Meisterlikud õpipoisid. Jaan Kaplinski ja tema hingesugulane Tomas Tranströmer / Masterful Servants: Jaan Kaplinski and his soulmate Tomas Tranströmer


  • Thomas Salumets Briti Columbia Ülikool / University of British Columbia



Jaan Kaplinski, Tomas Tranströmer, avatus, ökoloogiline mõte, keel, ego, vaikus, openness, ecological thought, language, silence


Luuletajad Jaan Kaplinski (1941–2021) ja Tomas Tranströmer (1931–2015), keda lahutas raudne eesriie, kasvasid üles väga erinevates maailmades. Ent siiski said neist hingesugulased. Artiklis osutan, kuidas nende läheduse tuuma iseloomustas sügavalt juurdunud hoiak, mis põhines ökoloogiast inspireeritud maailmatunnetusel. Tugevasti lihtsustades võiks öelda, et oma egosse investeerimise asemel nägid mõlemad luuletajad end millegi suurema teenritena. Nad hindasid mõlemad kõrgelt avatuks jäävat vaadet enestele, oma tööle ja maailmale, millesse nad kuulusid. Kui nende egod viibisid pidevas taandumises, avardus nende vastuvõtlikkus maailma suhtes ning köitvus luuletajatena.


Separated by the Iron Curtain, Jaan Kaplinski (1941–2021) and Tomas Tranströmer (1931–2015) grew up in very different worlds. And yet, they became soulmates. What then informed the core of their kinship? This article aims to show that it was above all a deeply rooted sentiment grounded in an ecologically inspired view that brought the two poets together. To put a complex matter all too simply, Jaan Kaplinski and Tomas Tranströmer saw themselves as servants of something bigger: they shared a profoundly felt sense of “openness,” something which also lies at the heart of their success as poets.

In Jaan Kaplinski’s and Tomas Tranströmer’s work and habits of thought, this core sentiment left easily overlooked but nevertheless telling traces. They include, as this article points out, their conversation concerning the translation of an essential term in Eastern thought, namely śūnyatā (emptiness). Tranströmer followed Kaplinski’s unique suggestion, which was meant to capture more of the essence and spirit inherent in the term śūnyatā. As a consequence, in the final version of one of his best-known poems, entitled “Vermeer”, Tranströmer changed to “openness” what in Buddhism is commonly referred to as “emptiness”.

            Yet probably more significantly, what above all held Kaplinski and Tranströmer captive, as this article also aims to show, is a reversal in our understanding of the ego. Collectively, both poets agreed, we, as human beings, would be well advised to embrace a less intrusive role in the world to which we belong. Importantly, what Kaplinski and Tranströmer advocated does not amount to an impoverishing stance. On the contrary: only when we step away from our previous deeply entrenched positions of human dominance, both poets agreed, a richer world and more sustainable sense of self can come into view. To at least gain a glimpse of the fuller complexity of what brought both poets together, the observations offered in this article are meant to help us understand how, for Kaplinski and Tranströmer, changes in our view of the ego embody “openness”. Instead of increased ego noise, they urged the merit of a more modest ego. Not preoccupied with themselves, their goals and desire to intervene, both poets wrote poems focussed on the diminished ego as a key value. The more we step into the background – Kaplinski and, together with him, Tranströmer believed – the more the world opens up and the more we ultimately flourish.

In addition to seeing “openness” surface in their self-effacing view of themselves, and, associated with it, their concentration on a vision of a world beyond human design, this article furthermore draws attention to another equally prominent manifestation of “openness” that brought both poets together: how can language make “openness” appear, they asked? We are invited to consider several intertwined answers Tranströmer and Kaplinski offered. They include embracing the untamed and stepping away from any decorative use of language – “all rhetoric must be left behind,” Tranströmer, echoing Kaplinski, categorically insisted; evoking the self-cancelling of language itself; or moving altogether beyond language: seeking to transcend it by employing a theme, introducing a practice, or setting up a signpost, all meant to point away from language.

And finally, in league with “openness”, “silence” also constitutes a shared recurring theme in Kaplinski’s and Tranströmer’s work, as this article suggests. In order to better explain the importance of “silence”, the article draws attention to American composer John Cage. Informed by the altogether different logic of “openness” Cage employed, for him “silence” became the performance, as it were, and the ambient sounds of the concert hall its music. Acting as a particularly compelling embodiment of “openness” – not unlike the blank page of the poet, the unpublished manuscript of the writer, or the white canvas of the painter – “silence” too united Jaan Kaplinski and Tomas Tranströmer, as servants in their masterful quest for “openness”.


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Author Biography

Thomas Salumets, Briti Columbia Ülikool / University of British Columbia

Thomas Salumets – PhD, Vancouveris asuva Briti Columbia Ülikooli Kesk-, Ida- ja Põhja-Euroopa osakonna emeriitprofessor. Ta on kirjutanud monograafia „Unforced Flourishing: Understanding Jaan Kaplinski“, koostanud ja toimetanud ingliskeelse artiklikogumiku humanitaarteadlasest Norbert Eliasest ning Jaan Kaplinski esseekogumiku „Kõik on ime“. Tema eesti keelde tõlgitud artiklid on ilmunud kogumikus „Mõju mõnu“. Vt ka


Thomas Salumets – PhD, Assoc. Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia. He is the author of the monograph Unforced Flourishing: Understanding Jaan Kaplinski. His publications also include a multi-author volume about the human scientist Norbert Elias, as well as a collection of articles in translation entitled Mõju Mõnu. His edition of essays authored by Jaan Kaplinski, Kõik on ime, is a standard reference work in the field. For a more detailed research profile see