Jüri Talvet









Some labor in the rice paddy, some fish.

From under her heavy bangs Zhang Zhe listens

to the harsh rhythms of European

expressionist drama.  The Yangtze is bridled.

Women’s laughter and cheerfulness fills all

streets and houses: they grow ever prettier

and wiser, and men listen to them more and more.

(Will this make men’s beards begin again to grow,

and their wisdom?)

No need to journey in search of the Sampo, communism,

and the Grail – they are only naked words

that cannot long survive in Nordic frost.

The seeds of Buddha and Lao-tzu, planted

in the thick red skin of Mao, sprout and twine.

In a dusky dream a woman’s mouth seeks mine.

Buried since 400 B.C., war carriages

with horses’ skeletons are unearthed,

but no one cares about them, they really

matter now to no one.









This Lucifer, this Cerberus, this tsar, this

neighbor man – ten rows of steel teeth, a mask

renewed each night and each day –

this one who never sleeps, behind all masks

his mouth in his eyeless skull, a Minotaur who

consumes virgins, but has no comfort, whose heart festers

– is he eternal?


I pat my pockets, my prescriptions all in a mess –

where are agape and eros and where did I put philos?

All the expiration dates passed long ago, nothing is fresh!


No answer, but yesterday in the sky I saw

swallows again, tiny splinters of summer from the south,

and at night perhaps you, mother, led me upward

to a higher place, in the mountains where the horizon

offered my eyes light:


I breathed the smell of pine sap and fir needles,

of snow, home, and an unnamed country.







Translated from the Estonian by the author and H. L. Hix











JÜRI TALVET was born in 1945 in Pärnu (Estonia). A graduate of Tartu University in English philology (1972) and a PhD by Leningrad (St. Petersburg) University (1981), he is from 1992 Chair Professor of World Literature at Tartu University.


As a writer, he has published a number of books of poetry and essays. Books of his translated poetry and essays have appeared in English, Spanish, French, Romanian, Catalan and Italian. Talvet was awarded Estonian Annual Prize of Literature for essay in 1986, the Juhan Liiv Prize of Poetry in 1997, and the Ivar Ivask’s Memorial Prize for poetry and essay in 2002.


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