gone too far in supporting the Russification policy. In 1895 Sööt set up his own publishing house, printing shop and bookshop. His business went well, despite Grenzstein’s moves to oppose it, and he played a significant part in giving a start to a number of burgeoning writers who later became classics. Sööt supported Jaan Tõnisson’s political and public activities, and collaborated actively with the newspaper Postimees after Tõnisson acquired it in 1896. In 1914 Sööt sold his book business. From 1920 to 1923 he worked in the editorial office of Postimees, including as its chief editor. From then on he concentrated on his creative work.

K.E. Sööt was active in public life – he was a member of the board of the Vanemuine Society from 1886 to 1932 (an honorary member from 1925), a member of the board of the Tartu Estonian Farmers’ Association and of the exhibition committee from 1895 to 1935 (an honorary member from 1934), a founder of the Estonian Literary Society and a member of its board from 1907 to 1927 (an honorary member from 1931), a member of the board of the Estonian National Museum from 1909 (an honorary member from 1934), and chairman of the F.R. Faehlmann Memorial Perpetuation Commission from 1927 to 1933. In 1923 he travelled to Hungary, and was a corresponding member of the Budapest Petőfi Society from 1924. He died in Tartu and was buried in the Raadi cemetery.

While at county school Sööt started writing verse under the influence of Romanticism. Work in the editorial office of Olevik provided Sööt with a creative environment, where the poet came into contact with Ado Grenzstein, Andres Saal, Georg Eduard Luiga, Juhan Liiv and other men of letters, and gained instruction and inspiration for his own literary activity. He was also influenced by the work of Sándor Petőfi and Heinrich Heine. Sööt’s first collections, Aasa õied I-II ('Meadow Flowers', 1890-1891) were still in the spirit of Romanticism, yet his more weighty and reforming poetry is in a realistic vein. Sööt gave a new element to patriotic poetry – he emphasized the contrast between the romantic idealizing lyrics about the homeland and actuality; he was sometimes socially critical, particularly of Russification. Like Juhan Liiv he emphasized the importance of the home, from where patriotic feelings must emerge, and the poetry to express them. Sööt’s humorous love songs were also popular. In his numerous ballads he often used material from folk poetry. Sööt’s most important poetry collections are Rõõm ja mure ('Joy and Distress', 1894), Saatus ('Fate', 1899) and Mälestused ja lootused ('Memories and Hopes', 1903). Because of the simplicity and naturalness of his lyrics, they have often been set to music – such as the especially famous Metsateel ('On a Forest Road'), made into a song by Artur Kapp. Songs to Sööt’s words remain even today in the repertoires of choirs and song festivals.

With Ernst Enno, K. E. Sööt brought Estonian children’s poetry to a new level. His children’s verses are fluent, rhythmic, often onomatopoeic, and they use the sound effects and repetitions, often without a definite meaning, that are characteristic of folk poetry, and quite impossible to translate into other languages: "Äiu, kallis kapsukene, / sipa-sapa sapsukene! / Marjamatt on laeva kõrgu, / heinakuhi taeva kõrgu. / Äiu lii, äiu loo!" (Äiu, lahke lapsukene - 'Äiu, good little child'); "Uni tuleb, ullikene / väljas puskleb pullikene" (Uni tuleb - 'Sleep is coming'); or "Singel-vingel, ninaprill / meil on kodus krokodill" (Krokodill - 'Crocodile'). These and many other children’s poems by K. E. Sööt have become popular verses, known even by children born in the 21st century. The major portion of Sööt’s children’s poetry appeared in the collection Lapsepõlve Kungla. Lood ja lallitused lastele 1916-1923 ('A Fairyland of Childhood. Stories and Babblings for children 1916-1923', 1923). A significant place in Estonian children’s literature is also occupied by the collection Eesti muinasjutud lastele ('Estonian Fairy-Tales for Children', 1907), compiled and published by Sööt.

With Gustav Suits, K. E. Sööt compiled the anthology Eesti luule ('Estonian Poetry', 1910). He published articles on cultural and literary history in journals, and also translated, for example Sándor Petőfi, Heinrich Heine, Aleksey Koltsov and Hermann Sudermann.

S. V.  (Translated by C. M.)

Books in Estonian

Aasa õied. 1. Luuletanud K. E. Sööt. Tartu: A. Grenzstein, 1890, 64 lk.
Aasa õied. 2. Luuletanud K. E. Sööt. Tartu: A. Grenzstein, 1891, 41 lk.
Rööm ja mure. K. E. Sööt'i uued luuletused. Jurjev: A. Grenzstein, 1894, 63 lk.
Saatus. K. E. Sööt'i uued luuletused. Jurjev: K. Sööt, 1899, 55 lk.
Mälestused ja lootused. K. E. Sööt'i uued luuletused. Jurjew: K. E. Sööt, 1903, 82 lk.
Kodu: luuletused 1910-1921. Tartu: Postimees, 1921, 69 lk.
Lapsepõlve Kungla: lood ja lallitused lastele 1916-1923. Tallinn: Tallinna Eesti Kirjastus-Ühisus, 1923, 87 lk.
Aastate kajastus: luuletused 1883-1924. Eessõna: V. Grünthal-Ridala. Tartu: Eesti Kirjanduse Selts, 1925, 236 lk.
Kuusirbi õsu. Tartu: Loodus, 1937, 51 lk.
Kogutud luuletused. Koostanud ja eessõna: August Sang. Tartu: Tartu Eesti Kirjastus, 1942, 381 lk. [2. trükk: 1943.]
Valitud luuletused. Järelsõna: Paul Ambur. Tallinn: Ilukirjandus ja Kunst, 1946, 260 lk.
Lastelaule. Tallinn: Ilukirjandus ja Kunst, 1949, 40 lk.
Lastelaulud. Koostanud Ralf Parve. Tallinn: Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, 1955, 48 lk.
Elurada: luulevalimik. Koostanud ja eessõna Artur Adson. Toronto: Orto, 1951, 62 lk. [2. trükk: Tartu: Greif, 1992, 62 lk.]
Karl Eduard Sööt. Koostanud Ellen Niit. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1968, 128 lk. [Sari 'Väike luuleraamat'.]
Upa, upa, oalilli: valimik luuletusi. Koostanud Ralf Parve. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1972, 48 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: Hea Lugu, 2018, 46 lk.]

Wastus A. Grenzsteinile. Tartu: K. Sööt, 1911, 26 lk. [A. Grenzsteini 'Ajaloo Albumis' 1910 avaldatud väidete kohta.]