Gustav Suits was an Estonian poet and one of the greatest writers of his times. He was also an early leader of the literary movement group ‘Noor-Eesti’. Born in Estonia, he decided to pursue a career in literature quite early in life and published his first article in a newspaper at the age of 16. Then he became a part of Noor-Eesti, a literary society which exerted a significant influence on the Estonian culture. His poetry combined extremely personal elements with very general statements which addressed Estonian history and the fate of humanity. He published six collections of poetry, and almost all of them are landmarks in Estonian literature. Later, he served as a professor at the University of Tartu, and became the first person in Estonia to teach literature at the university level. Gustav Suits emerged as one of Estonia’s greatest poets, and occupies a significant position in Estonian literature. His last days were spent in Sweden conducting literary research and writing poems before he contracted a serious illness which eventually took his life. His poems were an amalgamation of radical, romantic and melancholic tones which were marked with the frequent use of symbolism, metaphors and allusions
Childhood & Early Life
Gustav Suits was born on November 30, 1883, in the parish of Võnnu, in southern Estonia, in the family of a village teacher.
In 1895, he moved to Tartu, Estonia, where he was enrolled at the Alexander Gymnasium. The university atmosphere of the town had a deep impact on him and he decided to become a part of its literary society.
At the age of 16, he published his first newspaper article titled ‘Uus Aeg’ (New Time). Subsequently, his first poem ‘Water Lilies’ was also published in the same newspaper.
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In 1901, Gustav Suits founded the literary society ‘Friends of Literature’ (Kirjanduse Sõbrad) which published a journal titled 'Rays', between 1901 and 1902.
Around the same period, he became the intellectual and conceptual mentor of the literary group, Noor-Eesti (Young Estonia), which was considered to be the most influential literary group in Estonian cultural history.
In 1905, his first poetry collection titled ‘The Fire of Life’ was published. It became one of his most popular and appealing works due to its youthful enthusiasm. His early poetry mirrored the revolution gaining momentum in Estonia between 1900 and 1917 as well as the youth movement.
Between 1905 and 1916, he became closely connected to the aforementioned Estonian literary movement group. It brought European influence into Estonian literature and also merged European literature with Estonian styles.
During this time, he read European literature, and the Finnish language, literature and folklore at the Helsinki University. From 1917 to 1919, he was politically active in the Estonian Socialist Revolutionary Party.
In 1921, after Estonia became an independent state, Gustav Suits was appointed as the Professor at the University of Tartu, a post he held until 1944. He delivered lectures in literary theory, comparative literature and Estonian literary history.
He highly valued his European connections and frequently traveled to Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Sweden, and the Soviet Union. He delivered lectures at the Universities of Königsberg, Stockholm, and Göteborg.
He was elected as a corresponding member of the Finnish Literary Society and the French Academy.
In 1941, during the Second World War, Gustav Suits lost his home in Tartu which was burnt down, along with its huge library, and his numerous unpublished scholarly papers perished.
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In 1944, he along with thousands of other Estonians fled the Soviet-occupied Estonia and traveled via Finland to Sweden. He spent the last days of his life in Stockholm, where he was prolific in research work and wrote poems as well.
In his lifetime, Gustav Suits published six collections of poetry including ‘The Land of Winds’ (1913) and ‘It Is All But a Dream’ (1922). In addition to poetry, he published two essays ‘Targets and Views’ (1906) and ‘The Young Estonia Slopes’ (1931).
Gustav Suits became the first university level professor of literature in Estonia, and his work as a scholar and university professor was revolutionary.
On his initiative, the Academic Literary Society was founded at Tartu University in 1924, where lectures and meetings were organized. The society also issued its own publications.
His collection of poetry, ‘The Land of Winds’ (1913)’, reflected the post-revolutionary mood of decline, disappointment of his generation, and a sense of premature ageing. It is regarded as a masterful collection of poetry in Estonian literature.
Another one of his classics was the 1922 poetry collection titled ‘It Is All But a Dream’ which was written in a much more modernist and intellectual vein as compared to his previous works.
Awards & Achievements
In 1939, Gustav Suits received the ‘Third Class Order of the White Star’.
He was conferred with an honorary doctorate by Uppsala University.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1911, Gustav Suits married Aino Thauvón. The couple was blessed with two daughters.
Gustav Suits died on May 23, 1956, in Stockholm, Sweden, after contracting a serious illness. He was buried in the Stockholm Forest Cemetery.