Jānis Akuraters

(1876–1937)

“If Akuraters was taken from Latvian writing, it would lose a fair share of its inspirational flow.” – thus wrote the Latvian writer Kārlis Skalbe.

Personality. First impression

Latvian prose writer and expat Jānis Veselis: “First impressions about Akuraters: temperance, coolness, distance. Even though he was courteous and sometimes even talkative, then the so-called warmness and convincing openness – which is often times but lack of social form – was foreign to him. (..) Pale, smooth, lacking a beard, always well-dressed – this was the Akuraters I saw. His quick, rash, yet controlled gestures indicated an easy, sensitive and nervous nature. And, listening to his speech, it seemed that he was rushing somewhere, as if he lacked time.”

Kārlis Skalbe: “Then he was a young man with a slender build, small, light beard, a high forehead. I do not know how I got there, but I ended up at Akuraters birth place, his country house in Beitāni. He was searching for, just as I was, a way to literature, and he took me to his holiest place – a small country granary. At the end of the bed was a small table and on it a thick notebook. It had been written full with poetry. I took a look in it and was surprised by how many words it had. I had written only a few poems, but he had already filled an entire notebook. I did not read them all because I was much more interested in Akuraters personality, his lively, descriptive language. It attracted me from the very first moment and pulled me towards him. Wherever we went, Akuraters talked and I listened. I guess this was the foundation of our friendship.”

The Latvian writer and translator Zenta Mauriņa: “One afternoon someone knocked at my door. Into the room came a very handsome, very stately man. During latter years, I was convinced that Akuraters is the only one who was a poet and looked like one. (..) Despite the disorder of war, Akuraters was well-dressed then, as well as during latter years. Unforgettably etched into my mind is his large, black velour hat.”

Personality. Fate. Literary and social work

Jānis Akuraters was a poet, writer, translator, playwright, journalist and social worker.

His first publication was at the age of nineteen – in 1895, in the magazine “Austrums” (East). After ten years his first poetry book “Zvaigžņu nakts” (Night of Stars) is published that is rich with the imagery of classical romanticism – so fully used, perhaps, for the first time in Latvian literature. From 1905 until his death in 1937, Jānis Akuraters is an active participant and former of the Latvian literary processes. He publishes ten books of poetry, two novels, six books of short prose, plays and translations from French, Norwegian and German.

His works are dominated by the incompatibility of the ideal and real, based in the romanticism view of the world, as well as an impressionistic laudation of the passing moments and the new romanticism joy about the force of life. In select tales and poems can be seen Akuraters’ ability to create the complicated multi-meaning structure of symbolism images. In works written and published form 1905 until 1909 a note of decadentic pathos can be heard.

The most popular, most read and published work of Akuraters is a story – a memory drawing – “The Young Farmhands’ Summer”, which in a “strange half-delirious state in five or six days” Jānis Akuraters writes in the Winter of 1908, while in Norway, as an emigre letter to his friends back home. In the 1924 book, „The Best Continental Short Stories of 1923-24” is published his short story “Nāve” (Death), which is based in his personal experience, during World War I and in the Finnish socialist-revolutionary movement, led by Albert Traubergs.

Akuraters sees France ass the birthplace of his spiritual culture and visited it many times to experience its theater art, the riches of Luvre, art exhibitions and literary circles, as well as listen to lectures at the Sorbonne University. His knowledge of French, German, Russian, Norwegian, a bit of English and Lithuanian helped him create contacts with the cultural and literary environments of other countries. From 1932 until 1937, Akuraters is the chairman of the Latvian PEN club.

Jānis Akuraters lived during an eventful period that changed the map of Europe, political and ethical views, living space and style. Akuraters temperament, enthusiasm and conviction, the scope of his thought and clearness of expression, belief in the idea of the Latvian state and the power of the national art puts him in the forefront of events, tied to the fate of Latvia. As a member of the Socialist-Democration Union, he is a member of the 1905 revolutionary events. In 1916, he willingly joins the Latvian Riflemen, during 1918 is elected into the Latvian Provisional National Council (latter the National Council). In 1918, Jānis Akuraters participates in the act of the Proclamation of Latvia. In 1919, he is elected as the director of the Art department of the Ministry of Education.

Boldness can be dangerous… The consequences for participating in the events 0f 1905 were – arrest, deportation, emigration, poverty, hunger, nervousness and the prevention of working as a teacher… The reprisal for participating in the events of the creation of the Latvian state were even more severe – during the years of the Soviet occupation, most of Akuraters’ works became prohibited and were taken from libraries, to be erased from the consciousness of readers.

Personality among personalities or Jānis Akuraters and others

Jānis Veselis: “After [Latvian romanticism writer] Jānis Poruks, Akuraters was the one who seemed the most saturated with beauty, exquisite feelings and views.”

Zenta Mauriņa: “Is not the poetry of Vidzeme (a region of Latvian) symbolized with the silently internal Kārlis Skalbe and the poetry of Kurzeme – by the solemn rebel Akuraters with his “Fiery Flowers” raised high in his hand?”

Latvian romantic poetry masters Fricis Bārda: “If about Aspazija it could be said that in her poetry like reliefs are highlighted details, then about Akuraters the opposite should be said. He never lingers on a select flower, a detail or a nature scene. Most fondly he talks about “flowers” or ‘wreaths” in the general sense, as if rushing by, hastefully caressing, never trying to find and etch out the individual peculiarities of the masses and inanimate objects.”

Literary historian and critic Alfrēds Goba: “But if Skalbe is an optimist and the joyful for him are the poor ones, then Akuraters always at his core was full of sorrows.”

Literary scientist Kārlis Kārkliņš: “Other members of the romanticism school such as Kārlis Skalbe, Anna Brigadere and Fricis Bārda emphasize the ethical aspects in their works. They evaluate life from the ethical standpoint. They acknowledge good and condemn evil. They avoid sin. They acknowledge beautiful and condemn what is not. The poet (Akuraters) finds beautiful even in sin. He even praises it. (..) Thus Akuraters gives Latvian literature a new gauge by which to measure the events of life.”

 

June, 2010.

 

 

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