Edvarts Virza (originally: Jēkabs Eduards Liekna, 1883–1940) was born in Rāceņi in Emburga (present-day Salgale) parish. He was one of nine children of a farming couple – Anna and Juris. He attended the Salgale and Bauska Schools, studied law and economics in Moscow. During the 1905 Revolution, he taught himself French, so that later he and his wife, poet Elza Stērste, could popularise French poetry in Latvia. He befriended other Latvian poets, worked to find his own poetic voice, and in 1906 published his first cycle of poems in the journal “Dzelme”. He was mobilised during the First World War, was a rifleman in Jukums Vācietis’s regiment, wrote poetry about his fellow soldiers. Prior to independence he promoted the idea of an independent Latvia. He worked in the press, was the director of the Daile Theatre, worked at the Ministry of Education. Between 1940 and 1985, his works were effectively illegal.
Edvarts Virza’s poetry collection “Biķeris” (Cup; 1907) is especially noteworthy among Latvian works of that time, as it is the first book of erotic poetry in the history of Latvian literature. The collection received a harsh response from Virza’s contemporaries, primarily due to its themes. It describes lust and sensuality in language so explicit that it shocked the society of the time.
For his service to Latvia and Latvian culture, the author received many awards including ones given to him by Kārlis Ulmanis, the head of the authoritarian regime, which controlled Latvia between 1934 and 1940.
Books to fall for
Though Straumēni is written in prose, Virza called this work a long poem. Using a Neo-Classical approach, the author tells a story set in the 19th century, on a country homestead in the southern region of Zemgale. At the heart of this work are the author’s childhood memories and the stories he heard from his grandparents about the idyllic life of Latvian peasants. The world depicted in this book is imbued with a mythical sensibility, the yearly cycles described in it involving people as well as other living creatures. Along with work and responsibilities, the rhythms of nature and the mind change with the passage of time. For example, the entire household participates in growing and harvesting flax, and the linen fabric – which is a product of this work – serves as a symbol of unity for the people of Straumēni. Therefore, this process and its result must come from the entire family’s shared labour.
The central figure in Straumēni is not any one person, but instead the entire Straumēni household. The reader is introduced to the traditional Latvian way of life as a welcomed guest, to whom the family shows the material and spiritual meaning of all things, seemingly outside of the context of time or history. The expressive story-telling style brings scents, tastes, and colours to life and makes this work thrilling as well as meditative. The language is euphonious and makes it easy to surrender to the flow of the story. In 1934, the well-known Latvian prose writer Jānis Veselis wrote the following about Virza and Straumēni: “He is a typical indoor poet filled with the constant alarm of a foreign time, which never stops and in the end changes everything.” At the end of his description, Veselis refers to Virza’s work as one of the brightest and happiest Latvian books, adding: “And this is why Straumēni is a bright and joy-filled book, it’s because a person isn’t left all alone with the sorrows and emptiness of the world.”
Valters un Rapa
About Straumēni // Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji, 2018 [LV]Reviews
Anita Bormane, Edvarts Virza, conversation with Anda Kubuliņa // LA.lv, 2013 [LV]
1938, The Fatherland Award
1937 and 1926, Order of the Three Stars
1937, The Culture Fund Award for New Roll-call
1936, The Culture Fund Award for Kārlis Ulmanis
1925, The Culture Fund Award for Poems
Guggolz Velag, Germany
At the heart of this work are the author’s childhood memories and the stories he heard from his grandparents about the idyllic life of Latvian peasants set in the 19th century.