Juhan Liiv

Juhan Liiv (30 April [O.S. 18 April] 1864 in Allatzkiwwi – 1 December [O.S. 18 November] 1913) in Werbach-Kosse) is one of Estonia's most famous poets and prose writers.

Juhan Liiv
Juhan Liiv as a young man
Juhan Liiv as a young man
BornJohannes Liiv

(1864-04-30)30 April 1864
Allatzkiwwi, Governorate of Livonia, Russian Empire
Died(1913-12-01)1 December 1913 (aged 49)
Werbach-Kosse, Governorate of Livonia, Russian Empire
Resting placeThe grave of Juhan Liiv is located in Alatskivi cemetery, Tartu county
Pen name§§
OccupationProse writer, Poet
LanguageEstonian language
Notable works“Vari” published in 1894
ParentsBenjamin Liiv, Marianna Liiv
RelativesJakob Liiv (brother)
Elias Liiv (brother)
Joosep Liiv (brother)


Juhan (birth names Johannes) Liiv the son of Benjamin and Marianna Liiv (née Pärn) was born on 30 April 1864, in Alatskivi Parish, Tartu County, and grew up in Rupsi village, in Oja farm owned by his family.[1][2]

Liiv grew up in a poor and religious family and was the youngest amongst five children. Liiv’s parents were heavily religious. At home, he and his siblings lived a rough Christian life, his parents tried to raise their children in the same Christian spirit .[2] Despite their poverty and religion, Liiv's parents understood the importance of education and invested a lot of money in his education.[1][3] He first studied at Naelavere Village School, then at Kodavere Parish School. After going through both schools his parents then sent him to Dorpat (present-day Tartu) to study at the Hugo Treffner Gymnasium, in 1886.[4]

Juhan spent most of his childhood alone, isolated from other children his age. His older brother Jakob Liiv also became a poet.

Illness forced Liiv to leave school and return home, where he wrote poetry and occasional columns for the Olevik newspaper. His poetry starkly contrasted that of his contemporaries, and was therefore largely ignored.

Short storiesEdit

Liiv finally achieved success in 1894 when his first short story, Vari (The Shadow), was published. It was dark and gloomy, foreshadowing his future works of both prose and poetry.[3] Many readers draw a comparison between Liiv and the main character of the story, Villu, who is physically weak but strong in mind.

Liiv continued to write several more short stories, but none are as famous as Vari.

Mental illnessEdit

Shortly after Vari was released, Liiv became a patient in a psychiatric clinic in Tartu. Liiv was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He variably thought he was the son of the Emperor Alexander II, the king of Poland and Estonian poetess Lydia Koidula. His struggles with mental illness continued until his death.

Grave of Juhan Liiv in Alatskivi cemetery.


In 1909, Friedebert Tuglas met with Liiv. A book containing 495 poems by Liiv was published late that year.

Many of Liiv's poems are dominated by a sense of gloom, probably brought on by his mental illnesses, poverty and lack of human friendships. The few poems with a less ominous tone describe nature and Liiv's adoration for his country.

His poems include:

  • The Axe and the Forest
  • Who Does Not Remember the Past (is Living Without the Future)
  • To The Poets
  • I Saw Estonia Yesterday
  • Come Now, Night Darkness
  • Cold
  • Snowflake


On 1 December 1913, Liiv was found aboard a train without a ticket because he could not afford one. He was thrown off into a deserted area and walked home. By the time he arrived, however, he had been in freezing temperatures for two weeks and had contracted a fatal case of pneumonia.

The Juhan Liiv Prize for PoetryEdit

The Juhan Liiv Prize for Poetry was founded in 1965. It is awarded by the parish of Alatskivi on 30 April every year. The prize is a leather shepherd's bag hand-made by a local artist.

External linksEdit


  1. ^ a b "Juhan Liiv – Liivi Muuseum" (in Estonian). Retrieved 2019-12-16.
  2. ^ a b "Juhan Liivi elu". Sõjaeelse Eesti esseistika ja kirjanduskriitika. 2013-10-12. Retrieved 2019-12-17.
  3. ^ a b "Arts & Humanities | Estonian Literature | The Last Awakening Poet: Juhan Liiv". 2005-03-09. Archived from the original on 2005-03-09. Retrieved 2019-12-16.
  4. ^ "Eesti värss". www.ut.ee. Retrieved 2019-12-16.