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JĀNIS RAINIS. "GALS UN SĀKUMS", "UGUNS UN NAKTS"

In Rainis’s (1865–1929) poetry collection "Gals un sākums" ("End and Beginning") (1912), thinker, tribune, and poet are finally in harmony.  The composition of the collection and its range had no precedent in Latvian literature. The collection should be perceived as a whole: it is in fact a poetic model of the world rooted in the mythical vision of the world; moreover, this model is hardly static: it is no world "photograph" but rather an attempt to put how the world moves and changes into words.  The chapters of "Gals un sākums" are introduced not by titles but by a motto with variations of one and the same phrase: "Es ritu, ritu." This phrase that describes a rolling movement – of a wheel or sun, or tear, or raindrop – in the various contexts gradually becomes the metaphor for perpetual change and movement, which is also Rainis’s ethical ideal.   

Rainis himself is the best commentator on his ten-part "Gals un sākums". In his diary he terms the introductory part "Atjēgšana" ("Grasping"): "Man grasps, is aware of the need to look for the meaning of his existence." This is followed by seven circles of "Meklēšana" ("Search"): the past, nature, love, work, pain, death, loneliness; in the text these are matched by seven colors, seven voices of nature, and seven circles. Rainis’s search is reminiscent of Faust’s exploration of the world, the only difference being that Rainis’s explorer, since he is from the 20th century, is a total loner and his search ends in disappointment. The two concluding chapters, according to Rainis’s diary, should be considered "Atrašana" ("Finding"): the lyrical protagonist finds "the soul" the life force", "cosmos" – the world at large and the union between the two: "[..] the soul equals itself with cosmos, grows to infinty."  But above it all is the yearning for absolute harmony, the cosmic soul and the soulful cosmos, the infinite circle of being that can not be broken even by death.    "Uguns un nakts" ("Fire and Night") (1905) is the most significant symbolic work in Latvian literature. For Rainis, there was a strict separation between a symbol and an allegory; in contrast to his contemporaries, he believed a symbol to be polysemantic and one and the same symbol can change meanings several times within a play. He called "Uguns un nakts" "An Old Song in New Sound" – with good reason, because it is a rephrasing of Andrejs Pumpurs’s epic poem Lāčplēsis: Rainis borrowed the plot, supplementing it with new episodes that deepen the  conceptual dimension, and also the characters. Being a staunched dialectician, Rainis split the characters into direct opposites. On the one side, there were the forces of light: Lāčplēsis (the power of the people and yearning for freedom), Laimdota (can be considered a symbol of Latvia), Latvian chieftains; they were counteracted by the forces of darkness: the Black Knight, German conquerors, local traitors Kangars and Līkcepure. The fire and night symbolism is very rich, stemming from a universal philosophy, which is expressed in easily recognizable symbols, it far exceeds primitive dialectic. There is the plot of a legend, historic events of the 13th century, the revolution of 1905, the desired free Latvia, and the perpetual fight between light and darkness. Spīdola, usually interpreted as a symbol of beauty, is actually key to Rainis’s symbolism.  Spīdola’s words: "I do not exist, I shine like the sun, / I pour over the earth in a thousand hues – / Yet in my wholeness all shines, all lives" is a synopsis of the philosophy of symbolism that embodies Rainis’s idea of the mutability and polysemantics of symbols. Lāčplēsis and Laimdota can be understood as unequivocal, whereas Spīdola will join forces with darkness (in other words, there is no darkness without light and vice versa), yet it is she who says to Lāčplēsis: "By changing upward, you will overcome your fate!" – words that are at the basis of several other works by Rainis. 

Guntis Berelis

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