Hans Kes writes his lament


The Great Northern War thoroughly devastated Tartu. In 1704, Russians captured the town after laying siege on it for a month and a half, during which the town was seriously damaged. In 1708, czar Peter I began to fear that Karl XII will invade Russia via Livonia and reconquer Ingria and St. Petersbug, which was being built at that time. As Tartu and Narva had been greatly damaged during the war, Peter thought that it is be impossible to hold on to them, and ordered the towns to be destroyed. Tartu was razed to the ground: townsfolk was deported to Russia, and buildings, especially the defense structures, were blown up.

This came as a big shock to the locals. It is possible that Hans was an eyewitness to the destruction, and decided to write his lament. It is written in Southern Estonian, consisting of 32 stanzas and is divided into three parts. The first part describes Tartu's prosperity during the peace era; second depicts its destruction, and in the third part, Hans rebukes the townsfolk of Tartu, whose sins brought the wrath of God upon the town. In the final stanza, Hans calls for the rest of the towns (Tallinn, Pärnu and Riga) to repent, and thus avoid the fate of Tartu.

The text written by Hans himself has not preserved, but the lament was written to the register of Tartu's St. Johns church in 1714. It was recorded by the pastor of St. John's Church, Johann Heinrich Grotjahn, who had returned to Tartu. Bits and pieces of the lament were printed in 1894, when Villem Reiman published them in the II paper of Estonian Students Society. First publishing of the full text of the lament was in 1902, by Friedrich Bienemann Jr., who added it to his book „Die Katastrophe der Stadt Dorpat während des Nordischen Krieges" ("The Catastrophy of Tartu During the Great Northern War").

Source: Eesti ajalugu elulugudes: 101 tähtsat eestlast, lk-d 36-37.