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Marie Under

Birthplace: Tallinn, Estonia
Death: September 25, 1980 (97)
Stockholm, Sweden
Place of Burial: Ümbermatmine Rahumäe kalmistul asuvale Underite perekonna hauaplatsile 9. juunil 2016.
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Friedrich Under and Leena Under
Wife of Karl Arthur Adson
Ex-wife of Carl Eduard Hacker → Haling
Mother of Dagmar Stock and Hedda Hacker
Sister of Evangeline Slutševskaja; Gottfried Under; Bertha Under and Christfried Under

Occupation: Eesti luuletaja
Managed by: Joel Kikkas
Last Updated:

About Marie Under

Under, Marie (1883–1980)

Acclaimed Estonian poet. Born in 1883 in Tallinn, Estonia; died in 1980; divorced first husband, 1917; married Artur Adson (a poet), in 1924.

Selected writings:

Sonetid (Sonnets, 1917); Eeloitseng (Budding, 1918); Sinine puri (Blue Sail, 1918); Verivalla (A Flowing of Blood, 1920); Hääl varjust (Voice from the Shadows, 1927); Room Ühest ilusast päevast (Delight in a Lovely Day, 1928); Õnnevarjutus (The Eclipse of Happiness, 1929); Lageda taeva all (Under the Open Sky, 1930); Kivi südamelt (A Stone from My Heart, 1935); Ja liha sai Sonaks (And the Flesh Became Word, 1936); Mureliku suuga (With Careworn Lips, 1942); Sädemed tuhas (Sparks in the Ashes, 1954); Child of Man (in English translation, 1955).

Considered perhaps the finest poet in the Estonian language, Marie Under was born in 1883 in Tallinn, Estonia, the daughter of a teacher. She attended school in Germany and later worked as a governess, cashier, and clerk in a newspaper office. She then married and accompanied her husband to Russia, returning to Estonia in 1906. The marriage was an increasingly unhappy one, however, and Under began devoting more energy to literature and the company of other writers in Tallinn. In 1917, she divorced and published her first book, a collection of verse, Sonetid (Sonnets). The work's sensuality, spontaneity, and passion were considered scandalous at the time. In 1924, she married Artur Adson, a poet.

Marie Under (1883-1980)

Marie Under published Eeloitseng (Budding) and Sinine puri (Blue Sail) in 1918. In Verivalla (A Flowing of Blood) from 1920, she focuses on the "tragedy" of human life, and in the 1929 work Onnevarjutus (The Eclipse of Happiness) she attempts to modernize the ballad form.

Estonian poet, generally considered among the greatest poets of the 20th-century in her language. Marie Under escaped with her family in 1944 the Soviet occupation of Estonia to Sweden, where she spent in exile the rest of her life. Under's works have been translated into some ten languages. The final two of her 13 collections of poems appeared while she lived in exile. The Estonian PEN club nominated Under several times as a candidate for the Nobel Prize for literature.
Ei rannal lesi
nüüd enam keegi,
ei ükski hing.
Ja parem seegi.
Vaid kivid ja vesi
ning ainsad jäljed veab minu king.
(from 'Üksi merega')
Marie Under was born in Tallinn, the daughter of Fredrich Under, a schoolteacher, and Leena (Kerner) Under. Both of her parents come originally from Hiiumaa, Estonia's second largest island. Under learned to read at the age of four and began to writing verse at the age of thirteen, but her first collection did not appear until se was thirty-four.
From 1891 to 1900 Under attended a private German-language school, studying German, French, and Russian. Later Under translated new German poetry, Schiller, Goethe in Estonian, and also such writers as Pär Lagerkvist and Boris Pasternak. Under worked briefly as a salesclerk in a bookstore, but after meeting the writer Eduard Vilde, she joined for a short time the radical newspaper Teataja (Herald).
In 1902 Under married Carl Hacker, an accountant, and moved with him to an estated in Kutshino, near Moskow. From 1902 to 1906 she lived in Russia; her two daughter, Dagmar and Hedda, were born there. While vacationing in Estonia she started an affair with the artist Ants Laikmaa (1866-1942), who painted several portraits of her. In 1913 Under met in the Estonia Theater Artur Adson (1889–1977), a young poet, whose encouragement and support was crucial for her literary development. After divorcing Hacker – it was a long and complicated legal process – she married Adson, who later wrote her biography (pub. 1974).

Under's first poem appeared in the newspaper Postimees (The Courier) under the pseudonym "Mutti" when she was 21. In the 1910s Under contributed to various anthologies and made in 1917 her debut as a writer with a collection of sonnets, Sonetid. With this work, a declaration of youthful love, longing for beauty, and joy of life. Her second collection, Eelõitseng (1918, Early flowering), consisted of poems written between 1904 and 1912.

Under was the central member of the Siuru group, which advocated on the eve of Estonian independence new literary movements, such as expressionism and futurism. The name "Siuru" came from the Estonian national epos Kalevipoeg; it is a a mythical blue bird. The literary group was founded in May 1917; Under was its only female member, her nickname was "Princess", Friedebert Tuglas was called "Prince".
Under's early work were more or less impressionistic pieces, but she soon found her voice in emotional, dynamic way of expression that had much bold freshness. Her most sensual collection of poems, Sinine puri (1920, Blue sail), with its celebration of erotic love, defied boldly bourgeois conventionality and made her the best-known representative of the Estonian neoromantic poetry.

After World War I Under's poems became more pessimistic. She employed religious images to convey her feelings of pain, delirium, and suffering – a dark angel of death comes to the door as a gate-crasher, prophets stumble over words, Noah's arch sails into the flood and rain. Especially German expressionism influenced her deeply. In 1920 she translated into Estonian a selection of recent German verse by George Heym, Franz Werfel, Ernst Stadler, and Walter Hasenclever. Most of the poems were taken from Menschheitsdämmerung: Symphonie jüngster Dichtung (1920), edited by the writer and journalist Kurt Pinthus.

The dark and oppressive 'Unetuma laul' (Song of Sleeplessness), about insomnia, from which Under suffered sporadically throughout her life, is one her most anthologized works. "Even an executioner can have a peace." The "I" of the poem realizes tormented, and wanders restlessly in clogs with a ghost dog. The whole world has fallen asleep, the poet, like a guard, is the only one awake, seeking release. Under paralles sleep with death and beds with coffins. The poems ends with a resignation: sleep comes only after giving up everything, in the calm rest under the ground.

Kuhugille, kuhugille ma ei mahu!
Olen ma ehk ... peni, vend ...
Kumb meist, kumb meis somnambuul?
(from 'Unetuma laul' in Hääl varjust, 1927)
Õnnevarjutus (1929, Eclipse of happiness), in which Under returned to ballad lyrics, is considered among her central works. Under used traditional themes from folk poetry, mostly tragic love, but brought into them solemn timelessness, seeing human yearning for happiness always shadowed by unavoidable doom, generation after generation. Dark visions of frozen waters and chained wind, contrasted to short moments of happiness, being alive, were central also in her tenth collection, Kivi südamelt (1935, Stone of the heart).

During the period of independence, Under was the dominant poet in Estonian literature along with Ernst Enno. Her financial problems were greatly relieved after the National Fund for Culture decided to give her permanent support. In 1937, simultaneously with Thomas Mann, she became an honorary member of the International PEN. During the early years of World War II, when Estonia was taken over by the USSR and then occupied by the Germany, Under wrote about the suffering and the resistance of her people in Jõulutervitus (1941) and Mureliku suuga (1942).
Like many established writers of the older and middle generation, such as Johannes Aavik (1880-1973), Gustav Suits (1883-1956), Karl Rumor (1886-1971), Karl Ristikivi (1912-1977), and Valev Uibopuu (1913-1997), Under chose emigration over life under Soviet rule. However, she was declared in 1940 a "distinguished people's poet".
From 1945 to 1957 she worked as an archivist in the Stockholm's Theatre Museum. After retirement, she lived on a modest old-age pension. Her first collection of poetry in exile, Sädemed tuhas (Sparks in the ashes), appeared in 1954, and was followed by Ääremail (1963, Borderlands). Under's translation of Boris Pasternak's The Poems of Yuri Zhivago, published by Vaba Eesti, came out in 1960; the novel was translated by Artur Adson.

Under's later poetry was marked with philosophical observations of life and nature, and her metaphysical, visionary introspection. In this humane patriotism Under's work exceeded nationalistic or political boundaries, but her poems also contributed in keeping Estonian literature alive as emigre literature. Several poems dealt with feelings of rootlessness and homesickness, without mentioning the name of her home country.
Because of heavy arthritis, Under spent her last years at the Vårberg Convalescent Care Hospital. She died on September 25, 1980, in Stockholm. Under was mistakenly cremated against her wish and buried at tghe Forest Cemetery in Stockholm.
As an emigrant writer, Under did not enjoy in Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic official favor, although she was removed in the 1950s from the list of banned authors, and her eightieth birthday was noted also in the Soviet Estonia – articles appeared on her work and the authorities send her birthday greetings. Frail physically, she was unable attend celebrations organized in her honor. The Bavarian Academy of Arts made her an honorary member. Under's literary fame survived the political upheavals of the Cold War and as a sign of this, the Under and Tuglas Center for Literary Research has been founded in the house in the Tallinn suburb of Nõmme, where Under worked in the 1930s.

Kord veel tagasi tahaksin
leida kodutee,
kodumullas siis magaksin
välja kõik silmavee.
(from 'Põgenik' in Sädemed tuhas)


Original poem by Marie Under
Maadligi, vettligi maja,
külgpidi sees –
laeni täis lainete kaja,
kajakad läve ees.

Orb oma ainsama lamba
õhtul koju tõi mäelt,
all poiste pilava kamba,
kinni pidades häält.

Istus ja nuttis siis hilja,
jalgadel merevaht.
Küpset ruugavat vilja –
põimis palmikut kaht.

Viires kas hüüdis ta nime?
Kuu kuldas lainetel tee.
Ühtaegu valge ja pime –
kaelas tal voogude kee…

Maadligi, vettligi maja,
külgpidi sees –
laeni täis lainete kaja.
Pisarad läve ees.

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Marie Under's Timeline

March 27, 1883
Tallinn, Estonia
September 1, 1902
October 4, 1905
Moscow, Russia (Russian Federation)
September 25, 1980
Age 97
Stockholm, Sweden
October 20, 1980
Age 97
Stockholmi Metsakalmistu, Ümbermatmine Rahumäe kalmistul asuvale Underite perekonna hauaplatsile 9. juunil 2016.