Ojārs Vācietis

(1933–1983)

The academic and chemist Jānis Stradiņš called him “a great gift for a small nation”, the poet Imants Ziedonis – “the conscience of a nation”, “the verticallity of comparability”, the poet Jānis Peters acknowledged that “like an oversensitive seismograph he registered underground movements, warning those living above”. Writing for his time, he wrote for eternity, looking ahead prophetically.

He dared not to be afraid and to write down the voice of his conscience, even though often times it went against the leading nomenclature – the punishment of which was not being able to be published for extended periods of time, as well as harsh critique from Soviet ideologues. But Ojārs Vācietis talent was impossible to silence: his word had too much strength and the nation loved him. Then the leading elite had no other choice but to “punish” him with various Honorary titles and bonuses. But this also had no effect – Vācietis did not change and did not submit to the state of affairs. He wrote with naked nerves, as being skinless, open to all pain and joys. Yes, joy as well. Just to think of his unsurpassed love lyrics!

Unorthodox talent, immeasurable talent, maximal honesty, inner freedom was what allowed him to become a legend, but his poetry – a source of strength. It is the same magical strength that can be found in his folk songs, also in the poetry of Rainis and Čaks. Vācietis is a flag carrier. Poetry was his only mode of existence.

The life of the poet started in Northern Vidzeme, at Trapene. War was a central part of his childhood, which resulted in his hatred against violence and led him to defend life as the greatest value throughout his lifetime.
His high school years in Gaujiena were the true beginning for his love for poetry and music. The unpredictable and most beautiful Latvian river Gauja accompanied him throughout his lifetime, until his burial mount in Carnikava. It seems that the restlessness of Gauja can be read in his first book of poetry “Tālu ceļu vējš” (The Wind of Long Paths, 1956).

Ojārs Vācietis measured that the actual center of Europe can be found in Gaujiena. But from January, 1960, he lived in the most open center of Riga:

If in the middle of Mārupīte you put the compass pike

and draw a circle – this is the center of Riga.

Right until the poet’s last breath, his residence was in Pārdaugava (a neighbourhood of Rīga), in Lielā Altonova street 19 (now – Ojārs Vācietis street). It is a house built in the second half of the 18th century, first housing the tavern “Jeruzaleme” (Jerusalem), now the house is a cultural monument of Local importance that also hosts the Ojārs Vācietis museum from 13th November, 1992.
He created his lasting poetical wonders in Pārdaugava.

The wife of the poet, Ludmila Azarova, tells how poetry “came” to Ojārs Vācietis in movement, as he was walking around Āgenskalns (all neighbourhoods of Rīga), the streets of Torņakalns, next to the bird-cherry and nettle jungles of Mārupīte, around the Māras pond (which the poet called a lake), by the paths of Zaķusala and Lucavsala, along the Daugava shore from Bolderāja until Katlakalns. Here he felt the presence of such literary and cultural giants as  Krišjānis Barons, Rainis, Aspazija, Akuraters, Vilis Plūdons (national romanticism poet), Emīls Dārziņš (Latvian composer and music critic) and others calling Pārdaugava their home. Thick and varied is the cultural layer of Pārdaugava. Now Ojārs Vācietis has added his part to it as well.

During his time in Pārdaugava, he wrote many of his best known books: Elpa” (Breath, 1966), „Dzegužlaiks” (Time of the Cuckoo, 1968), „Aiz simtās slāpes” (After the Hundredth Thrist, 1969), „Si minors” (Si minor, 1982), „Punktiņš, punktiņš, komatiņš” (Dot, dot, coma, 1971), „Kabata” (Pocket, 1976).
He also translated plenty of poetry and prose, amongst which is his impeccable translation of Bulgakovs “The Master and Margarita”.

Everyone should find their own private route to Vācietis, but a good starting point are his walking routes and the unrepeatable aura of his house.

Zinta Pencele,

The main specialist of the Ojārs Vācietis Museum

Januray, 2010.

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