Rainis

(1865–1929)

Rainis (real name Jānis Pliekšāns) – a great Latvian writer, cultural worker and politician, life partner of the poetess Aspazija. In Latvian history he has one of the more lasting roles as one of the more visible molders of his nations’ culture and national identity during the collapse of the Czarist Russia and the battles for the Latvian independence.

…When in 1920, after 14 years in exile in Switzerland, Rainis and Aspazija return to their homeland, thousands of people in crowded streets meet them as national heroes. They both were elected into the Constitutional Assembly of Latvia (Latvia’s first elected legislative body), Rainis as one of the socialist-democratic list. He is also elected as an honorary doctor of the University of Latvia. In his honour is named a boulevard in Riga. Finally, he has the chance to see the staging of his plays with his own eyes, as well as enjoy the love of his readers.

With youthful enthusiasm, the poet participates in the building of the Latvian state: actively participates in the work of the Constitutional Assembly of Latvia and latter of the Latvian Saeima (parliament), is the director of the Department of Art (1920) and the Latvian National Theater (1921–1925), at the start of the theaters activity. As especially important can be seen the first staging of Rainis’ tragedy “Jāzeps un viņa brāļi” (Joseph and his brothers, 1920). From December, 1926, until January, 1928, he serves as the Minister of Education – seemingly in this political field showcasing the greatest understanding and organisational ability. It is in large part the internal conjuncture of the socialist-democratic fraction that keeps him away from occupying the role of the chairman of the Constitutional Assembly of Latvia and latter as the president of Latvia, his political affiliation in its way also becomes an obstacle in him receiving a Nobel prize.

Already during the period of his exile in Switzerland in collaboration with The New Riga Theater were written and staged the plays “Zelta zirgs” (The Golden Horse, 1909), “Indulis un Ārija” (Indulis and Ārija, 1912), “Pūt, vējiņi!” (Blow, the Wind!, 1914); in November the 19th, 1920, with the staging of “Indulis and Ārija” the Dailes theater is opened (its initial name – “The National House Dailes Theatre of Rainis and Aspazija”; in 1954, it is named in honour of Rainis, after Latvia regains its independence in 1990 – simply “Dailes theater”). Rainis is the co-founder of the theater and its first director (until 1921).

During the latter years of his life, he actively participates in the preparing of his collected works “Dzīve un darbi” (Life and Works, 1925–1931). To alleviate his bleak mood and to improve his health, the poet oftentimes goes on trips to various Western European countries, Scandinavia, also Egypt and Palestine. Strong nostalgia takes him back to Castagnola, which he visits in 1921, 1926 and 1927 (during the second half of the 20’s, the poet experiences more and more the urge to return there permanently). During his last visit there, he writes a memory book “Kastaņola” (Castagnola, 1928), where he expresses his love for his second homeland – Switzerland – expressing deep feelings of gratitude towards it in his and Aspazija’s name.

In September, 1929, a day after his 64th birthday, Rainis passes away. Passes, not having finished his great work “Modernais Fausts” (Modern Faustus), multiple collections of poetry, having left in his archive materials for over a hundred unfinished plays. At this moment, the fullest summary of his literary legacy are his “Kopoti raksti” (Complete Works) in 30 volumes, as well as „J. Raiņa tulkojumi” (Translations of J. Rainis) in 4 editions (1989–1990).

On 15th September, 1929, Rainis is buried in Riga’s New cemetery (also colloquially known as the “godless graves”, because here were buried people who were not part of any congregations), which afterwards are named after him. In 11th of September, 1932, a honourary colonnade is opened there in his memory, in 1935, a sculptural piece called „Ģēnija pamošanās” (The Waking of a Genius). In 1943, Aspazija is laid to rest next to him.

On 11th of September, 1965, – Rainis’ hundredth birthday – in the Esplanāde of Rīga a monument of Rainis is revealed. Here the first poetry social gathering takes place, establishing a yearly public poetry reading tradition. But in Castagnola on this day in the „Ristante Taddei” boarding-house a memorial room is opened and, during the celebrations, participants support the idea of building a “grand monument” for Rainis and Aspazija. The monument and the temporary museum exhibition is opened on the 9th of September, 1972, the new museum space in The City of Lugano Historical Archive becomes open in August, 1980, as well as the „Kastanjolas vēstījums” (The Castagnola Missive) gets expressed – “demand for freedom for the Latvian nation and independence for the Latvian state.” A large material on the memorization of Rainis’ and Aspazija’s legacy can be found in the monograph of Gundega Grīnuma „Piemiņas paradoksi. Raiņa un Aspazijas atcere Kastanjolā” (Remembrance Paradoxes. The Memory of Rainis and Aspazija in Castagnola, 2009).

In The Depository of Literature, Theatre and Music Collections a voluminous Rainis and Aspazija collection is located – more than 45 000 units, as well as their correspondence – 14 420 units. The mutual correspondence of both poets is made up from 2499 letters in Latvian, Russian and German. In 2009, it was included in the UNESCO programme’s “Memory of the World” Latvia’s national register.

Jānis Zālītis,

The Rainis and Aspazija House specialist

April, 2010.

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