Poet Andrejs Eglītis dies in his homeland

Poet Andrejs Eglītis, who spent 53 years in exile before returning to his homeland in 1998, has died in a Rīga hospital at the age of 93, Latvian media report.

His most enduring work is “Dievs, Tava zeme deg” (God, Thine Earth Is Aflame!), a cantata written in 1943 with composer Lūcija Garūta. While in exile in Sweden, Eglītis in 1947 founded the Latvian National Fund (Latviešu Nacionālais fonds), an organization devoted to documenting the Soviet occupation of Latvia.

“From his land, from God’s land, has departed a deep Latvian patriot and defender of the Latvian essence,” President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga said in an announcement reacting to news of Eglītis’ death.

Eglītis was born in 1912 in Ļaudona, an area in Vidzeme province. He studied in the Rīga city technical school before joining the Latvian army in 1935. After his discharge, he wrote for the newspapers Brīvā Zeme and Rīts and also worked for Latvian State Radio, according a biography in the online encyclopedia, www.gramata21.lv.

He served in the Latvian Legion during World War II. In 1945, along with other members of Latvia’s cultural elite, he fled to Sweden, where he continued his literary work and also became a relentless fighter for the independence of his homeland.

Among the LNF’s work was the publication in 1951 of These Names Accuse, a 677-page book detailing the names of people deported to Siberia from Latvia in 1940 and 1941.

Eglītis in 1953 married Anda Jaunvīksne.

Eglītis is credited with more than 30 books, mostly of poetry. Last year, the Rīga-based publishing house and book store Valters un Rapa released the sixth in a planned seven-volume collection his work.

Eglītis received various honors for both his literary and his patriotic efforts. Among them were the World Federation of Free Latvians’ highest honor, bestowed in 1972; honorary membership in the Latvian Academy of Sciences, to which Eglītis was elected in 1992, and the Order of Three Stars, Latvia’s highest civilian honor, which he received in 1994.

But perhaps best known is the honor he received upon repatriation in 1998, when the Latvian government gave him an apartment on Rīga’s Tērbatas Street. A 30-minute documentary film, The People Are My Home, directed by Rodrigo Rikards, examined the poet’s return to his homeland.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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