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by Bamber Gascoigne

Aaro Hellaakoski (1893-1952) - surname originally Helaakoski


Poet, Ph.D. (in geology), pioneer of modernism in literature in Finland. Aaro Hellaakoski showed new directions for poetry with his meters that differed from the norm. He published some twelve collections, but ceased writing poetry from the late 1920s to 1940, concentrating during those years to teaching and researching.
"A race of sucklers, with gnashing jaws,
you finished the tale of the dinosaurus,
but you'll never rise above the earth
as we: you're dust and soil and dearth,
an organised pack with famished maws. -
Maybe you'll rise from your mud one day.
How much, it's up to you say."

(from 'The Last Dinosaur,' translated by Herbert Lomas, in A Way to Measure Time, edited by Bo Carpelan, Veijo Meri, Matti Suurpää, 1992)

Aaro Hellaakoski was born in Oulu, the first son of Antti Rietrikki Helaakoski, a geography teacher and later Ph.D., and Aina Maria (Lindman) Helaakoski. Because of his harelip, he was mocked by other children, and at home his relationship with his stern father was strained. Hellaakoski studied in Oulu and Turku. Upon graduting he moved to Helsinki, where he added one "l" to his name, thus it became Hellaakoski. In 1919 he received his M.A.from the University of Helsinki. At that time his relationship with his father had become better – they both loved nature and science, and he ofted visited his family, which had moved to Tampere.

After the conquest of Tampere during the Civil War (1917-18), Hellaakoski joined the White Army. He did not serve in the front but as a guard in a prison. The treatment of Red prisoners after the war shocked Hellaakoski. However, the poem 'Rajasuutari' in Me kaksi (1920, We two), about a Red cobbler executed by a firing squad, closes with the uncompromising words: "Se askel, se jyrkin, se kammottaahan: / Tilis tee! Ypöyksinäs outoon maahan!" (That step, the steepest, it horrifies: / Make your will! Alone you go to the strange land!)

Hellaakoski was married to Lempi Aaltonen, a teacher, the sculptor Wäinö Aaltonen's sister. They had met in 1921 and Hellaakoski fell immediately in love with the beautiful, dark, intelligent woman. Hellaakoski gave her his new book, Elegiasta oodiin (1921, From elegy to ode), which included some strong love poems. In a poem from 1921, inspired by Lempi and starting with the words "You are mine," he wrote: "Tuta saata: joku kestävä voima / käy hyökyen ylitses – / olet kaipuuni kummitsoima / kunkin viekin askeles". Hellaakoski compared his passion to waves surging over her. Lempi Aaltonen first rejected Hellaakoski but eventually in 1924 she accepted his proposal. His temperament frightened her – "Sharp teeth and hard mouth / I have always had," Hellaakoski once wrote. The writer Joel Lehtonen witnessed the wedding. According to a story, after the priest had asked "do you want...", Hellaakoski had answered "yes" so loud, that the priest took a few frightened steps backwards.

In Helsinki Hellaakoski associated with artists, the writer Viljo Kojo, and the young sculptor Wäinö Aaltonen, his a kindred spirit in his classical, pure expression. Aaltonen, who illustrated Hellaakoski's poems, mad in 1919 a bronze portrait of his friend. In 1938 they traveld in Italy and Hellaakoski recorded his impression in the article 'Italia Bella'.

Runoja (1916, Poems), Hellaakoski's first collection of poems, satirized bourgeois mentality and empty merriments. The uneven collection received poor reviews – Eino Leino dismissed it as immature both in content and form – but it contained the poem 'Conceptio artis,' in which Hellaakoski formulated his esthetic principle: "Naked is how I want you, / unadorned unpainted, / by others' cheap / gifts untainted." (translated by Keith Bosley, in Skating on the Sea. Poetry from Finland, edited and translated by Keith Bosley, 1999)

In Nimettömiä lauluja (1918, Nameless songs) and Me kaksi satirical tones alternated with feelings on loneliness; the latter received a good review by Rafael Koskimies in the magazine Aika. The 1920s an intensely creative period for Hellaakoski, who also tried his hand at watercolors. He published three collections of poems, studies of the artists Tyko Sallinen and Wäinö Aaltonen, and a collection of short stories, Iloinen yllätys (1927). V.A. Koskenniemi, the leading writer between the two world wars and the editor of Aika, admired Hellaakoski's work, seeing him as a kindred spirit. After Hellaakoski attacked Eero Järnefelt and Maila Talvio in an article published in Iltalehti, Koskenniemi labelled Hellaakoski's critic as literary hysteria, connected with stupidity and delusions of grandeur.

                     s        s       s       s       s       
                    elämä       a        a      häipyy
                              t        t        t        t        t
                               a        a       a       a       a
                        a      a         a       a       a       a
                                   kivinen katu
                              soi        soi       soi
(from 'Sade,' in Jääpeili, 1928)

Poetry was Hellaakoski's true calling, but he once tried his hand as a novelist with Suljettujen ovien takana (1923, Behind closed doors), a developmental novel. With Jääpeili (1928, The ice mirror) Hellaakoski reached the highest point of his early period. Its innovative pictorial typography in 'Sade' (rain) and 'Dolce far niente' ("the sweetness of doing nothing") recalled Guillaume Apollinaire's Calligrammes (1918). Hellaakoski's experimentation remained an unique effort until the 1960s. Other sources of inspiration were Cubism and the Italian poet F.T. Marinetti (1876-1944), writer of Manifeste du futurisme (1912). Hellaakoski's enthusiasm about speeding trains comes to the foreground in 'Keväinen junamatka' ('a train journey in the spring'), which had also connections with the youthful machine romanticism of Mika Waltari and Olavi Paavolainen. Their collection of poems, Valtatiet, came out in the same year. However, it was not the urban landscape but nature that stimulated Hellaakoski's imagination.

Jääpeili included Hellaakoski's famous 'Hauen laulu' (The Pike's Song): "Kosteasta kodostaan / nous hauki puuhun laulamaan /" (From his hole so wet and drenching / a pike rose up to tree to sing). (Translated by Leevi Lehto, in Lake Onega and Other Poems, 2017, p. 144) Hellaakoski himself considered the poem his best achievement; its imagery of creativity and inspiration has been a subject of many interpretations.

Poems such as 'Uni' (dream), 'Vieras' (guest), 'Outo kieli' (strange language), and 'Tyranni' (tyrant), recorded intime moments from Hellaakoski's family life, his happiness and responsibility as a father. "Rakas silmä ummistui, / hymyyn huuli unohtui. / Ken on, ken on vierelläni / hengittäin mun henkeäni?" (from 'Vieras') Curiously, there is no poem entitled "Jääpeili" and no reference to it in the whole collection. Pentti Saarikoski, the leading poet of his generation, translated the puzzling love piece 'Niin pieniksi' (how tiny) into German to his lover Sarah Kirsch. Most likely this poem did not deal with human beings at all but made a note about the sexual intercourse of insects.

Lauri Viljanen wrote in his review of the book in Helsingin Sanomat, that Hellaakoski's poetry is defined by personal integrity – he is always fighting back with big and small lies, outside and inside of him, always on trial with himself. After Jääpeili, which sold poorly, he did not publish collections for over 12 years. Moreover, Viljo Tarkiainen did not mention Hellaakoski's name in his history of Finland's literature (Suomalaisen kirjallisuuden historia), published by Otava in 1934.

From 1925 to 1927 Hellaakoski worked as a teacher at a lycée (Helsingin suomalainen yhteislyseo), and then became a teacher at Helsingin suomalainen tyttölyseo (later Tyttönormaalilyseo), working there until 1952. Hellaakoski received his Ph.D. in geology in 1929, and from 1930 to 1949 he was a lecturer at the University of Helsinki. In the 1930s Hellaakoski did not publish poetry, but concentrated on teaching and scientific work. His first new collection, the patriotic Vartiossa (1941, On guard) emerged from a spiritual crisis, which started his second creative period. Hellaakoski's angry reply to Koskenniemi's negative review in Valvoja-Aika was not published.

Before the Winter War (1939-40) Hellaakoski had thought that the edition of his selected poems would be a "gravestone for a living body," but the war broke his mental dams. He read Fröding, Rilke, Goethe, and Verlaine and felt that he still had someting to say as a poet. Uusi runo (1943) – the title meaning "new poem" – was written at nights during the Continuation War. Other major works from this later period include Huojuvat keulat (1946, The swaying prows) and Sarjoja (1952, Suites), a cycle of alternating long and short verses about nature and travellers there.

After the war, Hellaakoski joined the leftist Kiila (wedge) group, but remained critical and independent on its politics. Koskenniemi, who had supported the German cause and whose anti-Communist stand was well-known, called him as a turncoat opportunist. Kiila was founded in the 1930s. Its members, such as Viljo Kajava and Arvo Turtiainen, favored free verse and were more or less Marxist. For a period, Hellaakoski served as chief editor of the literary periodical Näköala, founded in 1949. Hellaakoski died of cancer on November 23, 1952 in Helsinki. By an accident his novel manuscript Raskas-Matti was burned with his own selection of disposable writings.

Jos on sinua
niin kuin minua
kiskottu kahtaalle, uuvuksiin,
tietänet senkin:
alati uudestisynnyttiin.

(from 'Pientä kokoa,' in the collection Uusi runo, 1943)

"Hellaakoski was well aware of the newest artistic trends and demanded perfection of himself," the writer and literary critic Markku Envall has said. ('The Period of Independence I, 1917-1960' by Markku Envall, in A History of Finland's Literature, edited by George C. Schoolfiel, 1998, p. 155) As a poet Hellaakoski blended traditional and modern poetic expression by following the old end rhyme form but using colloquail language. He strove for a personal, powerful poetry, while also seeking spiritual expression.  Hellaakoski's first period is characterized by revolt against empty traditions and an assault on the bourgeoisie conformity; in his latter period the poet found his inspiration in the pantheistic acceptance of the unity of man and the world. But for a former image breaker resignation was not easily: "Kapinoinut ja kiistellyt / olenhan. Siinä on syyni. / On niin vaikea olla nyt / alistuvainen ja tyyni." (from 'Suolaa' in Hiljaisuus, 1949)

Human aspirations Hellaakoski set against long natural cycles, explaining in his essay Runon historiaa (1964, A history of poetry) that as a geologist he was used to measure time in millions of years. "Enhän geologina osaa katsoa nykyhetkeä ylen likinäköisesti; joskohta aikayksikköni pyrkivät väkisin olemaan kymmeniätuhansia ja miljoonia vuosia. Viisaimmilla vasemmistolaisilla välähtää joskus samallaisia mittalukuja, ja silloin me nyökäytämme toisillemme." (from Runon historiaa; written in 1946-47) In the background of several of his poems was the nature of Taipalsaari in the Southern Finland region, where Hellaakoski spent his summers.

Besides poems and geographical papers, Hellaakoski published essays, short stories and aphorisms. He was an amateur painter, but destroyed most of his works, sparing only some watercolors. Between 1921 and 1923 he made some thirty watercolor paintings. Hellaakoski was familiar with Expressionism, Cubism, and theories of Futurism, which also influenced his literary work. Niinkuin minä näin (1959, The way I saw it) was Hellaakoski's biography of the expressionist artist Tyko Sallinen.

For further reading: Aaro Hellaakoski. Ihminen ja runoilija by Unto Kupiainen (1953); Olen, enkä ole. Minuus ja oleminen Aaro Hellaakosken runoudessa by Kaisa Kantola (1972); A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); 'Nuori Hellaakoski' by Eino S. Repo in Runot by A. Hellaakoski (1980); 'Runoilija ja tiedemies: Aaro Hellaakoski' by Anto Leikola in Kansallisgalleria, Vol. 4, ed. by Allan Tiitta (1996); 'Aaro & Lempi Hellaakoski: Tulen luo, tulen luo,' in Suurin on rakkaus by Kaija Valkonen (1997); A History of Finland's Literature, ed. by George C. Schoolfield (1998); 'Hellaakoski, Aaro' by Raija Majamaa, in Suomen kansallisbiografia 3, ed. by Matti Klinge (2004); 'Aaro Hellaakoski: Niin pieniksi,' in Pieni runouden asiahakemisto by Petri Liukkonen (2004); Över språkets gränser: en presentation av diktaren Aaro Hellaakoski by Emelie Enckell 2008); Runoilija latomossa: geneettinen tutkimus Aaro Hellaakosken Jääpeilistä by Veijo Pulkkinen (2017) - Note: Wäinö Aaltonen used Hellaakoski's facial features in his soldier's monument (1920-21) in Savonlinna and also Aaro and Lempi Hellaakoski in his Aleksis Kivi monument in Tampere.  Futurism: See Marinetti, Mayakovsky, Apollinaire, Wyndham Lewis

Selected works:

  • Runoja, 1916 [Poems]
  • Nimettömiä lauluja, 1918 [Nameless songs]
  • Erdschlipfe in Südwest-Finnland, 1920
  • Me kaksi: runoelma, 1920 (We two; 2nd, enlarged edition in 1942)
  • T.K. Sallinen: utkielma, 1921
  • Elegiasta oodiin: runoja, 1921 [From elegy to ode]
  • Suursaimaa, 1922
  • Suljettujen ovien takana: romaani, 1923 [Behind closed doors]
  • Maininki ja vaahtopää: runoja, 1924
  • Iloinen yllätys: novelleja, 1927
  • Jääpeili: runoja, 1928 [The ice mirror]
  • Puulan järviryhmän kehityshistoria, 1928
  • On the Transportation of Materials in the Esker of Laitila, 1930
  • Die Eisstauseen des Saimaa-Gebietes, 1934
  • Altes des Vuoksi, 1936
  • Kuvan käytöstä oppikoulun maantiedon opetuksessa, 1936
  • Über das Vuoksi-Delta in Jääski, 1938
  • Mannerjäätikön liikuntasuunnista Pohjanmaan rannikolla ja Tampereen ympäristössä, 1940
  • Zur Tiefenkarte des Saimaa-Sees, 1940
  • Valitut runot, 1940 (foreword by Anna-Maria Tallgren)
  • Vartiossa  runoja sodan vuosilta, 1943 [On guard]
  • Uusi runo, 1943 [New poem]
  • Huojuvat keulat: runoa, 1946 [The swaying prows]
  • Runot, 1947
  • Hiljaisuus, 1949 [Silence]
  • Kuuntelua: esseitä teoksista ja tekijöistä, 1950
  • Runon vuosikymmenet: valikoima suomalaista runoutta vuosilta 1897, 1947, 1950 (editor, with Anna-Maria Tallgren)
  • Sarjoja, 1952 [Suites]
  • Huomenna seestyvää: runoja, 1953 [Clearing tomorrow]
  • Lumipalloja: afrosimeja, 1955 [Snowballs]
  • Valikoima runoja, 1958
  • Niinkuin minä näin, 1959 [The way I saw it]
  • Runoja, 1963 (edited by Maunu Niinistö)
  • Runon historiaa, 1964 (introduction by Kaarlo Marjanen)
  • Runot 1980 (fifth edition)
  • Runot 1916-1928, 1997
  • Över språkets gränser: en presentation av diktaren Aaro Hellaakoski, 2009 (translated by Emelie Enckell)

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