Keel ja Kirjandus (Feb 2024)

Eesti dekadentlik sonett

  • Rebekka Lotman

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 67, no. 1–2
pp. 158 – 176


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Since the emergence of decadent literature, sonnets have played a significant role within its realm. Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal contains 72 sonnets in all. In the preface to the posthumous edition of 1868, Théophile Gautier describes Baudelaire’s style as decadent. Paul Verlaine’s seminal sonnet Langueur, published in 1883, opens with the well-known line: Je suis l’Empire à la fin de la décadence (“I am the Empire at the end of decadence”). This sonnet had an enormous impact on fin de siècle poetry, earning recognition as both the ars poetica of decadence and its most representative example. The concept of decadence also found its way into Estonian literary circles through sonnets when Johannes Aavik published his article Charles Baudelaire ja dekadentismus (“Charles Baudelaire and the Decadent movement”) in 1905, alongside translations of Baudelaire’s poems, including two sonnets (De profundis clamavi and La Destruction). The first original Estonian decadent sonnets appeared four years later, in 1909, marking the beginning of their heyday in the subsequent decades. The aim of the article is twofold: to explore the development of the Estonian decadent sonnet within a cultural-historical context, primarily drawing from the 1903/1904 correspondence between Gustav Suits and Johannes Aavik, who first introduced the decadent sonnet to Estonian culture. Additionally, the article delves into the poetics of the Estonian decadent sonnet, distinguishing between three types, often intertwined: firstly, those expressing decadent melancholy; secondly, sonnets depicting aestheticism, synaesthesia, and the dissolution of perceptual boundaries; and finally, poems expressing the so-called radical decadence of the Estonian sonnet – conveying moral decline, sexual desires, and excessively morbid motifs.