Käsu Hans


About Käsu Hans

Käsu Hans (Hans Kess; birthdate unknown, deceased probably in 1715 or 1734) was an Estonian poet and author of the lament Oh! ma vaene Tardo-liin (‘Ah Me! Poor Tartu Town!’) that is written in the South Estonian written language. Käsu Hans is the first known native Estonian writer. He worked as a sacristan in Puhja and not much is known about his life. One theory states he died in 1715, another has him alive in the Puhja region even in the early 1730s. The lament of Käsu Hans is written in 1708 and relates the events of the Great Northern War from 1704 to 1708, where Tartu was almost completely destroyed with only a few houses left standing by the armies of Peter I of Russia. In the lament, the author opposes the Russians and sides with the Swedish. The text has been preserved through copies, the first one of which was created in 1714 by Johann Heinrich Grotjan, a pastor at St John’s Church in Tartu. Grotjan’s copy has been the source of most other later publications. The first print version of the full text was published in 1902.

Historically, the Käsu Hans lament falls in the last phase of early Estonian occasional poetry although it differs from the tradition both in content and poetic development. The lament is a long poem that consists of 32 stanzas and is in the form of a monologue by the personified Tartu who relates its destruction as punishment for past sins. Although the text is an original, then thematically it most likely takes after the 1691 prose text by Adrian Virginius Jerusalemmi-Lina hirmsast Ärrähäetämissest (‘Of the Awful Destruction of Jerusalem’) that was also written in the South Estonian dialect and was adapted from The Jewish War by Josephus.

The lament became popular and many oral versions of the song appeared. Many later writers (Friedebert Tuglas, Herbert Salu, Mart Kivastik) have made Käsu Hans the main character in their writings.

M. V. (Translated by A. S.)

Publications of the poem Oh! ma vaene Tardo-liin in Estonian

Friedrich Gustav Bienemann, Die Katastrophe der Stadt Dorpat während des Nordischen Krieges: nebst zeitgenössischen Aufzeichnungen. Tallinn: Verlag von Franz Kluge, 1902, lk 92–98.
Valik eesti kirjakeele vanemaid mälestisi a. 1524–1739. II vihk. (Akadeemilise Emakeele Seltsi Toimetised XVI). Koostajad Albert Saareste ja Arno Rafael Cederberg. Tartu: Akadeemilise Emakeele Seltsi kirjastus, 1931, 306–315.
Eesti kirjandusajalugu tekstides. (Akadeemilise Kirjandusühingu Toimetised IV). Toimetajad Gustav Suits ja Mart Lepik. Tartu: Akadeemilise Kirjandusühingu kirjastus, 1932, lk 57–67.
Käsu Hans ja Adrian Virginius. Mälestuspäev Puhjas. Ürituste kava. Koostaja Urmas Salo. Tartu: Eesti Muinsuskaitse Selts, 1988.
Sõnarine. Eesti luule antoloogia. 1. köide. Koostaja Karl Muru. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1989, lk 17–26.
Käsu Hansu kaebelaul. – Akadeemia 1993, nr 1, lk 150–160. [Sisaldab kaht versiooni, mis mõlemad taotlevad originaalilähedust – Johann Heinrich Grotjani üleskirjutuse põhjal tehtud tekstikriitlist versiooni ja August Annisti versiooni.]
300 aastat esimesest eestikeelsest luuletusest „Oh ma vaene Tarto liin“ (Käsu Hans). Koost Kaja Udso. Puhja: K. Udso, 2008, 12 lk.