ALEKSANDRS ČAKS. "MANA PARADĪZE", "MŪŽĪBAS SKARTIE"
Aleksandrs Čaks (1901–1950), publishing four small poetry brochures in 1928.–1929, which were later combined and supplemented with new poems in the collection "Mana paradīze" ("My Paradise") (1932), arrived on the poetry scene as an anarchist who rejected the traditional bourgeois values. Typical denizens of Čaks’s poetry of this period: "city boy" ready to use his fist to punch away the self-satisfaction in the face of a fat, jovial gentleman he has met by chance and a lonely, poetically inclined vagabond who spends night in less than poetic dives. This "street boy", of course, is just the top layer of poetry, a literary device with which Čaks distanced himself from the poetry of previous eras. At the same time, it was a device that helped Čaks to find his place in his own era: not to dream of some lost paradise traditional to Latvian literature, not to prophesy some utopian future, but to feel and, most importantly, to live the here and now. As early as 1928, Čaks wrote in a little essay, a manifesto of sorts, entitled "My Curtsey to Life": "Only he who loves his time and feels naturally at one with it can be a true poet." Of course, the present, in contrast to the poetic visions of the past or future, is a distinctly prosaic phenomenon. From here stems one of the basic principles of Čaks’s approach: concentration on separate details at a first glance, non-poetical. He set out to poeticize the non-poetical (or what hitherto was considered as such): not to talk about non-poetical things in a poetic things (as Čaks’s friend and teacher Jānis Sudrabkalns did so well), but take the non-poetical, trivial, obvious details characteristic of the city and to transform them paradoxically into poetic elements, which actually put down strong roots in Latvian literature. "Mana paradīze" was a first in Latvian literature where Čaks eloquently showed that it is possible to write poetry about the most non-poetical things, at the same time revitalizing the sterile language of so-called "lofty poetry", returning it to its profane status on the street, in a pub, in chaos. Hence Čaks’s inimitable intonation where provocation and melancholy, bravura and sentimentality, irony and nostalgia, roughness and pain appear side by side.
In the 1930s Čaks’s poetry changed: he wrote an about 5000-line epic poem, "Mūžības skartie" ("Touched by Eternity") about the tragically heroic fighting of Latvian riflemen in World War I. In Čaks’s interpretation, the riflemen indeed become almost mythical beings "touched by eternity". In the introductory three parts of "Mūžības skartie", the author explains the historical significance of riflemen’s fighting and tries to talk to the fallen riflemen and perhaps with himself; this is followed by descriptions of battles, including monumental ones where the war becomes a battle between the forces of the universe, yet real facts and details are retained. The riflemen become a world-transforming force; in other parts of the poem Čaks depicts particular episodes and the everyday life of the soldiers. A high point is "Sprediķis Piņķu baznīcā" ("Sermon at Piņķi church") where, instead of a minister, the riflemen are addressed by their Colonel Jukums Vācietis who compares them with Christ and formulates the meaning of their sacrifice. Although the poetic method of "Mūžības skartie" seems radically different from "Mana paradīze", the epic poem is actually a logical continuation of Čaks’s early period: one of his central themes has always been the individual freedom; the riflemen who made a great contribution in Latvia gaining its independence represent the highest form of such freedom.