Methis: Studia Humaniora Estonica (Dec 2013)

Kodu käsitlused Jaan Kaplinski luules / The Concept of Home in Jaan Kaplinski’s Poetry

  • Ene-Reet Soovik

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 9, no. 12


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The article focuses on the evolution of the concept of home in the poetry of Jaan Kaplinski, one of the internationally most acclaimed Estonian poets. The discussion draws on the understanding of the notion of home emerging in the classic works of the phenomenologically inclined human geographers Edward Relph and Yi-Fu Tuan, as well as the influential French philosopher Gaston Bachelard. Kaplinski’s early poetry features lonely wanderers who have been cast into the world; their being on the road is eternal with no points of security or attachment. Such poetry tends to be a poetry of homelessness that accepts the lack of the feeling of being at home. If the concept of home does appear, it is an abstract rather than a denoted space that can be experienced with the senses in an unmediated way.* This is connected with the human condition – being cast into the world in a state of existentialist alienation, the acknowledgement of which is the only way of creating a certain sense of belonging and fellow feeling with other people. It is difficult to differentiate between the feelings of being at home or in non-home in Kaplinski’s early poetry, which thus often features what might be termed as existentialist homes. For Bachelard, a home provides one with a sense of security, which the phenomenologist sees as being connected with one’s childhood home. When homes related to particular buildings appear in Kaplinski’s verse, these do not guarantee such security. They are perishable, crumbling houses that may disappear, particularly in a fire like that which consumed the centre of Tartu, the poet’s childhood home town, during WWII. Yet the texts that feature such an understanding of home become more dependent on bodily memory, on an actual reliving of space. The home that is retrospectively connected with the past may replace the more abstract existentialist home, but is no source of security, serving as an ephemeral home. However, Kaplinski’s poetic homes gradually develop the quality of being inhabited, appearing as nodes of lived relationships between people – interpersonal homes. Family members whose space is such a home, are now related to a certain location where the home space has developed around them. In addition to being the result of intimate relationships within a family, such a home that occupies a particular place requires permanent engagement and care to make it retain the quality of an intimate space; it needs to be inhabited and maintained. When a home acquires boundaries as a place, it is necessarily surrounded by non-place, an undivided space offering a plethora of possibilities for movement and travel, being away from home and the possibility of returning, particularly of returning to the second home in the country, experienced as authentic and intimate in Kaplinski’s verse. The house, the shell of the home, now becomes established with a certainty that allows leaving it without the sense of it disappearing. While the poet occasionally still contemplates [or, “reflects on”] being an exile in Estonia, his father having been originally from Poland, and thus questions the sense of rootedness connected with the concept of home, the real home is still defined by the presence of children rather than by ancestors. Kaplinski’s poetry moves towards a dialectic of home and homelessness, reminiscent of Bachelard’s dialectic of the internal and the external. The dialectic home finds a continuation in the internalised home that does not require descriptions or, for that matter, even mention, for its existence is so self-evident. Home as a self-evident starting point, a place from which the poetry originates, is rather more characteristic of the poet’s later work that has moved towards the Relphian state of existential insideness. While a strict periodisaton of the evolution of the concept of home in Kaplinski’s poetry may not be feasible, it still manifests a general tendency of movement towards a stronger sense of being at home in a particular place, a greater intimacy and acceptance.