Jaan Kaplinski

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Jaan Kaplinski performing during Tallinn Literature Festival

Jaan Kaplinski (born 22 January 1941 in Tartu[1]) is an Estonian poet, philosopher, and culture critic. Kaplinski is known for his independent mind, focus on global issues and support for left-wing/liberal thinking. He has been influenced by Eastern philosophical schools (taoism and especially buddhism).[1][2]

Kaplinski studied Romance language and linguistics at Tartu University, graduating as a French philologist in 1964,[2][3] and has worked as a translator, editor, and sociologist,[4] and ecologist at the Tallinn Botanic Garden. He has been named as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature.[5]


Jaan Kaplinski has published numerous collections of poems, prose, and essays. He has translated writings from French, English, Spanish, Chinese, including the Tao Te Ching, and Swedish, the work of Tomas Tranströmer.

Kaplinski's own work has been translated into English, Finnish, French, Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch, Icelandic, Hungarian, Japanese, Latvian, Lithuanian, Russian, Hebrew, Bulgarian, and Czech. His essays deal with environmental problems, philosophy of language, classical Chinese poems, philosophy, buddhism, and Estonian nationalism.

Kaplinski has also composed poems in English and Finnish. In the 2000s he began writing in Russian, and his first original Russian collection (composed of some of his poems translated from Estonian into Russian) appeared in 2014 under the title White Butterflies of Night (Белые бабочки ночи) and was awarded in Russia.

Jaan Kaplinski was one of the authors and initiators of the so-called Letter of 40 intellectuals (Neljakümne kiri) action. A letter signed by well-known Estonian intellectuals protesting against the behavior of the authorities in Soviet-annexed Estonia was sent to the main newspapers of the time. Although not openly dissident, the letter was never published in the press at that time and those who signed were repressed using administrative measures.

His semi-autobiographical novel The Same River is published by Peter Owen in English translation by Susan Wilson.

In 1997, he was awarded the Baltic Assembly Prize for Literature, the Arts and Science.


Kaplinski was a member of the Riigikogu (the Estonian parliament) from 1992 to 1995.[1] He was originally a candidate on the Centre Party list, but soon became an independent representative. Since 2004 he has been a member of the Estonian Social Democratic Party. In the 2005, the local government elections he ran in Tartu and was ESDP's first candidate in their list. Jaan Kaplinski was elected as the second Social Democrat candidate (Estonia uses an open list system in local elections), collecting 1,045 votes.[6] Jaan Kaplinski was one of those intellectuals who supported Toomas Hendrik Ilves' candidature.

Personal life[edit]

Jaan Kaplinski's mother was Estonian and his Polish Jewish father was Jerzy Kaplinski, a professor of philology at Tartu University,[2]) who was arrested by Soviet troops and perished of starvation in a Soviet labour camp in 1945.[1][7] Kaplinski is married to writer and director of the Tartu Toy Museum, Tiia Toomet. They have three sons - Ott-Siim Toomet, Lauris Kaplinski, Lemmit Kaplinski. He has a daughter, Elo-Mall Toomet, from his first marriage marriage to Küllike Kaplinski. He previously had a long-term relationship to Estonian classical philologist and translator Anne Lill, with whom he has a son, composer Märt-Matis Lill.[8]


Main-belt asteroid 29528 Kaplinski is named after Jaan Kaplinski.


  • The East West Border...
  • The Wandering Border (Copper Canyon Press, 1987) (translated by the author with Sam Hamill and Riina Tamm)
  • Evening Brings Everything Back (Bloodaxe, 2004)


  1. ^ a b c d "Jaan Kaplinski - writer". Estonian Foreign Ministry. Retrieved 11 May 2010.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ a b c "Jaan Kaplinski". Scottish Poetry Library. Archived from the original on 27 July 2010. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  3. ^ "Jaan Kaplinski". Arc Publications. Archived from the original on 27 July 2011. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  4. ^ Käärik, Henn (2010-04-01). "Henn Käärik: mõtisklusi sotsioloogias". Tartu Postimees (in Estonian). Postimees. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  5. ^ http://www.dn.se/arkiv/kultur/var-hamnar-pricken-i-ar-litteraturpristagaren-utses-i-dag
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ Benjamin Ivry, 'Will Bob Dylan, Jaan Kaplinski or Philip Roth Win the Nobel Prize This Year?,' The Forward4 October 2016.
  8. ^ Veidemann, Rein (26 January 2011). "Jaan Kaplinski seotud kõne*". Postimees (in Estonian). Retrieved 4 August 2020.

External links[edit]