Poet, writer, literary critic and publicist Edvarts Virza (pseudonym of Edvarts Lieknis, 1883-1940) was born in Zemgale, a region known for its rich farming land and well-to-do homesteads. He was the oldest of nine children, and he passed his childhood and youth in relative affluence. His budding literary talent was nurtured by his Bohemian grandfather, who was a great story-teller, and his grandmother, who knew all about herbs and doctoring, local legends and folklore.
His parents' financial situation was such that, after finishing Bauska municipal school in 1901, Virza was able to return home and live at the "Billites" farmstead. It was in Billites that he felt best, and here he could immerse himself in Russian Symbolist and Decadent poetry and devote himself to the study of French language and literature. His first volume of poetry, The Chalice (1907), is a striking example of Latvian symbolism, a world of darkness, fateful passion and spiritual loneliness. Lighter, sunnier lyrics were published in his next volume of poetry, The Divine Games (1919). A mutual love of France and all things French bought Virza together with the noted poet, musician and translator Elza Sterste (1885-1976). She was unfailing in her support of Virza, creating and maintaining the conditions for fostering her husband's talent.
The idealization of country life and the image of the hardworking and God-fearing farmer was a common concept appearing in the neo-romantic literatures of the late 19th to early 20th centuries. The impulse to glorify pastoral life was also felt and expressed in much of Latvian literature of the 1920's and 1930's, a movement which reflected the political culture surrounding the authoritarian president Ka'rlis Ulmanis (1877-1942), who dissolved Latvia's parliament in a 1934 coup d'etat. Virza fully believed in the political and social ideals represented by Ulmanis; he believed that Latvia should be an agriculturally based one-party state, lead by a strong leader.
Virza's prose poem "Straumeni: The Story of an Old Farm in Zemgale through the Changing Seasons," was first published as a series in the literary monthly Daugava between 1929 and 1933, and to date has been republished and reprinted over twenty times. This prose poem represents the purest essence of the Latvian patriarchal farmstead and depicts Virza's deep devotion to and love of the Latvian soil and the Latvian farmer. This epic gains its strength from Virza's virtuouso use of language, including the use of the third person only. There is almost no conversation in the entire work. Everything takes place as though seen by the eyes of the reader, who, like a traveller, is led through fields and over meandering streams in and around the Straumeni homestead and is invited to rest under the shade of the huge, leafy old trees and listen to the story of the old homestead, of the land and the country, and of the passing of generations now gone.
Vecte'vs mi'le'ja viens pats apkalpot savu bis'u bazni'cu, jo bites vin'u mi'le'ja un padeva's vin'a ri'ci'ba'.
Varbu't tas bija ta'pe'c, ka vin's' pamaza'm tuvoja's tam vecumam, kad cilve'ku atsta'j viss, kas nepati'kams vin'a miesa' un gara'.
Debess un gadu saules bija vin'a sta'vu izz'a've'jus'as, padarot to li'dzi'gu ilgi un le'ni kalte'tam liepas kokam, no ka' vecie latvies'i taisi'ja savas skani'ga's kokles.
Ju'nija me'nesi', kad bija spietos'anas laiks, vin'u arvien redze'ja uz trepi'te'm paka'pus'os ri'kojamies ap kokiem, neapsegtu seju, ar du'la'gu roka', un tur, le'ni runa'damies, vin's' apva'rdoja savas Dieva gotin'as.
Neviena saime vin'am neaizbe'ga, un ja ka'da be'rnus laiz'ot taisi'ja's uz lais'anos, vin's' to apmierina'ja, uzlaizdams tai u'deni no s'l'i'cenes, kas bija izmaukta no jaunas priedi'tes galotnes.
Ta' vin's' tur kuste'ja's balti balina'ta's pakulu bikse's, balta' atloku krekla', siksnu apjozies, ar katru gadu vaira'k li'dzina'damies vecajam senc'u Dievin'am, zibina'dams savas zem bieza'm uzaci'm nogrimus'a's acis.
Vecte'vs mi'le'ja viens pats apkalpot savu bis'u bazni'cu, jo bites vin'u mi'le'ja un padeva's vin'a ri'ci'ba'. Varbu't tas bija ta'pe'c, ka vin's' pamaza'm tuvoja's tam vecumam, kad cilve'ku atsta'j viss, kas nepati'kams vin'a miesa' un gara'. Debess un gadu saules bija vin'a sta'vu izz'a've'jus'as, padarot to li'dzi'gu ilgi un le'ni kalte'tam liepas kokam, no ka' vecie latvies'i taisi'ja savas skani'ga's kokles. Ju'nija me'nesi', kad bija spietos'anas laiks, vin'u arvien redze'ja uz trepi'te'm paka'pus'os ri'kojamies ap kokiem, neapsegtu seju, ar du'la'gu roka', un tur, le'ni runa'damies, vin's' apva'rdoja savas Dieva gotin'as. Neviena saime vin'am neaizbe'ga, un ja ka'da be'rnus laiz'ot taisi'ja's uz lais'anos, vin's' to apmierina'ja, uzlaizdams tai u'deni no s'l'i'cenes, kas bija izmaukta no jaunas priedi'tes galotnes. Ta' vin's' tur kuste'ja's balti balina'ta's pakulu bikse's, balta' atloku krekla', siksnu apjozies, ar katru gadu vaira'k li'dzina'damies vecajam senc'u Dievin'am, zibina'dams savas zem bieza'm uzaci'm nogrimus'a's acis.
Grandfather loved to attend to his bee church, by himself, because the bees loved him and yielded to his care. Perhaps this was so because he was gradually approaching the age when everything that is unpleasant to the body and spirit departs from a person. Over the years the heavens and the sun had dried out his body, making it like the slowly-cured wood of the linden tree, from which the ancient Latvians made their sonorous "kokles" [a traditional music instrument]. In June, when it was swarming season, he could always be seen standing on the step ladder, working among the trees, his face uncovered, holding a smoking branch, and there, talking softly, he would weave a spell on God's little creatures. Not a single bee colony ever escaped from him, and if a colony releasing its brood was preparing to fly away, he calmed it down by hosing it with water from a hose that was made from the top of a young pine tree. So he worked in bleached white coarse linen trousers, a white collared shirt, a belt around his waist, with every passing year becoming increasingly similar to the old God of his ancestors, his eyes flashing, sunk beneath his thick eyebrows.
There are ten pure diphthongs in Latvian, namely:
|/ie/ (or /ia/) /iu/|
|/ui/ /uo/ (or /ua/)|
Six of the diphthongs are found in words of Latvian origin:
|/ei/ /ie/ (or /ia/)|
|/uo/ (or /ua/) /eu/|
The first five diphthongs are the most common in Latvian. For example:
(Graphemic o corresponds here to /uo/ or /ua/. See section 1.2).
The /eu/ is a result of a vocalization in Latvian words, where /v/ is transformed to /u/ if preceded by a short vowel in the same syllable. It is written as -ev, for example: tev /teu/ 'for you', sev /seu/ '-self'. In most borrowed words, the diphthong is replaced by 'ei', for example: Eiropa 'Europe', pneimonija 'pneumonia'.
Two of the diphthongs are found only in foreign loan words, for example:
Two of the diphthongs are found in words of Finno-Ugric and Slavic origin, or in onomatopoetic words, for example:
|/iu/||pliuks'k'e't 'to splash'|
Besides the pure diphthongs mentioned in 6.1, there are also semi-diphthongs (or mixed diphthongs), in which the vowels a, e, i or u are followed by r, l, l' or m (+ consonant). For example:
|dzert 'to drink'||bars 'crowd'||cirpt 'to shear'|
|kurmis 'mole'||dzelt 'to sting'||salms 'straw'|
|svilpe 'whistle'||mulda 'trough'||sil'k'e 'herring'|
|lemt 'to decide,||grimt 'to sink'||tumsa 'darkness'|
The semi-diphthongs form intonational units in the same way as the pure diphthongs, and are therefore customarily regarded as diphthongs in Baltic linguistic tradition.
Masculine nouns that have the ending -is in the nominative singular belong to the second declension. The nouns of this class belong to the ija- (Indo-European ijo-) stem. They have consonant palatalization in the genitive singular and in all cases in the plural with either a -j- after the consonant at the end of the stem or the -j- merged with the preceding consonant.
The following pattern of sound alterations is established, for example:
|Nominative singular||Nominative plural|
|l > l'||gailis 'rooster'||gail'i <*gailji|
|n > n'||spainis 'bucket'||spain'i <*spainji|
|s > s'||me'nesis 'month'||me'nes'i|
|t > s'||latvietis 'Latvian'||latvies'i|
|d > z'||nazis 'knife'||naz'i|
|z > z'||briedis 'deer'||briez'i|
|c > c'||la'cis 'bear'||la'c'i|
|dz > dz'||sle'dzis 'switch'||sle'dz'i|
The following consonant clusters also alternate, for example:
|Nominative singular||Nominative plural|
|sn > s'n'||slieksnis 'threshold'||slieks'n'i|
|zn > z'n'||lauznis 'crow-bar'||lauz'n'i|
|sl > s'l'||ka'pslis 'stirrup'||ka'ps'l'i|
|zl > z'l'||zizlis 'wand'||ziz'l'i|
|ln > l'n'||alnis 'moose'||al'n'i|
|ll > l'l'||zellis 'fellow'||zel'l'i|
If the stems end with labials b, p, m, v, there is no sound alteration, and the -j- of the ending is retained. For example:
|Nominative singular||Nominative plural|
|u'pis 'eagle owl'||u'pji|
If the stems end with k', g' or r, then there is no sound alteration and the -j- of the ending is dropped. For example:
|Nominative singular||Nominative plural|
In Modern Written Latvian, the sound alteration r > r' has been dropped. (See section 1.3). However, in older texts, linguistic texts and in texts published by Latvians living abroad this sound alteration is marked. For example:
|Nominative singular||Nominative plural|
From a historical perspective, second declension nouns seem to form a subgroup of the first declension. Note that nouns that have retained -ja- in all cases, for example ve'js'<*ve'jas 'wind' have been grouped into the 1st declension a-stems. (See section 3.1).
Paradigm for the second declension nouns bra'lis 'brother', cirvis 'axe':
|Nom.||bra'lis, cirvis||bra'l'i, cirvji|
|Gen.||bra'l'a, cirvja||bra'l'u, cirvju|
|Dat.||bra'lim, cirvim||bra'l'iem, cirvjiem|
|Acc.||bra'li, cirvi||bra'l'us, cirvjus|
|Loc.||bra'li', cirvi'||bra'l'os, cirvjos|
7.1.1 The Consonant Stem
There are seven masculine nouns that belong to the consonant stem: akmens 'rock', asmens 'blade', rudens 'autumn', u'dens 'water', zibens 'lightning', me'ness 'moon', sa'ls 'salt'. The noun sa'ls has a parallel feminine form, and can be inflected according to the class VI declension. The consonant stem is usually grouped under the second declension.
The genitive singular is identical to the nominative singular for the nouns of this class. The rest of the paradigm is identical to the -ija-stem declension. Paradigm for the consonant stem nouns u'dens 'water', me'ness 'moon':
|Nom.||u'dens, me'ness||u'den'i, me'nes'i|
|Gen.||u'dens, me'ness||u'den'u, me'nes'u|
|Dat.||u'denim, me'nesim||u'den'iem, me'nes'iem|
|Acc.||u'deni, me'nesi||u'den'us, me'nes'us|
|Loc.||u'deni', me'nesi'||u'den'os, me'nes'os|
Some nouns of the 2nd declension are irregular and are declined according to combinations of a-stem, ija-stem and consonant stem paradigms.
A. The noun suns 'dog' is declined according to the bra'lis paradigm, except that the nominative singular is written suns.
B. The nouns viesis 'guest' and te'tis 'father' are declined in all plural forms and in the genitive singular as a-stem nouns, but in the remaining cases of the singular as ija-stem nouns. For example:
C. Surnames ending in -skis and -ckis as well as first names ending in -tis and -dis are not palatalized. For example, the man's name Valdis Jans'evskis:
|Nom.||Valdis Jans'evskis||Valdi Jans'evski|
|Gen.||Valda Jans'evska||Valdu Jans'evsku|
|Dat.||Valdim Jans'evskim||Valdiem Jans'evskiem|
|Acc.||Valdi Jans'evski||Valdus Jans'evskus|
|Loc.||Valdi' Jans'evski'||Valdos Jans'evskos|
However, in compound names this rule is not observed, for example: Visvaldis (Nom. Sg.), Visvalz'a (Gen. Sg.).
D. Nouns ending with -astis, -jis, -matis, -skatis are not palatalized. For example:
|Nom. Sg.||Gen. Sg.|
|gais'matis 'fair man'||gais'mata|
Masculine nouns that have the ending -us in the nominative singular belong to the third declension. The nouns of this class are referred to as u-stems. Only a few nouns belong to the third declension: alus 'beer', apvidus 'region', dienvidus 'noon', klepus 'cough', ledus 'ice', lietus 'rain', medus 'honey', tirgus 'market', vidus 'middle, center', viltus 'deceit' and some proper names.
This is a closed declension and no new nouns are added to this class. The u-stem nouns have shown the tendency to migrate into the first declension. Today, for example the forms *krogus 'tavern', *cirkus 'circus', *ka'sus 'dry cough' have been replaced by krogs, cirks, ka'ss.
The nominative and genitive singular of the u-stem nouns are identical. Though these nouns mainly appear in the singular, the plural is possible, and they are declined like the a-stems. Some of the plural forms also differ in meaning compared to the singular, for example, dienvidus 'noon', dienvidi 'south'. Paradigm of third declension noun tirgus 'market':
The second largest group of feminine nouns belong to the fifth declension. They end with -e- in the nominative singular and are referred to as e'-stems, since in older forms the root ended with e', for example Nom. Sg. egle < *egle' 'spruce'. In the genitive plural there is a palatization of the consonant in front of the ending, according to the sound alteration pattern shown in section 7.1 above.
The fifth declension is an open class where new nouns can be formed, for example: izve'lne '(computer) menu', blakne '(drug) side effect'.
A few nouns of the fifth declension refer to male persons, and they are declined like the feminine nouns of the 5th declension except for the dative singular, which has -em as ending instead of -ei. See example below. The same applies to male last names ending in -e, for example: Ka'rlis Za'le (Nom. Sg. Masc.), Ka'rlim Za'lem (Dat. Sg. Masc.).
Paradigm for fifth declension nouns ma'te 'mother' (Fem.) and bende 'executioner' (Masc):
|Nom.||ma'te, bende||ma'tes, bendes|
|Gen.||ma'tes, bendes||ma's'u, benz'u|
|Dat.||ma'tei, bendem||ma'te'm, bende'm|
|Acc.||ma'ti, bendi||ma'tes, bendes|
|Loc.||ma'te', bende'||ma'te's, bende's|
Feminine nouns ending with -s in the nominative singular and in the genitive singular belong to the 6th declension. The nouns of this class are referred to as i-stems. In older forms, the nominative singular was *-is. For example: nominative sg *kle'tis 'granary'.
This is a closed, non-productive class containing less than fifty nouns. Many of the nouns refer to the body, for example: asins 'blood', acs 'eye', auss 'ear', balss 'voice', kru'ts 'breast', maksts 'vagina', na'ss 'nostril', va'ts 'wound', z'ults 'gall, bile'. Other commonly used words in this class are nakts 'night', uguns 'fire', pils 'castle', kra'sns 'stove', telts 'tent'.
Place names ending in -pils belong to this declension too, for example the cities Daugavpils, Je'kabpils.
There is a palatization of the consonant in the genitive plural, according to the sound alteration pattern in section 7.1 above. For example: genitive plural kle's'u >*kle'tju 'of the granaries'. Paradigm of sixth declension noun kle'ts 'granary':
The present dative plural ending -i'm has arisen in harmony with the a'-stems and e'-stems, for example avs 'ewe' (Nom. Sg.), avi'm (Dat. Pl.), in comparison to ieva'm 'bird-cherry tree' (Dat. Pl.), upe'm 'river' (Dat. Pl.). The older dative plural ending with a short i is still heard in some dialects, for example *kle'tim 'to the granaries', *acims 'to the eyes'.
Historically, the sixth declension can be regarded as being a mix of i-stem nouns and consonant stem nouns. This explains why several nouns of the sixth declension do not have palatization in the genitive plural. For example:
|Nominative Singular||Genitive Plural|
This is also true for the plural nouns brokastis 'breakfast' and Ce'sis (the name of a town in Latvia), with their respective genitive forms brokastu, Ce'su.
This declension also has two pluralia tantum: durvis 'door' and the only masculine noun in this class l'audis 'people'. The paradigms are as follows:
|Case||Feminine Plural||Masculine Plural|
There is a tendency for i-stem nouns to migrate to the e'-stems of the fifth declension, for example azote < *azots 'bosom'.
In all conjugations the simple past (or preterite) is formed by adding the following endings to the past stem:
These are identical to the Subset C endings of the present as referred to in section 4.3.
The ending -u of the first person singular in the past tense has been shortened from the older -au, for example: 'I placed' liku < *likau.
The ending -i of the second person singular in the past tense has been shortened from the older -ai, or in some cases from the older -ei, for example, vilki < *vilkai 'you (sg) pulled'; vedi < *vedei 'you (sg) lead'.
Two types of preterite forms, the a'-preterite and the e'-preterite, are found in older East Baltic (i.e. Latvian and Lithuanian) primary verbs. In present-day Latvian the e'-preterite is found only in some dialects and in older texts, for example, vede'm 'we lead', vede't 'you (pl) lead'. In Standard Written Latvian, both preterite forms have merged into the a'-preterite. In Lithuanian, both preterite forms have survived.
8.1.1 Simple Past Tense Class I (Short Conjugation)
Example of the simple past tense of first subclass verbs: infinitive: augt 'to grow'
As a relic of the older e'-preterite, a vowel alternation occurs in verbs with -e as the stem vowel, for example, cept 'to bake', degt 'to burn', e'st 'to eat', mest 'to throw', nest 'to carry', vest 'to lead'. Whereas all forms in the present, except for the second person singular are pronounced with an "open e", all forms in the past are pronounced with a "closed e". The infinitive is pronounced with a "closed e". (See section 1.1).
Example of the simple past tense of second subclass verbs: infinitive: likt 'to put'
Examples of the simple past tense of third subclass verbs: infinitives: zagt 'to steal', prast 'to know', skriet 'to run'
Examples of the simple past tense of fourth subclass verbs: infinitives: ka'pt 'to climb', pl'aut 'to reap'
Example of the simple past tense of fifth subclass verbs infinitive: kl'u't 'to become'
8.1.2 Simple Past Tense Class II (Long Conjugation)
In class II verbs, the first person singular in the past is indentical to the first person singular in the present. Verbs of this class can be classified according to the -a'j-, -oj-, -e'j-, and -ij- stems.
Examples of class II verbs in the simple past: infinitives: runa't 'to speak', gatavot 'to prepare', audze't 'to grow', sve'ti't 'to bless'
There is only one verb with a -uj- stem that belongs to this class: infinitive: dabu't 'to get'
8.1.3 Simple Past Tense Class III (mixed conjugation)
Examples of the simple past tense of class III verbs: infinitives: ture't 'to hold', dali't 'to divide', audzina't 'to foster'
In all conjugations, the future tense is formed by adding the following endings to the infinitive stem:
Historically, the future endings were formed from expanding the infinitive root with the suffix -si and then adding the personal endings, for example, do-s'u < *do-si-u 'I will give', do-si < *do-s(i)-i 'you will give'.
In the second person plural, two parallel forms, ending with -it or -iet, are accepted: for example, dosit or dosiet 'you (pl) will give'. The -iet ending is generally regarded as colloquial style.
Examples of the future tense of class I, II and III verbs: infinitives: augt 'to grow', audze't 'to cultivate', audzina't 'to foster'
All verbs ending in -st and -zt in the infinitive, form the future tense from the past stem by inserting an -i'- before the future endings, for example: infinitives: e'st 'to eat', lu'zt 'to break'
The irregular verbs 'to be' bu't, 'to go' iet and 'to give' dot are former Indo-European athematical verbs (where endings are attached directly to the stem) and where certain older forms have been retained up to the present. For example, es-mu < *es-mi 'I am', es-i < *es-si 'you (sg) are'; the dialectal forms of ej-u 'I go': ie-mu or ei-mu < *ei-mi; ie-t < *ei-ti 'he, she, they go'; dialectal form of do-mu < *do(d)-mi (standard form do-du) 'I give': infinitives: bu't 'to be', iet 'to go', dot 'to give'
The use of personal pronouns is similar to that in English. The personal pronouns in Latvian are as follows:
|es 'I'||me's 'we'|
|tu 'you (sg)'||ju's 'you (pl)'|
|vin's' 'he'||vin'i 'they (masc.)'|
|vin'a 'she'||vin'as 'they (fem.)'|
As in most European languages, the plural form of 'you' Ju's is used in polite address, tu 'you (sg)' is used to address children or close friends. Personal pronouns are declined as follows:
The forms vin's', vin'a are actually archaic demonstrative pronouns, for example: vin'a kalna galin'a' 'that mountain top (loc)'. Today vin's', vin'a are used as third person pronouns. The archaic third person *jis, however, is still currently used in Lithuanian and in some eastern dialects of Latvia.
The possessive pronouns for the first and second persons singular are:
The possessive pronoun savs (masc.), sava (fem.) 'one's own', refers to the subject. For example: Vin's' redz savu atspi'dumu 'He sees his own reflection'.
The possesive pronouns change in gender according to the thing possessed and agree with the nouns they qualify in number and case. They are declined according to the a-stem paradigm in the masculine and the a'-stem paradigm in the feminine: mans te'vs 'my father', tava ma'te 'your (sg.) mother', mani bra'l'i 'my brothers', tavas ma'sas 'your (sg.) sisters'.
The possessive pronoun for the third person singular is vin'a 'his', vin'as 'hers'. This is actually the genitive of the personal pronouns vin's', vin'a, and are therefore indeclinable: vin'as te'vs 'her father', vin'as ma'te 'her mother', vin'as bra'l'i 'her brothers'.
In the first, second, and third person plural, the possessive pronouns are the genitive of personal pronouns me's 'we', ju's 'you (pl)',vin'i 'they (masc.)', vin'as 'they (fem.)' and are therefore indeclinable: mu'su 'our, ours', ju'su 'your, yours (pl)', vin'u 'their, theirs (masc. and fem.)'.
The reflexive personal pronoun sev- has the following forms:
It has no nominative, and therefore can never be the subject. It can only refer to the subject. The reflexive personal pronoun can be used in all persons and in both the singular and plural, for example:
The pronoun pats 'himself', pati 'herself' is used in Latvian for emphasis. For example:
Apart from the nominative singular, all other forms of pats are derived from the stem pas'-:
|Case||Masc. Sg.||Fem. Sg.||Masc. Pl.||Fem. Pl.|
There are only a few negative particles in Latvian, and negation is mainly expressed by the negative particle ne, which is placed in front of or joined to the word to be negated. For example: vin'a runa' 'she speaks', vin'a neruna' 'she doesn't speak'.
The negation of bu't 'to be' is regular, except for the negation of ir 'he, she, they are', which is nav:
The double negation ne ... ne is translated by 'neither ... nor'. For example: Tu neesi ne Pari'ze' ne Berli'ne' 'You are neither in Paris nor in Berlin.'
'No, not' is expressed by the particle ne', in contrast with the positive particle ja' 'yes'.
With the negative pronouns, for example nekas 'nothing, not anything', neka'ds 'no, none', nekatrs 'not everyone', nekurs' 'not anyone', or with any other negative form, the negation is repeated with the verb or adverb and the negative statement is retained. For example: