Henrik Visnapuu

PoemsHenrik Visnapuu. Photo by J. & P. Parikas

About Henrik Visnapuu

Henrik Visnapuu (2. I 1890 / 21. XII 1889 – 3. IV 1951) was an Estonian poet and playwright. He was born at the Maardina farm, Helme Parish in Viljandi County (later Valga County) as the son of a farm worker. He lived in nearly a dozen different places throughout his childhood, including Vana-Konguta, Meeri, Reola, Tõõraste, Tammistu, Vasula, Sarakuste, Helme. 

He began his education at Reola parish school (1899–1902), continued at Ropka (1902–1903) and Sipe (1903–1905) Ministry Schools and Tartu City School (1905–1906). In 1907, he passed the professional exam at Narva High School, receiving his certification to teach primary school students, and began working as a teacher at a parish school in Kastre-Peravald, then held the same office also in Koeru and Kavastu. In 1912, he began teaching Estonian language and literature at Tartu Gymnasium for Girls.

In 1916, Visnapuu graduated as an external student of Aleksander Gymnasium in Tartu and in 1917, he entered the University of Tartu as a student of historical linguistics and joined the student corporation Sakala, but then took other work as an editor of the newspaper Tallinna Teataja. A year later, he returned to Tartu but held a position as a teacher, from which he was removed during the German occupation. He did not begin his university studies until 1920. During the days of the Independence War (1918‒1920), he worked as a correspondent for the Vaba Maa newspaper.

In 1921, Visnapuu traveled in Russia and Moscow. In 1922, he went to study at the University of Berlin, where he became interested in ancient languages. Then, from 1923, he lived and worked as a professional writer in Tartu. In 1935, he moved to Tallinn, where he began working as a cultural advisor in the state propaganda department. In 1937, he became the head of the department of culture for the newspaper Uus Eesti and founded the culture magazine Varamu, which he edited until 1940 when Estonia was occupied and the magazine was shut down. From 1941–1944, he worked at the Estonian Drama Theatre as a dramaturge and edited the literary almanac Ammukaar.

Visnapuu fled the war in 1944, first to Germany, where he resided in several refugee camps, then to Austria, and finally to the United States in 1949. He died April 3, 1951 on Long Island, New York. His remains were interred at Fresh Pond crematorium and in 2018 reinterred at Metsakalmistu cemetery in Tallinn.

Visnapuu’s first poem was published in 1908. He earned recognition with his work in the literary almanacs Moment esimene (1913), Roheline moment (1914), and Looming, no. 1 (1920), which were considered futuristic and expressionistic for his time. His body of work also included expansive and diverse love lyrics, which found a powerful outlet in the Siuru literary group, where he was one of the central figures (alongside Marie Under with whom his poems are compared from time to time).

Some of his first poetry was dedicated to his classmate Maria, but later to his wife Ingi. He used dialect language (Tartu dialect) and word play as well as nature lyrics and patriotic verses in his poetry (which is called ‘poesia’ because of its distinct poeticness). Visnapuu’s work also consists of a couple narrative poems and some plays, the last of which are considered mediocre. He was strongly influenced by the work of Gustav Suits and Ernst Enno, as well as twentieth century Russian neo-romanticists and symbolists.

While Visnapuu was in exile, his poetry became more melancholic and painful as he mourned the tragic loss of his homeland but nevertheless maintained hope in the triumph of justice and the belief in national resistance. This idea spread to many of the works of the younger generation of exiled poets. His posthumously published book of memoirs Päike ja jõgi (‘The Sun and the River’, Lund: 1951) contains memories up until his time with Siuru. It was the first publication of the Estonian Writers’ Cooperative and also the first memoir of its kind published by an Estonian writer in exile.  

Visnapuu was a founding member of the Estonian Writers’ Union (1922) and the Estonian Playwrights’ Union (1936) and belonged to the board of both groups. After going into exile he laid the foundation for the Global Estonian Literary Society and served as its chairman. The student corporation Sakala gives a prize named after Visnapuu, which has been awarded to several exiled writers. Additionally, there is a literary foundation named after Visnapuu.

The biographies of Henrik Visnapuu have been published by literary scholars Pedro Krusten (Kaugelviibija käekõrval, published by the Estonian Writers’ Cooperative, 1958), Harald Peep (Henrik Visnapuu, Eesti Raamat, 1989), and Piret Õunapuu (Henrik Visnapuu, ERM, 2009). Artur Adson, Oskar Kruus, Paul Rummo, Ene Mihkelson, and others have also researched Visnapuu’s life and work.

Visnapuu’s poems have been published in several selections and anthologies. His other writings have appeared in various collections, for example in Kümme aastat. Noor-Eesti 1905-1915 (’10 Years. Young Estonia Movement 1905-1915′, 1918), Kirjanikult lugejale (‘From the Writer to the Reader’, 1952), Minu varamu (‘My Repository’, 1957).

Visnapuu translated into Estonian Oscar Wilde’s ‘Salome’, Honoré de Balzac’s La Peau de chagrin, and Ivan Turgenev’s ‘Home of the Gentry’. He also compiled the anthology Vanad ja vastsed poeedid (‘Old and New Poets’, 1921). His own poetry has been translated into Russian by Igor Severyanin.

M. K. (Translated by M. M.)

Books in Estonian

Amores. Tallinn: Siuru, 1917, 78 lk. [2. trükk: Tartu: Odamees, 1919, 78 lk; 3. trükk: Tallinn, 1990, 78 lk (1917. a väljaanne, faksiimile).]
Jumalaga, Ene!. Tartu: Odamees, 1918, 79 lk.
Talihari. Tartu: Odamees, 1920, 102 lk.
Hõbedased kuljused. Tallinn: Varrak, 1920, 78 lk.
Käoorvik. Tartu: Noor-Eesti, 1920, 78 lk.
Valit värsid. Tallinn: Tallinna Eesti Kirjastus-Ühisus, 1924, 182 lk.
Ränikivi. Tartu: Loodus, 1925, 78 lk.
Maarjamaa laulud. Tartu: Eesti Kirjanikkude Liit, 1927, 79 lk.
Parsilai. Tartu: Loodus, 1927, 25 lk.
Jehoova surm. Tartu, 1927, 351 lk.
Puuslikud. Tartu: Eesti Kirjanikkude Liit, 1929, 93 lk.
Tuulesõel. Tartu: Eesti Kirjanikkude Liit, 1931, 76 lk.
Päike ja jõgi: kümnes kogu luuletisi. Tartu: Eesti Kirjanikkude Liit, 1932.
Üle kodumäe. Tartu: Noor-Eesti, 1934, 153 lk.
Saatana vari. Tartu: Noor-Eesti, 1937, 264 lk.
Põhjavalgus. Tartu: Noor-Eesti, 1938, 78 lk.
Kaks algust. Tallinn: Kultuurkoondis, 1940, 324 lk.
Tuule ema. Tallinn: Eesti Kirjastus, 1942, 99 lk.
Esivanemate hauad. Stockholm: Eesti Teataja, 1946, 88 lk. [2. trükk: Luunja: Tartumaa, 1991, 78 lk.]
Tuuline teekond. Augsburg: USA-ala Eestlaste Kirjastus, 1946, 238 lk.
Ad Astra. Geislingen (Saksamaa): 1947, 46 lk.
Periheel. Geislingen: Kauge kodu, 1947, 62 lk.
Mare Balticum. Geislingen, 1948, 77 lk.
Linnutee. New York: Ülemaailmne Eesti Kirjanduse Selts, 1950, 77 lk.
Kogutud luuletused. 1. osa. Koostanud Arvo Mägi. Stockholm: Vaba Eesti, 1964, 504 lk.
Kogutud luuletused. 2. osa. Koostanud Arvo Mägi. Stockholm: Vaba Eesti, 1965, 560 lk.
Henrik Visnapuu. Koostanud Paul Rummo. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1966, 159 lk. [Sari ‘Väike luuleraamat’.]

Mu ahastus ja armastus. Koostanud Georg Grünberg. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1993, 512 lk.
Visnapuu armastusest. Koostanud Jaanus Vaiksoo. Tallinn: Tänapäev, 2003, 110 lk.

Meie küla poisid. Tallinn, 1932, 351 lk.
Maa vabaduse eest. Tallinn: Kultuurkoondis, 1938, 57 lk.

Henrik Visnapuu, Jaan Ainelo, Poeetika põhijooni. Tartu: Noor-Eesti, 1932, 184 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: Eesti Keele Sihtasutus, 2008, 184 lk].
Päike ja jõgi: mälestusi noorusmaalt. Lund: Eesti Kirjanike Kooperatiiv, 1951, 351 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1995, 272 lk; 3. trükk: Tallinn: Eesti Päevaleht, 2010, 352 lk.]