Sometimes I have serious doubts about understanding what “growing up” really means. Perhaps this has something to do with the trajectory of my life being slightly distorted if judged by normal age-criteria and it seems I am getting younger, not older each year. But maybe this is exactly what growing older is about. My first book of poetry (“Barefoot”) appeared when I had just turned nineteen, which was in itself not unusual, but some friends whom I did not know then, have told me later they thought these verses were by a very old man. I was not yet thirty when my colleagues forced me to become the first rector of the Estonian Institute of Humanities, an independent university we had founded together. Actually it was the least appealing job in that institution and it was shifted to me exactly because I was one of the youngest, and probably most kicking, among us, but I remember very well the slightly puzzled attitude of Western colleagues to whom I was introduced in my official capacity and who had certainly expected a much more elderly gentleman. Luckily it was the time when the prime minister of our country was not much older than me – for similar reasons, I suppose – which could explain things a bit. But I was also the youngest professor of the University of Helsinki at the time when I was elected in 1995 to the chair of Japanese Studies from which I am now on a longish leave, although some still younger people have been inaugurated to other chairs in between. The reason for the leave is that now they have made me the rector of the Tallinn University, founded not completely without my participation in 2005. Another young one, but at least I am myself now in a more appropriate age for the job.


I have published three more collections of poetry in the meantime, and also three novels, a collection of plays and two books of short prose, as well as articles and translations. Thus I do regard myself first and foremost as a writer, although I have done academic work too – my preoccupation with classical Japanese poetry and poetic prose has materialised not only in some volumes of translation, but also in a monograph on the role of poetry in classical Japanese literature. For a long time I have managed to keep clear from Japanese influences in my writing (at least conscious and immediately visible ones), but one of my books, “Little Things That Matter”, has perhaps a slight generic affiliation with the collections of reminiscences by court ladies and Buddhist monks, some of which I have also studied and translated into Estonian. But this does not really matter – there are other things that do. In one episode in that book there is somebody who wants to write a manual of getting old. I would probably do that, if I knew how. The character in the book gives up the idea when he gets older. Maybe I will, too.

 

 

Text by Rein Raud


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