Vizma Velsevica

Vizma Belsevica

Latvian Poet, 74

Vizma Belsevica, a Latvian poet renowned for her love of freedom, died at her home in Riga, Latvia on Aug. 6. She was 74. Often thought of as the nation’s conscience, she had been considered for a Nobel Prize in recent years.

Her poems attracted the ire of the Soviet authorities because she did not address condoned subjects or write in the official style of Soviet Realism.

Ms. Belsevica was born in Riga in 1931, studied literature at the Gorky Institute in Moscow and published her first collection of poetry in 1955. Her literary work was her primary means of support. In 1969, after writing poems about the subjugation of Latvia in the thirteenth century, she was banned from publishing her poems and stories and was forced to turn to full-time translating. She has translated numerous English, American, Russian and Ukrainian authors, both classic and contemporary.

Her most important translations include poems by Elizabeth Bishop; fiction by Ernest Hemingway and Shakespeare's Macbeth, as well as translations from the Ukrainian Mikola Vingranovsky, the Russian Marina Tsvetayeva and Alexander Pushkin, and the Swede Tomas Transtromer. The Latvian society, however, is most grateful for Winnie-the-Pooh, Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, Doctor Dolittle and other who speak with Latvian children in her voice.

Belsevica's works include seven books of poetry, two collections of short stories and the semi-autobiographical trilogy "Bille". Her works have been translated in about 40 languages; most notable is her tremendous success in Sweden, where nine of her books have been published and she has become an integral part of the Swedish literary scene since 1980s.