Uku Masing


About Uku Masing

Uku Masing (until 1937 Hugo Albert Masing, 11. VIII / 30. VII 1909 – 25. IV 1985) was an Estonian poet, theologian, historian of religion, folklore specialist and philologist. His extraordinary intellectual powers, broad grasp and charisma have made him a mythical figure in Estonian literary and humanitarian circles.

Masing was born in the village of Lipa in Raikküla parish, Raplamaa county, into a farming family. His parents were followers of the Herrnhuter movement (The Moravian Church). He attended the six-grade village school in Raikküla and Tallinn II School of Science. In 1926 he enrolled in the faculty of theology at the University of Tartu, from which he gained his master’s degree in 1930. Masing presented his doctoral dissertation, Der Prophet Obadja, for defence as early as 1935, but for various reasons, including the war, he only defended it in 1947. In 1935 Masing also published his first poetry collection, Neemed Vihmade lahte (‘Headlands in the Gulf of Rains’). From 1937 he was an assistant professor of comparative religion at the University of Tartu, and from 1938 acting professor of Old Testament studies and semitic languages. After the June 1940 coup, the Faculty of Religion at the university was closed. It was reopened during the German occupation, but from 1942 Masing was forced to give up working at the university, because of informers, and earned his living with occasional work, mostly translation and writing.

After the coming of Soviet power, Uku Masing became persona non grata in the eyes of the authorities. From 1946 to 1964 he worked as scientific secretary to the Consistory of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church and a lecturer in the Theological Institute; to a small extent Masing published articles in the journal Communio Viatorum of the Faculty of Religion at the University of Prague, and in Estonian publications. Only five collections of Masing’s voluminous poetic work were published abroad in his lifetime (in Italy, Sweden and Canada). Essentially Uku and Eha Masing lived until his death on Eha’s salary, which she earned by working in the registry of Tartu Psychoneurological Hospital. All of Uku Masing’s academic and creative work during the Soviet occupation passed in internal exile in Tartu. He translated, wrote collections of poetry and a large amount of research work on theology, religious history, folklore studies and other fields, without any real hope of publishing them. Nevertheless Uku Masing had a great influence on Estonian intellectual life. Many of Masing’s written works circulated widely as samizdat. As a spiritual teacher, too, Masing achieved a cult-like status. Masing carried especially great authority among the generation of young poets and humanitarians of the sixties.

Masing knew dozens of languages: among others, Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Sumerian, Akkadian, Persian and Coptic, the more important Semitic, Germanic, Romance, Slav, Finno-Ugric, Samoyed and Polynesian languages, as well as Yakut, Chuvash, Vainakhish and Tamil, and several Native American languages. In his most productive years he read over a thousand pages a day, and had an eidetic memory of what he had read: he was able to cite multiple pages, by heart. Masing was synaesthetic, for example seeing music as rolling pictures.

Masing’s voluminous poetry production is closely allied to his numerous other interests in  fields such as religious history, folklore, science fiction, astronomy and fairy tales. His poems are profuse and rich in imagery, full of allusions which require encyclopaedic research from the reader. At the same time Masing’s poetry is at times very sensual, striving to reproduce intensive synaesthetic mental experiences. In his poetry Masing reflects his life-long aspiration toward mystical religious experience, turning one into a completely new being. A large portion of Masing’s poetry, as well as his other writings, is devoted to condemning cruel, animal and imperfect modern humanity. Masing yearned for beings at a psychologically, socially and even biologically superior level of development “beside whom present-day people are as amoeba are to us”, as he put it, and for a society composed of such godlike humans.

Uku Masing also translated a lot: among others, classical texts from Greek, Arabic, Sanskrit, Coptic, Sumerian, Latin, Hebrew, Syriac and German, as well as contemporary literature, including much of Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry, Claude Houghton’s novel The Passing of the Third Floor Back, and works by Shmuel Yosef Agnon. He translated, compiled and published a collection of Catalan fairy-tales (1985). In the final years of Masing’s life he had deep interest in fairy tales of the world.

Masing’s legacy of manuscripts has since the nineteen-nineties been administered by the Uku Masing Governing Board and published by the Ilmamaa publishing house. Many works have not appeared to this day, however.

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

Books in Estonian

Hugo Masing, Neemed Vihmade lahte: 1930-1934. Autori illustratsioonid. Tartu: Akadeemiline Usuteadlaste Selts, 1935, 72 lk. [2. trükk: eessõna Ivar Ivask, Stockholm: Vaba Eesti, 1959, 126 lk; 3. trükk: Toronto: Maarjamaa, 1985, 72 lk.]
Džunglilaulud. Stockholm: Vaba Eesti, 1965, 89 lk. [Luulekogu pealkiri sündis eksitusest, õige olnuks ‘Džunglilinnud’.]
Piiridele pyydes. Rooma: Maarjamaa, 1974, 63 lk.
Udu Toonela jõelt: 1930-1943. Rooma: Maarjamaa, 1974, 124 lk.
Aerutades hurtsikumeistriga 1937-1947. Toronto: Maarjamaa, 1983, 63 lk.
Kirsipuu varjus, 1948-49. Scarborough (Kanada): Maarjamaa, 1985, 75 lk.
Ehatuule maa. Tallinn: Perioodika (Loomingu Raamatukogu), 1988, 77 lk.
Inimeselaps: valik luulet. Koostanud Uku Masingu Kolleegium. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2016, 184 lk.

Collected poems
Luule. I. Koostanud Eha Masing ja Hando Runnel; autori illustratsioonid. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2000, 391 lk. [Sisu: ‘Roheliste radade raamat’, ‘Udu Toonela jõelt’, ‘Aerutades hurtsikumeistriga’, ‘Kirsipuu varjus’.]
Luule. II. Koostanud Eha Masing ja Hando Runnel; illustratsioonid: Herman Talvik. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2001, 407 lk. [Sisu: ‘Neemed Vihmade lahte’, ‘Miikaeli liturgiad’, ‘Roosikrantsi palved’, ‘Ehatuule maa’, ‘Džunglilinnud’, ‘Itkud isale’, ‘Itkud õele’.]
Luule. III. Koostanud Eha Masing ja Hando Runnel; märkmeid kogunud ja kirjutanud Ilmar Vene jt; kujundanud ja illustreerinud Evi Tihemets. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2002, 292 lk. [Sisu: ‘Hannolaul’, ‘Unenägija tessaraktist’.]
Luule. IV. Koostanud Eha Masing ja Hando Runnel; märkmeid kogunud ja kirjutanud Kalle Kasemaa jt, illustratsioonid: Naima Neidre. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2003, 383 lk. [Sisu: ‘Lohe vari’, ‘Piiridele pyydes’, ‘Hurtsik lammutaks enda’, ‘Surija Sandiristilt’.]
Luule. V. Koostanud Eha Masing ja Hando Runnel, märkmeid kogunud ja kirjutanud Amar Annus jt. Illustratsioonid: Uku Masing. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2004, 285 lk. [Sisu: ‘1343’, ‘Rubaiid’, ‘Tarbetud õpetussalmid’, ‘Gudea ja Hoosea’, ‘Rahast ja võimust’, ‘Georg Müller’, ‘Kurtes Taevaskoja varisevat kallast’.]
Luule. VI. Koostanud Eha Masing ja Hando Runnel; lisandusi Uku Masingu luule mõistmiseks: märkmeid kogunud ja kirjutanud Kalle Kasemaa, Külliki Kuusk, Pille Mänd, Lauri Sommer, Teet Toome, Jaan Pelt. Illustratsioonid: Ilse Leetaru. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2005, 308 lk. [Sisu: ‘Saadik Magellani pilvest’, I-III.]

Rapanui vabastamine, ehk, Kajakad jumalate kalmistul. Järelsõna: Hando Runnel. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1989, 350 lk.

Vaatlusi maailmale teoloogi seisukohalt. Koostanud H. Runnel. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 1993, 476 lk. [Artiklikogumik. 2., täiendatud trükk: 2008, 533 lk.]
Eesti usund. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 1995, 221 lk. [2., parandatud trükk: 1998.]
Budismist. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 1995, 285 lk.
Pessimismi põhjendus. Koostaja ja järelsõna: Hando Runnel. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 1995, 447 lk. [Artiklikogumik.]
Mälestusi taimedest. Järelsõna: Pille Runnel. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 1996, 189 lk. [E-raamat (epub): Tartu: Ilmamaa,  Eesti Digiraamatute Keskus, 2011.]
Meil on lootust. Koostajad Hando Runnel ja Urmas Tõnisson; võõrkeelsete artiklite tõlked: Kalle Kasemaa; sarja peatoimetaja Hando Runnel. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 1998, 415 lk. [Artiklikogumik. 2., parandatud trükk: 2009.]
Eesti vanema kirjakeele lood. Koostaja Anti Lääts. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 1999, 295 lk.
Üldine usundilugu. Järelsõnad: Tarmo Kulmar, Amar Annus. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2000, 495 lk.
1343; Vaskuks ja vikaaria Lohult. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2002, 236 lk. [Kaks kirjutist Jüriöö ülestõusust.]
Keelest ja meelest; Taevapõdra rahvaste meelest, ehk, Juttu boreaalsest hoiakust. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2004, 373 lk. [E-raamat: Eesti Digiraamatute Keskus, 2011.]
Polüneesia usund. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2004, 397 lk.
Uku Masing ja Piibel. Koostanud Kalle Kasemaa, eessõna: Urmas Nõmmik. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2005, 540 lk.
Aarded tellistes. Koostanud ja toimetanud: Mari-Liis Tammiste, Risto Järv, Kristi Salve. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2011, 327 lk. [Uurimusi folkloristika alalt.]

Uskuda, elada: 59 kirja Kiivitile. Koostanud Hando Runnel, saatesõna: Urmas Nõmmik. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2006, 410 lk.
Kirjad Liile. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2012, 343 lk. [Kirjad Alide Klemetsile. 2. trükk: Tallinn: Ekspress Meedia, 2017, 348 lk.]
Uku Masing, Vello Salo, Vaimusõdurid viletsuse ajal. Koostanud ja toimetanud Mari-Liis Tammiste. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2013, 239 lk.
Uku Masing, Kalju Kirde, Kord kui me unistus uitis. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2014, 127 lk. [Kirjavahetus puudutab suures osas ulmekirjandust.]
Uku Masing, Toomas Paul, Usalda ennast. Koostanud ja toimetanud Mari-Liis Tammiste. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2015, 494 lk.

About Uku Masing
Toomas Paul, Juhatus Uku Masingu juurde. – Akadeemia, nr 5, 1989, lk 1006–1023.
Ilmar Vene, Trotsija. Katse mõista Uku Masingut. Tartu: Ilmamaa 2001, 189 lk.
Lauri Sommer, Uku Masingu käsikirja “Saadik Magellani pilvest” (1959–1963) vaimne, ajalis-ruumiline ja elulooline taust”. Looming, nr 4, 2004, lk 576-602; nr 5, 2004, lk 728-747; nr 6, 2004, lk 885-916.
Põlvest põlve. Pühendusteos Uku Masingu 100. sünniaastapäeva puhul. Koostanud Hando Runnel ja Urmas Nõmmik. Tartu: Ilmamaa 2010, 223 lk. [Artikleid ja kirjutisi järgmistelt autoritelt: Evald Saag, Haljand Udam, Toomas Paul, Karl Aun, Jaak Peebo, Kristi Salve, Kaide Rätsep, Viivi Luik, Jaan Kiivit, Urmas Nõmmik, Peep Audova, Vello Salo, Vello Salum, Jüri Kivimäe, Pille Runnel, Tõnu Luik, Anne Maasik, Kalle Kasemaa, Peep Ilmet, Ain Kaalep.]
Inimesepoeg valgel laeval: Uku Masing 100. Koostanud Arne Merilai. Tartu: Eesti Kirjandusmuuseum, Tartu Ülikool, 2010, 527 lk. [Artikleid ja kirjutisi järgmistelt autoritelt: Karl Pajusalu, Andres Põder, Tõnis Lukas, Laine Jänes, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Thomas Salumets, Ilmar Vene, Risto Järv, Kalle Kasemaa, Sven Vabar, Urmas Nõmmik, Arne Merilai, Aado Lintrop, Birute Klaas, Lauri Sommer, Toomas Paul, Janika Kronberg, Linnart Mäll, Thomas-Andreas Põder, Arne Hiob, Aile Tooming, Külliki Kuusk, Vallo Kepp, Aarne Ruben, Külli Habicht, Hando Runnel.]

Films about Uku Masing
Uku Masingu maastikud: isikulooline filmitriloogia. Idee ja stsenarist Mikk Sarv, helilooja Rauno Remme, stsenarist ja režissöör-operaator Vallo Kepp. Tallinn: Estinfilm, 2009, 2 DVD-d, ~15 tundi. [Intervjuud rohkem kui 30 Masingut tundnud inimesega.
1. DVD:
– ‘Kitsas rada keset metsi’, Faama Film, 2000, 55m 40s
– ‘Inimesepoeg Valgel laeval’, Estinfilm, 2004, 77m
– ‘Surm on öömaja põllul’, Estinfilm, 2006, 70m
2. DVD:
– ‘Tõuseb tume puu täis kollaseid tiibu’, Estinfilm, 2008. Valik filmitriloogia aluseks olnud helisalvestisi ning video- ja tekstimaterjali. Lisaks sisaldab neljas osa Uku Masingu loengute lindistusi Usuteaduse Instituudis, Toomas Pauli intervjuud Uku Masinguga, valikut Uku Masingu kirju ja postkaarte kodustele ning filmide aluseks olnud intervjuude täielikke lindistusi, nende litereeringuid jpm.]