(Jānis Pliekšāns, 1865-1929)

An outstanding Latvian poet, playwright, journalist and cultural worker, philosopher and politician. This is a personality with huge spiritual energy and amplitude of creative activity. He has a lasting role in the history of Latvia as one of the most notable creators of the cultural and national identity of his folk at the era when Latvia was fighting for independence.

Jānis Pliekšāns was born on September 11, 1865 at the Taldenava half-manor’s farmstead Varslavāni, located in the rural community of Dunava in Selonia. His father was renting and managing half-manors, because of this his family had to often change their place of residence, thus the poets following childhood and teenage years were spend at Tadenava, Randene and Berķeneles half-manors in Selonia and Vasiļova, as well as Jasmuiža in Latgalia. He studied at Griva German School (Grīvas vācu skola) (1875-1879) and the Riga City 1st high school (1880-1884). Jānis Pliekšāns continued his education at the Saint Petersburg University’s Faculty of Law (1884-1888). After completing his studies he becomes the editor-in-chief for the newspaper “Daily paper” (“Dienas Lapa”) (1891-1895) and takes an active part in social life. This is the time when he meets the poetess Aspazija, and henceforth their life paths continue together. In the year 1897, while working as a lawyer in Panevežys, Lithuania, he gets arrested on charges for belonging to a secret antigovernmental organization “the New Current” (“Jaunā strāva”). Being imprisoned at the Riga and Liepaja prisons, he continues to work on the Latvian translation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Faust” and with the help of Aspazija, he finishes it 1897. By the Court judgement he was sentenced to be banished for five years to Pleskava and Slobodska (1898-1903). Before the exile he married the poetess on the 21st December 1897. Rainis continued on translating the world’s literature classics even while the exile and published his first collection of poems “Distant Moods in a Blue Evening” (“Tālās noskaņas zilā vakarā”) (1903). After returning to his homeland, he took an active part in the Russian Revolution of 1905, at this time he published his second book of poems “Sowing the Storm” (“Vētras sēja”) and composed the drama play “The Fire and the Night” (“Uguns un nakts”). On December 31, 1905 Rainis was forced to emigrate and both poets moved to Switzerland. In the time of his emigration to Castagnola near the city of Lugano the best of his works were created– the poem anthology “The End and the Beginning” (“Gals un sākums”) and many dramas – “The Golden Horse” (“Zelta zirgs”), “Indulis un Ārija”, “Blow, Wind” (“Pūt vējiņi”), “I Played, I Danced” (“Spēlēju, dancoju”), “Joseph and His Brothers” (“Jāzeps un viņa brāļi”), and many more. With the dramatic poem “Daugava” Rainis is one the first who beckons people to create an independent country of Latvia. In 1920 Rainis returns to Latvia together with Aspazija and again takes an active part in politics. For the member list of the Social Democratic Party, he gets elected to the Constitutional Assembly of Latvia (1920) and the first three Latvian parliaments (1922, 1925, and 1928). Rainis was the co-founder of the Daile Theatre, the director of the National Theater (1921-1925), and the minister of education (1927). All this time he also continued his literary work. His contribution to the Latvian culture has been evaluated with the Order of the Three Stars (1925).

Rainis has composed 20 collections of poetry anthologies and 15 drama plays. To date the most complete collection of his literary heritage is “Collected works” in 30 volumes (“Kopoti raksti” 30 sējumos) (1977-1986) and the edition “J. Rainis Translations” in 4 volumes (“J. Raiņa tulkojumi”) (1989-1990). In the 2004 survey about the 100 most notable Latvian people, Rainis ranked in the 9th place.