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||Iivo Härkönen (1882-1941)|
Finnish writer, journalist, teacher, and an advocate of Karelian culture, who collected from the villages of the country's easternmost province old folk poetry. Iivo Härkönen was the secretary of the Union of Finnish Writers from 1920 until his death.
Iivo Härkönen was born in Suistamo into an old family of
traditional rune singers. His grandfather and grandmother performed at
the first rune festivals in Sortavala in 1896. Among other famous names
were Jehkin Iivana and Läskelän Iivana, who both played the traditional
Finnish harp, kantele. At school Härkönen discovered the
joy of books. He devoured fairy tales, and stories about great explorers
such as Livingstone and Nordenskiöld. From the school library, he borrowed books by J.L. Runeberg, Kaarlo Kramsu, and
After finishing elementary school, Härkönen worked as a shop assistant and then during the summers as a lumberjack, floating logs down the river. Härkönen's own attempts in writing started in the late 1890s. His first short stories, 'Poroukko' and 'Laatokka,' were published in the magazine Nuori Karjala. At that time his favorite writer was Alphonse Daudet, but he also read works from Turgenev, Sienkiewicz, Heine, Cervantes, and Dante. In 1900, Härkönen met professor Kaarle Krohn, who encouraged him in his literary aspirations; this became a turning point in his life. Following Krohn's advice, he went to collect poems from his native region for the the Finnish Literature Association. While travelling in Aunus, he developed a deep affection for folklore.
In 1898-1899 Härkönen studied as a teacher at Sortavala seminar and
graduated in 1906. Between the years Härkönen contributed to local
papers poems and stories and taught in Karelia at small schools. In
1904, he was accused of spreading propaganda and dismissed from the
seminar. From 1907 until 1918, Härkönen was employed a teacher in
Helsinki. Occasionally he worked a journalist, editing Savon Sanomat (1912-13) and Karjalan lehti (1913-14). From 1917 until his resignation in 1939, he edited the magazine Karjalaisten Sanomat (later Toukomies, 1925-1935; Viena-Aunus, 1935-1944), published by the
Karelian Culture Association.
Embracing the ideals of national romanticism, Härkönen was active in several associations advocating "Karelianism," an idealistic trend born in the 1890s, which searched the Finnish cultural heritage from Karelia. The world of the Kalevala inspired painters (such as Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Hugo Simberg, and Pekka Halonen), composers (Jean Sibelius, Robert Kajanus, Leevi Madetoja) and writers (Eino Leino, Juhani Aho). In 1917, Eino Leino established with Härkönen, Maria Jotuni, Joel Lehtonen, Viljo Kojo and other writers an association called 'Kirjallinen työ,' which emphasized the equal relationship between manual and intellectual workers. The association joined in 1920 the Union of Finnish Writers.
"Tämänlaatuinen oli runonlaulaja: Mies, jonka parta ja hius jo ovat harmahtavat, jonka katse on vakavanlainen, jonka jalka ei enää hypähtele. Mies, joka ei liikoja pakise, ei turhille naura, joka vain sanan harkitun ja viisaan virkkaa. Kotioloissa hän käy joko vyöllä vyötetyssä rohdinpaidassa tai jauhonkarvaisessa sarkaviitassa; kotoisia askareita ovat hänellä verkonkudonta, havunhakkuu, kalanpyytö ja linnustamassakäynti, – paitsi tietysti syysiltaisia ja talviaamuisia laulunhyräilyjä verkkopöydän ääressä –; juhlina ja vieraissa ollessaan hän on puettuna sinervään tai vihertävään kauhtanaan, "haljakkaan." Vieraisilla hän ylen ahkerasti käy ja "praasniekoissa" ainainen oleilija on." (from the magazine Valvoja, 1909)
From 1906 to 1938, Härkönen served as the secretary of the
Karelian Culture Association (Karjalan Sivistysseura). Between the
years 1918 and 1922, he was a civil servant with a governmental
organization dealing with East Karelian affairs, and then worked for a
few years with the ministry of education. For several decades, Härkönen contributed to the newspaper Laatokka,
sometimes under the pseudonyms of "Iivo", "Tata", and "Häräkeh". His
last article, written in Karelian language, appeared in 1939.
Härkönen supported the annexation of East Karelia (Russian Karelia) to the Finnish state, but opposing
the Finnicization programmes of IKL (Patriotic People's Movement) and
the Academic Karelia Society (AKS), Härkönen spoke for developing
Karelian language and culture on its own terms.
Following the publication of Juhani Aho's novel Juha
(1911), a group of Viena Karelians were offended by its portrayal of
the travelling salesman Shemeikka (an old Karelian surname), who is
generalized as a typical Karelian man. Shemeikka, an irresponsible
seducer, who owns a harem of slave-mistresses, was seen to strengthen
negative attitudes towards Karelians. On behalf of the group, Härkönen
wrote an open letter to Juhani Aho, which appeared in Uusi Suometar.
Härkönen pointed out mistakes in the book, and complained of the
misleading image of the kindred people. In his reply Aho argued that
the book was a work of fiction and dismissed the critique as "childish
As a writer Härkönen started his career in 1904 with music
plays. He then wrote several books depicting his native region. O.A.
Kallio considered in his study Uudempi suomalainen kirjallisuus II (1929) these early efforts uneven, and saw his prose more assuring than his poems written in florid style. Härkönen edited Karjalan kirja (1909-10, new edition 1932) and in 1935 appeared his humorous novel Juhlahattu. Härkönen also published poems in the metre of the Kalevala.
Härkönen's other works include depictions of his own journeys when he was collecting traditional folk poetry, Runonlaulaja (1926) and Runon hirveä hiihtämässä (1928). Some of his poems reflect his Orthodox background as 'Kirkko vieraalla maalla,' written in Italy in 1910-11, and 'Atenogenesin iltaveisu.' Härkönen traveled widely in Europe, but during the summer months he retired to his native village in Suistamo.
Härkönen was married twice, first to Ida Lindhom (1905-1919), a stationer from Porvoo. For a long time, Ida had been a friend of the author Joel Lehtonen; the relationship was not serious. After divorce he married in 1920 Valborg Sarlin. Suomen Termopylai (1940), Härkönen's last collection of poems, was born during the Winter War (1939), when the Red Army attacked Finland. 'In 'Karjalan vartiolla' he compares Karelia to Thermopylae, the last stand of the Spartans. For Härkönen Karelia was the guardian of the fatherland at the border, who never can sleep. "Ei nukkua voi, levon tunne ei, kulkua ajan / hän, jonk' isänmaa pani vartiovuorelle rajan." Härkönen died in Helsinki on August 28, 1941, two months after the outbreak of the Continuation war between Finland and the Soviet Union. Martti Haavio wrote in his diary, that Härkönen would have been happy on hearing the news that the Finnish troops reconquered Suistamo in July 1941.
For further reading: 'Kuinka jouduin kynänkäytön alalle' by Iivi Härkönen, in Kuinka meistä tuli kirjailijoita (1916) Aleksis Kivestä Saima Harmajaan, ed. by Albin Ahonen, Martti Haavio, V.I. Mikkonen (1943); Suomen sana, Vol. 8, ed. by Yrjö A. Jäntti (1964); Iivo Härkönen: karjalainen heimomies, eds. Voitto Setälä, Hannes Sihvo and Senni Timonen (1983); Otavan kirjallisuustieto, eds. Risto Rantala and Kaarina Turtia (1990); Elettyä elämää Laatokan-Karjalassa by Esa Härkönen (1994); Suomen kirjallisuushistoria 2, ed. by Lea Rojola (1999); Myö karjalaizet - Karelskspråkiga inslag i tidningen Laatokka under 1920- och 1930-talen by Mikael Björk (2011)