Gustav Suits

PoemsGustav Suits. Photo by Carl Sarap


About Gustav Suits

Gustav Suits (1883–1956) was an Estonian poet and literary scholar. He is considered one of the most important innovators of poetry in Estonian literature, a spiritual leader of the Noor-Eesti (the Young Estonia) literary group, and also the founder of Estonian literary studies and first professor of Estonian Literature.
Gustav Suits was born in Kastre-Võnnu parish in Tartu County. On graduating from Tartu Alexander Gymnasium, he went on to study in the Department of History and Language at Tartu University in 1904. The very next year he transferred to Helsinki University where he studied contemporary European literature and aesthetics, and Finnish language, literature and folklore. Suits was also politically active: in 1917 he joined the Estonian Socialist Revolutionary Party; in 1918 he participated in the work of the foreign delegation of the Republic of Estonia in Stockholm. Once the Republic of Estonia gained independence, he was invited to work at the Chair of Estonian and World Literature of Tartu University. Suits became the first professor of Estonian literature: from 1919–1924 he was the acting professor, then professor extraordinarius, and from 1931 full professor of Estonian and world literature. In 1944 Suits escaped to Stockholm where he worked as a stipendiary of the Nobel Foundation. He wrote poetry, researched literature and participated in the political activities of the exiles.  
The first poems by Suits appeared in the press in 1899. His first poetry collection, Elu tuli ('Fire of Life', 1905), includes texts with vivid images and a vigorous rhythm, in keeping with the revolutionary mood characteristic of the time, so his debut attracted considerable attention. The second poetry collection, Tuulemaa ('Land of Wind', 1913), shifts from revolutionary mood to more reflective lyrics of sentiment; the poems are more varied in form and more multi-layered in meaning. The work is considered a landmark in the development of Estonian poetry, as it introduces a significantly different aesthetics, marking the rise of symbolism. Subsequently, Suits published a collection of love poetry, Ohvrisuits ('Smoke of Sacrifice', 1920), and the ballad Lapse sünd ('Birth of a Child', 1922) in traditional runic verse (regivärss). Simultaneously, a third collection came out, Kõik on kokku unenägu ('All and Sundry is a Dream', 1922), in which social subject matter features more prominently again: the depiction of social problems and war motifs. Yet the collection strives for greater artistic freedom than symbolism permits: the result is an even more diverse aesthetics, including complete rhythmic freedom. Suits’ last collection, Tuli ja tuul ('Wind and Fire', 1950), was published in exile and maintains his recognisable intensity of thought and expression. Influenced by the events of World War II and the occupation of Estonia, it records social tragedy and personal destiny. In addition to writing poetry, Suits translated poetry, e.g. from Finnish, Dutch and Swedish.
After editing the album Kiired ('Rays', I–III, 1901–1902), Suits emerged as the spiritual leader of the progressive minded literary group Noor-Eesti (Young Estonia, 1905). He was the editor of the Noor-Eesti albums I–V (1905–1915), the collection Võitluse päevil ('In the Days of the Fight', 1905) and the magazine Noor-Eesti. Articles published in the latter were later compiled in the collection Noor-Eesti nõlvakult ('From the Slopes of Young Estonia', 1931). Concurrently, Suits began delving into the history of Estonian literature, publishing the collection Sihid ja vaated ('Aims and Views', 1906). Besides research, he collaborated in the compilation of several important works: the first volume of poetry by Juhan Liiv Juhan Liivi luuletused ('The Poems of Juhan Liiv', 1909/1910), the anthology Eesti luule ('Estonian Poetry', 1910), Teatri raamat ('The Book of the Theatre', 1913), Eesti lugemisraamat ('The Estonian Reader', I-II, 1916, 1919) and the anthology Eesti nüüdislüürika ('Contemporary Estonian Lyrics', 1929). He also collaborated on the publication of Koidula’s Kogutud luuletused ('Collected Poems', 1925), Kreutzwald’s Viru lauliku laulud ('Songs of the Viru Bard', 1926) and the journals Murrang (1921), Tarapita (1921–1922) and Tänapäev (1938–1939). In exile, Suits continued the research he had started in Tartu, publishing the works Eesti kirjandusajalugu, volume 1 ('A History of Estonian Literature', 1953) and a treatise on Kreutzwald in Finnish Nuori Kreutzwald ('Young Kreutzwald', 1953). Suits was also held in esteem as a university lecturer, some of his students (B. Kangro, A. Vinkel et al) would later become key figures of Estonian literary scholarship.

I. S. (Translated by M. M.-K.)

Books in Estonian

Elu tuli: laulud 1900–1904. Helsingi: Weilin, 1905, 96 lk. [Järgnevad trükid: 1913, 1921, 1947, 1984 (faksiimile-väljaanne 1905. a. trükist).]
Tuulemaa: luuletused 1905–1912. [Tartu]: Noor-Eesti, 1913, 100 lk. [Järgnevad trükid: 1920, 1953.]
Ohvrisuits: valik armastusluuletusi 1904–1920. Tallinn: Varrak, 1920, 82 lk.
Kõik on kokku unenägu: luuletused 1913–1921. Tartu: Noor-Eesti, 1922, 196 lk. [3. trükk: 1954.]
Lapse sünd: uusi keeli vanal kandlel: ballaad. Tallinn: Varrak, 1922, 47, lk. [Järgnevad trükid: 1957, 1990 (faksiimile-väljaanne 1922. a. trükist).]
Aastate aknal: valitud luuletisi 1900–1930. Tartu: Noor-Eesti, 1933, 158 lk.
Kogutud luuletused. [Tartu]: Eesti Kirjastuse Kooperatiiv, 1938, 349 lk. [Sisu: 'Elu tuli', 'Tuulemaa', 'Kõik on kokku unenägu', 'Lapse sünd', 'Ohvrisuits', 'Lahtisi lehti'.]
Tuli ja tuul. Stockholm: Noor-Eesti, 1950, 151 lk.
Luuletused. Tallinn: Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, 1959, 432 lk.
Kogutud luuletused. [Stockholm]: Eesti Kultuuri Koondis, 1963, 647 lk. [Sisu: 'Elu tuli', 'Tuulemaa', 'Kõik on kokku unenägu', 'Tuli ja tuul', 'Lapse sünd', 'Ohvrisuits', 'Lahtisi lehti'.]
Gustav Suits. Tallinn: Eesti Riiklik Kirjastus, 1964, 171 lk. [Sari 'Väike luuleraamat'.]
Luulet. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1979, 143 lk.
Valitud luuletused. Stockholm: Rootsi-Eesti õpperaamatufond, 1983, 63 lk.
Luule. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1992, 445 lk. [Sisu: 'Elu tuli', 'Tuulemaa', 'Kõik on kokku unenägu', 'Mõnesuguseid lühisalme', 'Tuli ja tuul', 'Lahtisi lehti', 'Lapse sünd', 'Ohvrisuits'.]
Elutules ja ajatuultes. Tallinn: Tänapäev, 2007, 128 lk.

Sihid ja vaated. Helsingi: Y. Weilin, 1906, 141 lk.
Noor-Eesti nõlvakult: kahe revolutsiooni vahel. Tartu: Noor-Eesti, 1931, 176 lk.
Eesti kirjanduslugu. I. köide: algusest kuni ärkamisaja lõpuni. [Lund]: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1953, 255 lk.
Nuori Kreutzwald. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1953, 203 lk. [Eesti keeles: 'Noor Kreutzwald', Lund: 1983; Tallinn: 1984.]
Eesti kirjanduslugu. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 1999, 429 lk. [Sari 'Eesti mõttelugu'.]
Vabaduse väraval. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2002, 444 lk. [Sari 'Eesti mõttelugu'.]