The Dance of Life



Life Dance (Poetry, Estonian)
Published by Verb, 2013, pp. 111

This small collection of poetry was a pleasant summer surprise, with its charming covers and intriguing content, arousing readers' curiosity and drawing them into its swirling dance. The Dance of Life consists of twenty-four dances, or twenty-four dialogues, where one of the speakers is always Life itself, and the other speakers are people representing certain professions, periods of life or even human weaknesses. Life initiates the dialogues and invites people to dance: To this dance, I invite all who have been given a human soul to bear. The first dialogue partner is a child, followed by a banker, a doctor, a mayor, an informer, a teacher, an elderly person, a suicide and others, concluding with a seller of air and a midwife. The circle is complete: the midwife stands at the beginning of a new life, and the next partner could again be a child, perhaps in some other book.

The Dance of Death was a recurrent theme in the art and literature of the late Middle Ages. For the people of that time, Death was a personified figure, the Grim Reaper, who acted with democratic persistence and in front of whom both a pauper and a king were similarly helpless. But naturally people did not think only about death. Life was short and its pleasures had to be enjoyed as much and as quickly as possible (to be assured of this, read the verses of Carmina burana).
Kareva's and Rooste's dance of life was, undoubtedly, inspired by Bernt Notke's “Dance of Death” (painted in the late 15th century). The authors do not try to slip into the mental world of the people of the past; the time of their Life embodies a different knowledge: However, they all are humans, and each of them has got their own slice of a pie to eat.
Compared with the Death of the Dance of Death, the Life of the Dance of Life is tolerant, but also didactic and even moralising: having seen it all, it knows that there is no happy ending. The authors of Carmina burana knew this too. Their texts did not try to deny fear, but balanced it with some healthy moralising and satire.
The dancers of the Kareva-Rooste Dance of Life are chaste and moderate people whose brains never lose control and whose dance never gets frantic. The teachings uttered by Life are witty and contain practical life philosophy. However, considering the fact that both of the authors are leading figures of their generation, whose forms of expression have never been particularly reserved, we would have expected that this vessel of exquisite form would have been filled with some stronger beverage, producing in readers a whirling after-effect.
The contributions of each author are mysteriously unspecified. Sometimes it feels like Kareva is fulfilling the role of Life, but at other moments she is totally unrecognisable. Rooste's seems to be the polite and more restricted voice.
The book is made unique by its illustrations, showing fragments of a needlepoint blanket. The story of the embroiderer can be read on the last page of the book.
The blanket was given to a shivering young girl in a refugee camp in post-war Germany by an American soldier. The blanket was ugly and the girl started to embroider it with patterns from Estonian folk costumes. Working sporadically, it took her about 20 years and a move to the other side of the world to finish the work and cover all of the blanket with embroidery. The blanket now resides in the Estonian National Museum. Isn't this story also a fragment of the Dance of Life?

Text by Rutt Hinrikus

First appeared in

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