Under, Marie (1883–1980)

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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 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.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Under turned to lyric verse, with Lageda taeva all (Under the Open Sky), published in 1930, and Kivi südamelt (A Stone from My Heart), in 1935. She expressed her feelings about her mother's death as well as the destruction brought about by World War II and the occupation of her country in Mureliku suuga (With Careworn Lips, 1942). In 1944, Under and her husband moved to Sweden, where she wrote more about the Soviet occupation of her homeland in Sädemed tuhas (Sparks in the Ashes, 1954). Much of her later work dwelt on similar themes.

As the Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature notes, Under "has been compared to both Goethe and Rainer Maria Rilke, yet she is unmistakably her own" with poems that encompass both fierce images of nature and human experience and metaphysics. She wrote for six decades, until her death in 1980.


Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature. 2nd ed. NY: Columbia University Press, 1980.

Pynsent, Robert B., ed. Reader's Encyclopedia of Eastern European Literature. NY: HarperCollins, 1993.

Kelly Winters , freelance writer