Uku Masingu luule arhailine kujundisüsteem / The Archaic Figurative System of Uku Masing’s


  • Külliki Kuusk University of Tartu



Uku Masing (1909–1985), religioosne kirjandus, parallelism, metafoori mõisteline teooria, kognitiivne keeleteadus, religious literature, conceptual theory of metaphor, cognitive linguistics


Teesid: Artikkel vaatleb Uku Masingu poeetilist keelekasutust, täpsemalt tema metafoorsete keeleväljendite mõistmise ja moodustamise protsesse. Lähenedes tema luulele kognitiivse keeleteaduse meetoditega, kirjeldatakse, kuidas boreaalne vaimsus toob esile Masingu luule boreaalset isikupära.


This paper focuses on the poetic language use of Estonian poet and theologian Uku Masing, and more speci­fically on his comprehension and construction of metaphorical linguistic expressions. One of the most unique authors in Estonian literature, his exceptional intellect and body of work, which covers a range of topics, have established him as a phenomenal figure in Estonian culture. Masing was a part of the ‘academics generation’ of Estonian literature in the 1930s. He completed his master’s degree at the age of twenty-one on the science of the Old Testament and Semitic philology (1930) and was probably one of the youngest MA degree holders at the University of Tartu at the time. Upon receiving his PhD in 1934, he published his first collection of poetry.

Uku Masing’s religious poetry is a unique phenomenon in Estonian literature, both in its style and form. His poetry is so multi-layered that we could truthfully call him a mystic, shaman, soothsayer, or visionary, which explains the difficulty different generations have had in understanding him. It is important to note that being a poet and theologian during the years of Soviet Occupation (1940–1991) meant the doors to most publications were closed to Masing; therefore, aside from Neemed vihmade lahte (1935), he composed all of his poetry collections without considering the possibility of publishing them. Masing’s bibliography is a telling example of Soviet censorship and the lack of freedom of expression. The reception of his poetry at home showed signs of awakening after the political situation changed in 1987; however, ten more years passed before the first appearances of research on Masing’s work and worldview.

The formation of Masing’s individual style would not have been possible without examples or fulcrum, which he found from his the surrounding culture, namely from archaic Estonian folksong (regilaul) traditions. Masing uses repetition the same way as it is appears in Estonian folksongs, through semantic parallelism with varying subjects of repetition. Via variation, he pursues precise expressions in such a way that his poetics resembles regilaul while retaining similarities to collective mythological patterns and religious influences.

This paper illustrates the importance of the linguistic role of the ”I“ speech act in the interpretation of Masing’s poetic figures, including parallelism, and relies partially on pragmatics, since poetic figures in his poetry refer not only to the individual speech act of the here and now, but also to the subjective mythological reality of the ”I“ in an utterance. To describe a speech event in Masing’s poetry, one must first assume that his poetry is understood as a dialogical sensory or communication act. Secondly, when observing referentiality, one must assume that different levels of language use (i.e., the differentiation of Saussure’s langue and parole) also exist, which influence the semantic understanding of the sentence and utterance level of his work.

Until recently, the hidden and repetitive patterns in Masing’s work have largely gone unnoticed. To many, his poetic language consists of a lexicon known only to him. When considering the basis of his creative process, I find that conceptual theory of metaphor, a cognitive linguistic approach popularized in the 1980s, helps to make sense of his poetic language system and, additionally, to differentiate the archaic boreal mentality and mytho-poetic symbols containing universal cultural meaning.

The current article primarily uses material from Masing’s 1930s body of work, but also references later periods when necessary. I will show how Masing’s creative conscious is based on image schema, which in turn are based on archaic mythological patterns. These patterns form a corresponding system of concept formation in the text.

The primary goal of this analysis is to observe Masing’s body of work, regardless of genre, be it poetry or prose, fact or fiction. Although many critics have analyzed Masing’s linguistic and theological ideas, mostly drawing from his essays and articles, this paper’s author finds that Masing’s poetry and essays are not two separate phenomena, but rather originate from one cultural-philosophical foundation.

The article starts by following Masing’s own three-step division of the evolution of culture/belief: primal symbiosis – analytical phase – new synthesis. These three steps are considered to be different aspects of the human mentality, and accordingly, can be used to differentiate conceptual metaphor as different degrees of the ”I“ identity. Masing’s metaphorical models are constructed from his poetic utterances and divided into two large groups. This article aims to explain how conceptual metaphor based on experience can be interpreted on a wider cultural level as well as how boreal spirituality gives rise to Masing’s poetic boreal identity.



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Author Biography

Külliki Kuusk, University of Tartu

Külliki Kuusk – Tartu Ülikooli eesti kirjanduse eriala doktorant, Eesti Kirjandusmuuseumi kultuuriloo allikate ja kirjandusuurimise töörühma teadur. Peamine uurimissuund on Uku Masingu 1930. aastate luule poeetika, kuid selle kõrval ka tema loomingu retseptsiooni probleemid ja loomingupsühholoogilised aspektid, samuti kirjanduse autobiograafilisus laiemalt.

Külliki Kuusk – Doctoral student of Estonian literature at Tartu University, researcher in the Research Team of Cultural History and Literature at the Estonian Literary Museum. Main research interests include the poetics of Uku Masing’s 1930s poetry, problems with the reception and psychological aspects of creation regarding his work, and the general autobiographicality of literature.