Eesti luuletaja päris oma prantsuse luuleraamat. August Sanga, Jaan Krossi ja Ain Kaalepi loomingust 1960. aastail / An Estonian Poet’s Own Book of French Poetry. About the Works of August Sang, Jaan Kross and Ain Kaalep in the 1960s


  • Katre Talviste University of Tartu



Estonian translation history, translated poetry, versification, August Sang, Jaan Kross, Ain Kaalep


This article positions the translations of French verse works (plays and selected collections of individual poets) that August Sang, Jaan Kross and Ain Kaalep made in the 1960s, onto the background of their own original works. At that time, August Sang translated four plays by Molière (The Misanthrope, Tartuffe, The School for Wives in 1961; Amphitryon in 1961), which have already been discussed in relation to the tradition of translating the French syllabic verse into Estonian, because these translations form a considerable part of the body of Estonian translations of French verse poetry. For Jaan Kross and Ain Kaalep, the wider context is created by the so-called free verse battles in the 1950s, to which we can link Kross’ translation of a selected collection of Éluard (Veel enne kostma peab, 1969) and Kaalep’s translation of a selected collection of Prévert (Kuidas portreteerida lindu, 1965). One of the two remaining translations by Kross, (Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, 1964), can also be examined in relation to the problems of translating verse, but the other, (Béranger’s Laulud, 1963), should be discussed in the framework of intellectual and cultural resistance, a part of which was also the struggle put up for the existence of free verse in the 1950s and 1960s.

Of August Sang’s original work, the article examines his collection of poems Võileib suudlusega (1963), written simultaneously with his translations of Molière’s plays and published right after them. Both the translations and the collection of original poems have attracted critics’ attention with their remarkable lack of linguistic constraint and simplicity. Although Sang has rarely voiced theoretical ideas about translation or explained his method, both his poetic image, outlined in the collection Võileib suudlusega, and his search for right words, reflected in the drafts of his translations, let us believe that the simplicity of expression and the avoidance of marked poeticism are his purposeful intentions. Were his linguistic and form-pertaining principles intentional or intuitive, they are still consistent and can be seen in his translations as well as in his original poetry. Although Võileib suudlusega is principally a collection of lyrical poetry, it displays some inclinational or even some generic closeness to Molière. We can feel a sharp sense of comedy, and often there is a powerful dramatic element in Sang’s poems. His poetic self experiences and interprets himself and the surrounding world through scenes that embody some kind of conflicts or antitheses; showing varying moods, they often contain satirical, benevolently humorous or self-ironizing elements.

Concerning Jaan Kross, his translations of Béranger and Éluard have been examined against the background of the developments in his own poetry of the 1960s. The closest comparison has been made between the collection of his own poems Vihm teeb toredaid asju (1969) and the selected collection of Éluard’s poems Veel enne kostma peab, published the same year. Béranger’s traditional verse and his cheerful yet satirical view of the world around him are quite close to Kross’ own earlier poetics and attitudes. The more varied and mostly free verse poetry of Éluard, with its more intimate subjects but also more abstract way of thinking, is better reflected in Kross’ works of the late 1960s.

 When we look at Ain Kaalep’s poetry, his translations of Prévert’s poems have been compared with his own collection Aomaastikud (1962). We can see a Prévert-like formal method in the structure of his poems and in the development of his subjects, but Kaalep’s poetry is characterised by his search for a much broader variety of form. Experiencing and translating somebody else’s poetry is, characteristically, the starting point of Kaalep’s search and also its method. Thus, working with Prévert’s texts is an essential part of Kaalep’s own poetry, although there are only fleeting formal similarities between the works of these two authors. However, some noticeable differences from the authors whose works they have translated (especially from Prévert and Éluard) can be seen in the general pathos and attitude of both Kaalep and Kross – they are more playful and joyful.

The use of different forms, the language of images, subjects of the poems and the author’s attitude can affect the closeness or distance between translations and the translator’s own work in a different way for different authors. Poets do not translate only the authors who are similar to them in all senses, and we cannot point out one certain factor that would establish an interest and a fruitful creative contact for all. However, the corpus of works we have examined allows us to conclude that in the case of a large-scale translation project, such contact is, on some level, intense and meaningful, and that a kind of a poetic, ethical, cognitive or intellectual continuity can always be found between translations and original creative work.


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Author Biography

Katre Talviste, University of Tartu

Katre Talviste – PhD in comparative literature (2007) at the Université Paris 12 (now Paris-Est), postdoctoral research at the University of Tartu (2010-2013). She is an editor of textbooks and educational software content for literature at the Avita publishing house, the managing editor of the journal Interlitteraria, and a freelance translator.






Artiklid / Articles