MYTHICAL TIME AND SPACE IN THE POETRY OF ULDIS BĒRZIŅŠ

Laura Avotiņa

Abstract


One article describes the writings of Uldis Bērziņš, one of the most prominent Latvian poets and translators (and also a dissident) who made his debut in the 1960s. It focuses on the aspect of time and space. The 20th century is a time of re-evaluation of values and of a search for new ways of self-expression. Entrenched mythical notions experience transformation and renaissance. Hystorical myths as a source of instigation for Latvian literature (also in folklore) reach their climax in the 1920-40s and 1960-80s, i.e. in a period when problems of ethnic identity were emphasized more than ever. Uldis Bērziņš in his poetry successfully blends trends of modernism (and some of postmodernism) with mythical reality. He thereby refreshes the message of Latvian life, as well as reinforces particular trends common for whole humankind, which the author accomplishes with the help of cultural signs densely introduced into the texts. The objective of the paper is therefore to identify and emphasize dominant details of mythical time and space in the following anthologies by the Uldis Bērziņš: „Piemineklis kazai” („A Goat’s Monument”, 1980), „Poētisms baltkrievs” („The Poetism Belarussian”, 1984), „Nenotikuši atentāti” („Assassinations which never took place”, 1990), „Laiks” („Time”, together with Juris Kronbergs, 1994) and „Nozagti velosipēdi” („Stolen bicycles”, 1999). For the more detailed description of the peculiarities of the author’s works and for understanding the connection between the linguistic elements and the ethnical specifics of thinking, it was decided to use methods which are new to Latvian literary theory and are not so commonly referred to. Namely, a philological method was used for the in-depth text analysis (Николина 2007), and a linguo-culturological one for researching the connection of language and culture (Хороленко 2006). Speaking about U. Bērziņš’ notion of mythical time and space, it is referred to as an „eternal now” situation, which also includes details of historical and psychological time and space. However, mythical time and space is dominant: texts of the poems contain a very dense layer of mythologems (Odin, Odysseus, Thor), images (trees, mountains, wheels) and mythical concepts. This layer very often merges with the layers of folklore and religion which are introduced into the texts by means of stylization and reminiscences or allusions. The paper is organized according to the three dominant features of myths in the texts of Uldis Bērziņš – dichotomy, cyclicity, and syncretism. These are revealed with the help of particularly rich micro details and cultural signs and the transformation of folklore motives. Dichotomy as a disclosure of two aspects of one whole is carried out in the artistic space within the oppositions here and there, on the top and on the bottom, center and periphery, or insider and alien. These are characterized by symbolic notions of a mountain or a bridge, images of Riga and the Daugava, as well as the introduction of a mediator (a goat, bird or a ghost), which reach over the borders of time and space. Thereby the poet emphasizes fundamental ontological aspects which are concentrated in the semantic meanings of the notions of time, eternity and lifetime. In turn, by means of linguistic elements (not only semes, but also syntactical structure and pragmatic elements) Uldis Bērziņš pays attention to the multifunctionality and uniqueness of a language, and is trying to reach the level of a parent language. Within these dichotomies, the images, motives and signs also actualize a historic time and space. Thereby, a background for the disclosure of subtextual layers is organized, and simultaneously a point of view for several artistic chronotopes is expressed, which is interpreted as a symbiotic process in the poetry of Uldis Bērziņš. The search of oneself in the context of eternity is expressed with the help of the cyclicity principle. This is at the same time a tool for the illustration of different time spaces, which creates a synthesized model of an artistic world with a polyphony of linguistic elements. The cyclicity indicators in the poetry of Uldis Bērziņš are the images of a wheel, mill, and ball, as well as the interaction of the change of cycles of nature and human life. Special attention is paid to the points of intersection of time, thereby marking the Latvian year and the course of human life. In addition, the acknowledgment that the cycle is never-ending and repetitive, makes us look for interconnections with the philosophy of existentialism and a possible fulfillment of the meaning of life. Syncretism, on the contrary, as a combination of several different traditions, allows Uldis Bērziņš to emphasize features of cultural, linguistic and ethnic identity. In the united whole, i.e. in the interpretations of a sign, motive, image or myth, there is an accumulation of a few notions that create a peculiar effect of surrealism in a poetic text. For Bērziņš, syncretism is discovered in an image of a city, a sound, personal names (Peteris, Juris), religious characters (Jesus Christ, Krishna), and myths of the creation of the world. To find features of syncretism in a text, a reader does not only have to have some knowledge of mythology, religion, or culturology, but also needs associative thinking, since the poet often plays with phonemes and facts by linking them in rhythmically symbolic combinations. To sum up Uldis Bērziņš’ notions of mythical time and space, it can be concluded that the poet successfully uses the means of language, its meanings, its peculiar functions and associative nets in order to create a synthesized model of the mythical, historical, and psychological time space. This requires additional attention from a reader, because each poem is a subtextually dense discloser of a cultural heritage and an indicator of the search of oneself.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17770/latg2008.1.1602

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