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||August (Engelbrekt) Ahlqvist (1826-1889) - wrote also as A. Oksanen|
Poet and critic, linguist, the first professor of Finnish at the University of Helsinki, best remembered as the strongest critic of the Finnish national writer Aleksis Kivi and his masterpiece Seitsemän veljestä (1870, Seven Brothers). August Ahlqvist's harsh writings greatly contributed to Kivi's mental collapse and his early death at the age of 38. At his best, Ahlqvist himself was not an unskilful poet, although he admitted his inability to express finer feelings.
"Runoilijaks" ma ristittiin
August Ahlqvist was born in Kuopio, an illegitimate child of Maria Augustina Ahlqvist (1806-1886), a country servant, and Johan Mauritz Nordenstam (1802-82). Ahlqvist's father was a second lieutenant, who had later a distinguished career in the army and as a civil servant. He fought in wars in Turkey and Caucasia, returned to Finland in 1847, and was appointed in 1858 Vice-Chairman of the Senate's economic department. Nordenstam's position at that time corresponded to that of Prime Minister. He was appointed general in 1868. Ahlqvist never tried to hide his illegitimate background, but his father's position as one of the most influential figure's in the country helped him to overcome some obstacles. Due to his backgroung, Ahlqvist experienced in his youthall kinds of humiliations. At the age of 20 he swore revenge on behalf of his mother, who had brought up her four illegitimate children in difficult conditions without having much support from the society.
During the years in Kuopio, Ahlqvist began to contribute under the pseudonym A. Oksanen (old ortography: qvist = oksa; twig in English) to the magazine Saimaa. It was edited by J.V. Snellman, one of his early benefactors, who became a senator in 1863. Ahlqvist also made friends with Elias Lönnrot. From Johan Ludvig Runeberg, whom he idolized, Ahlqvist adopted romantic view of the hard working peasants, who represented everything that was healthy in Finnish tradition. In 'Finnish Sonnet' he wrote: "Old Väinämöinen could not have believed / that one among our singers now responds / to the great Sonnet, and within its bonds / sings what by heroes would be well received."
At the age of 16, Ahlqvist fell in love with Amanda Granit, but was coldly treated by her parents. Later Ahlqvist returned to his early love in a poem, in which he confessed the pain of the separation. In 1847, Ahlqvist founded with D.E.D. Europaeus and Paavo Tikkanen the newspaper Suometar. He received his M.A. from the University of Helsinki and in 1860 he became a Ph.D. A scholarship enabled him to travel in Estonia and in northern Russia and Siberia. Between the years 1856 and 1859 he studied Finno-Ugric languages in the areas of Volga and Ural. Ahlqvist also made later expedition journeys to these regions (1877, 1880).
In 1863, after Elias Lönnrot, Ahlqvist was appointed professor of Finnish language and literature at the University of Helsinki. In the promotion poem from 1869 he welcomed Finnish into the halls of academic research, equally as important as the great world languages: "Käy sisään vaan, sä Suomen runotarkin, / Nyt Suomen suureen oppisaliin." Ahlqvist edited in the early 1870s the linguistic and literary paper Kieletär. From 1884 to 1887 he was chancellor of the university. Ahlqvist died on November 20, 1889, in Helsinki. He was married to Marie Antoinette Fabritius (d. 1919) from 1861. Four of their six children died early, three of them during the scarlet fever epidemic of 1869.
As a novelist and poet Ahlqvist started his career in the 1840s. He followed in Snellman's footsteps, adopting European poetic metres and forms, chiefly Germanic, into the language. In his anxiety to transform Finnish into a cultural language, Ahlqvist idealized rigid literary norms. Consequently, he rejected with disgust Kivi's earthy novel Seitsemän veljestä.
In his handbook on Finnish prosody, Suomalainen runous-oppi kielelliseltä kannalta (1863), he
stated that where the word stress and length correspond are
metrically strongest, hence they must make their effect together. This work was influenced by Rudolp von Gottschall's Poetik: Die Dichtkunst und ihre Technik (1858). Among
his lyrical works published under the pseudonym A. Oksanen are the
"etnographic dream" Satu
(1847), in which his prediction that Finland
would one day be independent and united with her Finno-Ugric sisters managed to by-pass the censorship, and two
collections of poems, Säkeniä
(first volume in 1860, the
second, Säkeniä, toinen parvi,
in 1868). In these works he
attempted to adapt Finnish to several European meters. During the
interwar period, the poem 'Suomen valta' (The Finnish dominion) was
often cited by supporters of Greater Finland ideology, who also held a
strongly racialist views. Its line, "one mind, one language"
chrystallized the vision of a linguistically homogenized country, where
Finnish was the dominant language.
Ahlqvist wrote the first Finnish-language sonnet, 'Suomalainen sonetti' (1854) and the first Finnish-language poetic ballad, 'Koskenlaskijan morsiamet,' which was set to music by the composer Jean Sibelius. His scientific works include several studies of the Finnish language. He also published memoirs, the first travel book in Finnish, Muistelmia matkoilta Venäjällä (1859), studies about Kalevala, and translations from such writers as Runeberg, Schiller, and Moliére. Oksanen claimed that the Swedes had brought culture and civilisation to Finland, and in addition, he denied the originality of Russian culture. Even in his own time, his Runebergian aesthetic and elitist ideological doctrines did not respond to the contemporary political currents, especially to the challenge posed by Fennoman intellectuals, who argued that maybe Sweden owed a debt of gratitude to Finland and Finland one to Russia ('Commemoration of Swedish History of Finland' by Max Engman, in Transnationale Erinnerungsorte: Nord- und südeuropäische Perspektiven, ed. by Bernd Henningsen et al., 2009, p. 58) Eino Leino concluded in Suomalaisia kirjailijoita: pikakuvia (1909; 2nd ed. 1893) that at the core of Ahlqvist's patriotic poetry was the Finnish language, and nothing else.
Ei tainnut vanha Väinämöinen luulla,
Ei ustukaan käkömme mandelpuulla,
Suloinen kuulla kuitenkin tuo oisi,
As a literary critic Ahlqvist was uncompromising and querulous – he avoided sentimentality and did not much care what other people thought of his opinions. Often at odds with his contemporaries and well aware of his double nature, hard and sensitive, he wrote in 'Sydämeni asukkaat' /The dwellers of my heart): "Yks' perkele, / yks' enkeli / asuvat sydämessäni." (One devil, / one angel, / dwell in my heart.) There was always a thread of mercilessness and hatred in his aphorisms, too. He admired the satiric epigrams of the Roman poet Martial (Marcus Valerius Martialis), which he also modified, as in 'Eräälle Maecenatille' in Säkeniä (1898, fifth edition): "Maecenas olisit sinäkin, vaan kahta sä puutut: / Taidetta tunne et, etk' ole myös rahamies." The target of the poem was possibly Professor Fredrik Cygnaeus, a patron of Finnish artists ("you don't know art").
Ahlqvist published his first attacks on the novel Seitsemän veljestä in Swedish to gain more audience for his views. The first critic appeared in the magazine Finlands Allmänna Tidning in 1870 and the second in 1873, after Kivi's death. He did not accept the author's realism and dismissed the novel as ugly, raw, and boring. Kivi's humor was strange for his taste, and he considered the language too unpolished and offending.
These malicious writings did not rise Kivi's close friends,
among them Runeberg, to defend the author and his book. Alhqvist's
third article, in Finnish, was printed in 1874 in Kieletär.
the work "ridiculous and shameless". Kivi was dull and
boring, and according to Ahlqvist Kivi's description of life couldn't
be called artistic by any reasonable person. After Kivi's death
Ahlqvist published a mock poem, in which he called the author
an "incompetent scribbler and a mad drunk". In addition to Kivi,
Ahlqvist directed his satirical critique against A.W. Ingman, Yrjö
Koskinen, C.A. Gottlund, G.E. Eurén, and Rietrikki Polén.
For further reading: 'August Oksanen', Suomalaisia kirjailijoita: pikakuvia by Eino Leino (1909, 2nd. ed. 1893); in August Ahlqvist runoilijana, arvostelijana ja tyyliniekkana. 1. Runoilijana by Aukusti Simelius (1914); Aleksis Kivi aikalaistensa arvostelemana by J.V. Lehtonen (1931); Ankara puutarhuri by Ilmari Kohtamäki (1956); A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); Suomen kieli, suomen mieli. August Ahlqvist vaikuttajana, ed. Jaakko Anhava (1993); Skating on the Sea: Poetry from Finland, ed. and transl. by Keith Bosley (1997); 'Academic Poets' by Kai Laitinen, in A History of Finland's Literature, ed. George C. Schoolfield (1998); Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura: 1831-1892 by Irma Sulkunen (2004); Satiiri Suomessa by Sari Kivistö, H. K. Riikonen (2012); Suomen sillan kulkijoita: yhteyksiä yli Suomenlahden 1800-luvulla by Seppo Zetterberg (2015); 'Mitä eroavuudet voivat kertoa: Aleksis Kivi ja A. Oksanen runoilijoina' by Hannu Riikonen, in Joutsen: kotimaisen kirjallisuudentutkimuksen vuosikirja 3, Erikoisjulkaisuja 3 (2020).