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Latvia: Daina

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Explore the Craft of Writing Poetry
Slavic Verse

Latvia: in the north on the Baltic Sea is bordered by Estonia, Lithuania, Russia and Belarus but shares its culture most with Lithuania and Estonia. The poetry of the land dates back to the 10th century in lyrical folk verse known as Dainas which are proudly preserved. One of the more popular 19th century Latvian poets is Janus Rainus who is known for introducing the Rainis Sonnet.

The Daina is the root of Latvian and Lithuanian poetry that dates back to the 10th century. "To the Latvian the Dainas are more than a literary tradition. They are the very embodiment of his cultural heritage, left by forefathers whom history had denied other, more tangible forms of expression." Vīķis-Freibergs, folklorist, 1975, later President of Latvia. Krisjanis Barons, Latvian poet and philosopher (1835-1923) who was known for his labors in collecting and classifying Dainas by the thousands.

The Daina conserves and archives the Latvian culture. It documents the Latvian respect for nature, family and a strong work ethic. The cycle of life, birth-marriage- death (including the associated rituals) is a common thread. According to Wikipedia Encyclopedia, native mythology, pre-Christian deities (sun goddess Saule, moon god Meness) often appear in Dainas but usually no legendary heroes appear. The subject is anything and everything of everyday life. It is intrinsically connected to the time and place observed.

Like most folk verse it began with an oral tradition. The verse form is similar to the haiku in that the small stand alone poem vividly captures a moment. However since the Latvians were prone to sing the verse, it is common to find Dainas strung together as stanzas of a song. Still each stanza stands alone.

The elements of the Daina are:

  1. a single quatrain.
  2. metered, dactylic or trochaic tetrameter. All lines usually end on unstressed syllables.
  3. unrhymed though alliteration and rhyme can naturally appear.
    Episode by Judi Van Gorder

    Tremors rack her little body.
    Sisters softly sing a love song,
    Mommy gently rubs her tummy,
    lulling home the cherished baby.


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