Heiti Talvik

PoemsHeiti Talvik

About Heiti Talvik


Heiti Talvik (09. XI 1904 – 18. VII 1947)—one of the most famous Estonian poets of the twentieth century—was among the generation of Estonian poets writing in the pre-war era of free Estonia.

Talvik was born in Tartu. His father was a doctor and his mother a pianist. He had a sister and a brother, the former a talented artist who eventually moved to Sweden. His godmother was the Finnish writer Aino Kallas who was closely connected to Estonia. As a teenager, Talvik attended Treffner Gymnasium but dropped out in 1921 to pursue work as an oil shale miner in Kohtla-Järve. While working, he wrote a handful of poems which were published in literary magazines such as Looming in 1924. In 1926, he returned and completed his education in Pärnu’s night school. He returned to Tartu to study at the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Tartu and pursued a range of subjects that interested him, primarily Estonian literature, Estonian and comparative folklore and art history. However, since completing his degree was not his main goal and his studies were frequently interrupted, forcing him to take academic breaks—largely because of military service requirements—Talvik remained enrolled at the university until 1934.

Upon devoting himself more to his poetry, Talvik began to form several literary connections. The first was his association with the writers group Arbujad (‘Soothsayers’) and the second was his eventual marriage to poet and fellow member of Arbujad, Betti Alver, in 1937. They met in 1930, while Alver was still writing primarily prose; with their union, they became one of Estonia’s most famous literary couples. Talvik contributed greatly to Alver’s success as a poet, and she in turn helped preserve his poetry for future generations. Talvik also knew the writer Friedebert Tuglas, who edited several of Talvik’s poems, and even lived in Tuglas’ attic for a time.

Talvik was known for his bohemian attitudes and as being a man of culture—select in his interests and living with the bare necessities in order to make time for the subjects that interested him: creative work and reading. For several poets—including Betti Alver—he was a writing mentor and a guide toward a less material life. He often met with fellow intellectuals at the café Werner next to the university to discuss writing and other creative pursuits. He also hosted an “academy” in his attic apartment where he led conversations on world literature, often quoting the words of famous authors from his notebook.

Talvik was characterized by an idealistic ironic style, first influenced by French writers, such as Baudelaire and Francois Villon, and later by Russian poets, such as Alexander Pushkin and Alexander Blok. He also translated Blok’s poetry. His work has been called prophetic for its time, given the events that transpired in Estonia later.

During his lifetime, he unfortunately only published two poetry collections: Palavik (‘Fever’, 1934) and Kohtupäev (‘Judgement Day’, 1937). The former relied on precise but natural feeling rhymes—classic of the Estonian rhymes of the period—that highlighted a melodious structure. The latter is more existential and perhaps more representative of Talvik’s overall life philosophy—an expression of his core being. Hannes Varblane (2008) notes in Estonian Literary Magazine that “Talvik’s leading motif in this collection is the will behind the words.” The focus of “will” in his poems—stylistically highlighted through capitalization—garners strength through themes of reformation and purification but, most importantly, spiritual growth.

Talvik’s intellectual influence, though a milestone for Estonian literature, also attracted the attention of the authorities after annexation of Estonia by the Soviet Union. In 1945 he was arrested by the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) and deported to Siberia’s Tyumen Oblast, where he died in 1947. It is supposed that he never recovered from the three-month long train journey and died of muscle atrophy. The location of his grave remains unknown.

As with most Estonian poets of the short independence period—living or dead—during Soviet Occupation, Talvik’s work was not looked upon favorably by the authorities, though it was still lent out in secret by silent protestors. Upon his rehabilitation in 1966 and with the publication of selected works in 1968, his influence regained its momentum and again began to spread to newer generation of poets.

M. M.

Books in Estonian

Palavik: luuletusi 1924-1934. Tartu: Kammissepad, 1934, 52 lk. [E-raamat: Tallinn; Digira, 2014.]
Kohtupäev. Tartu: Eesti Kirjanikkude Liit, 1937, 63 lk. [E-raamat: Tallinn; Digira, 2014.]
Kogutud luuletused. Stockholm: Vaba Eesti, 1957, 144 lk.
Heiti Talvik. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1968, 95 lk. [Sari ’Väike luuleraamat’.]
Luuletused. Koostanud Karl Muru. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1988, 166 lk.
Legendaarne. Koostanud Karl Muru ja Hando Runnel. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2004, 303 lk. [Kogutud luuletused, valik Heiti Talviku arvustusi, esseesid ja kirju ning mõningaid käsitlusi Heiti Talviku ja tema luule kohta. 2., parandatud trükk: Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2007, 303 lk.]
Mu südamelt murti pitsat: luuletused. Koostanud ja järelsõna: Karl Muru. Tallinn: Tänapäev, 2006, 115 lk.

Legendaarne. Koostanud Karl Muru ja Hando Runnel. Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2004, 303 lk. [Kogutud luuletused, valik Heiti Talviku arvustusi, esseesid ja kirju ning mõningaid käsitlusi Heiti Talviku ja tema luule kohta. 2., parandatud trükk: Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2007, 303 lk.]