Gustav Suits is one of Estonia’s greatest poets, and in a sense he occupies an especially significant position in our literature. Suits published the first truly groundbreaking collections of Estonian poetry of the 20th century; he was the initiator of modern Estonian poetry, and exerted an enormous impact on the next generation.
He established canons but at the same time restlessly sought and experimented with the new. He verbalised some of the most vivid poetic symbols in Estonian poetry: for example, an island of one’s own denoting unattainable dreams, or Tuulemaa (The Land of Winds) that signifies Estonia.
Born in 1883 in Võnnu, in Southern Estonia, Suits came to Tartu in 1895. The atmosphere of the old university town had an invigorating impact on the bright country boy whose expanding language skills enabled him to become more and more involved in world literature. At the age of 16 Suits made a debut with both a critical article and his first poem, Vesiroosid (Water Lilies, 1899). Beginning in 1901 he spent his summers working in Finland as a home tutor of German and French, and later studied in Helsinki. After 1901, his poetic voice clearly began to develop. At the same time he was the intellectual and ideological mentor of the activities of the literary group Noor-Eesti (Young Estonia), probably the most influential literary group in Estonian cultural history. Suits expressed the main slogan of the movement: `Let us be Estonians, but also become Europeans!´ Young Estonia turned primarily to the field of influence of France, but also cultures of the Nordic countries.
Between 1905 and 1910 Suits read European literature, Aesthetics and Finnish language, literature and folklore at Helsinki University. In 1911 he married his fellow student, Aino Thauvón. They had two daughters, one of them the poet Maret Suits-Elson.

After Estonia became independent, Suits was in 1921 invited to take up the position of Professor at the University of Tartu, which had gained the status of a national university. He stayed until 1944. Highly valuing contacts with Europe, Suits frequently travelled in Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Sweden, and in 1939 also in the Soviet Union. He delivered lectures at the Universities of Königsberg, Stockholm, Göteborg and Lund, was elected a corresponding member of the Finnish Literary Society and the French Academy, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Uppsala University.

The fateful years of the Second World War brought Suits the loss of his home in 1941 – his house in Tartu burned down. In 1944 Suits fled to political exile. The last stage of the poet's life was spent in Stockholm, where he was amazingly prolific in research work and wrote poems as well. He died in 1956.

The poetry of Gustav Suits is meaningful in various senses. He published six collections of poetry, and almost all of them are landmarks in Estonian literature. Suits’ poetry combines both the very personal and general. It depicts the history of his land and people and reaches out to touch the fate of humanity in general.

The first collection, Elu tuli (The Fire of Life, 1905) is the most popular, reader-friendly and appealing, due to its youthful enthusiasm. The manner of the young poet betrays the influences of Friedrich Nietzsche and the Finnish poet Eino Leino, but also reveals traces of 19th century Estonian national romanticism. It also contains memorable love poems, born out of an enormous sense of happiness. The muse was a girl of Swedish-German origin whom Suits met in Finland, known as the Spring Girl.
The second collection of poetry, Tuulemaa (The Land of Winds, 1913) is to a large extent a total contrast to The Fire of Life, primarily in terms of its attitude to life and prevailing moods. Historically, it reflects the post-revolutionary mood of decline, the disappointment of the poet and his generation, and a sense of premature ageing. The poems abound in allusions to matters Estonian; the most vivid example here being Song About Estonia. The Land of the Winds is considered one of the most masterful collections of poetry in Estonian literature. It is truly stylish, precise in form, closest to French literature (Gautier, Baudelaire, Verlaine) and Russian symbolism. Its form is diverse, almost like an anthology where the poems range from demanding classical terza rima to fragile free verse. Still, classical and traditional verses prevail. The images, squeezed into strict stanzas, are tightened to the extreme and are full of tension, so that the form threatens to crack or burst at any moment.

This kind of cracking or deliberate breaking of form can be observed in the collection Kõik on kokku unenägu (It Is All But A Dream, 1922). This, however, was written in a much more modernist and intellectual vein. It includes, for example, the excellent free-verse poem A Voyage Home, depicting Suits’s journey from France to Finland, crossing the dangerous North Sea of the First World War. The visions presented intertwine places and times- the melee of war refugees on the ship, recollections of visited cities, thoughts about Europe's past, present and future.

Suits’s poetry has had a strong impact on the best and most original Estonian poets; he still has it nowadays.


Copyright © Estonian Literature Centre. Designed by Asko K√ľnnap. Software by Sepeks