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||Lauri Pohjanpää (1889-1962) - surname until 1906 Nordqvist|
Prolific Finnish poet, theologian, best known for his fable poems. Between 1910 and 1960, Pohjanpää published over fifty works, collections of poems, memoirs, novels, religious books, plays, short stories, essays, and hymns. He also assisted the writer Juhani Aho with his book Kuvia ja kuvitelmia Suomen historiasta (1915). Pohjanpää's poems show the influence of Eino Leino, Heinrich Heine, and V.A. Koskenniemi.
Kaksi vanhaa, vanhaa varista
Ruskea on rinta kaislikon,
Lauri Pohjanpää was born Lauri Nordqvist in Helsinki, the son
of Kaarle Henrik, a master
tailor, and Iida Wilhelmina Kourlaa. The
change of the family name from the Swedish origin into Finnish
"Pohjanpää" was a result of Johannes Linnankoski's
national campaign. As a small businessman Pohjanpää's father never had
a great success; originally he had planned to become a missionary.
His early years Pohjanpää spent in Helsinki, where his father had a tailor's shop in the middle of the city, at Aleksanterinkatu steet. When Pohjanpää was nine, the family moved to Tampere. Pohjanpää's friends at the secondary school included the future Nobel writer F.E. Sillanpää, who later dedicated to Pohjanpää one of his short stories, 'Rippi' (1928).
While still at school, Pohjanpää began to write poems. He studied aesthetics and literature at the University of Helsinki, receiving his M.A. in 1911. Among his fellow students was Juhani Siljo (1888-1918) – they both debuted as poets in 1910: Pohjanpää published Mielialoja, and Siljo his collection Runoja. Mielialoja attracted the attention of the composer Oscar Merikanto, whose song 'Haudoilta" was based on Pohjanpää's poem. Siljo and Pohjanpää examined religious themes in their works, especially death, but for Siljo poetry meant serious self-examination – Pohjanpää's touch was lighter and his Christian world view is marked with optimism.
In autumn of 1912 Pohjanpää studied literature in Paris. He
worked in the 1910s as a journalist, writing for Uusi Suometar (1913,
1915). From 1913 to 1915 he was the director of Hartola folk high
During the Finnish Civil War (1917-18) he joined the White Guards.
Pohjanpää's observations of the nature combined with
reflections marked the poetry collection Ristiritari
(1920, The crusader),
which some of the lyrics come near hymns and prayers. In the title work
a crusader sees Jerusalem after a long journey, but realizes that he
has come only to the half-way. Pohjanpää had abandoned politics after
the Civil War, but some poems arose from the spirit of the times: "Kaks
kalpaa yllä on Karjalan. / Ne ei lepy – ne sotaa soittavat! / Sinä
seisot Euroopan! / Vain kuolla voit tai voittaa! (from 'Laulu Karjalalle,' 1924)
From 1917 Pohjanpää worked as a teacher at a coeducational
school in Helsinki (Helsingin Suomalainen Yhteiskoulu). In 1920 he
married Arla Augusta Rossander, the daughter of a Lutheran minister.
After theological studies, Pohjanpää
was ordained as a minister in 1925 – it was what his brother had wanted
to do before his death. Pohjanpää served subsequently in several
ecclesiastical offices and was among others the secretary of the hymn
book committee (1922-23) and committee's regular expert (1929-37). In
1935, his play Savonarola was
staged at the Finnish National Theatre.
Both Pohjanpää's poems and religious essays dealt with issues that are universal and timeless, but poems have better survived the test of time. His most productive period was in the 1920s, when he published several collections of poems, including his best-known work Metsän satuja (1924). It combined elements form Finnish folk tales with themes from international fable tradition, familiar from the works of Aesop, Jean de La Fontaine and Krylov. In his animal fables Pohjanpää had often a moral or even didactic message – it is better to be poor than rich: "Tämä rikkaan osa, se on nolo ja polo / Oli parempi köyhänä olo!" In the poem 'Yksimielisyys on voimaa' Pohjanpää mocked Socialist rhetoric – the party conference of wolves wants to communalize laziness and ends in fight about the bear's honey.
One of Pohjanpää's most popular pieces, 'Syksy' (The Autumn), was set to music by the composer Heikki Sarmanto. The much anthologized poem, which depicts two old crows, has been highly popular in elementary schools and poetry readings for decades. The crows sit silently on a fence, the autumn rain is drizzling, the crows are wet, and when it is getting dark, the other wakes up, prepares for a flight, and his companion says: 'It was nice to meet and chat, welcome to a visit again.' The lyrics have also been translated into English by the American poet Aina Swan Cutler.
Pohjanpää was socially active and a member of several boards and councils, including the board of the Finnish Writers' Association. He traveled in Russia, Estonia, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, and France. The family friends included Edwin Linkomies, Prime Minister of Finland during the Continuation war. Throughout his life, religion was for Pohjanpää not a matter of thought or action, but a feeling of God's presence. In the 1940s, he asked in a poem, what is something that last forever, and concluded that it is the message of the cross, and the mercy of God.
Pohjanpää died on July 2, 1962 in Helsinki. Pohjanpää's
selected poems, Kaipuu ylipse ajan,
which came out in 1989, was edited by his daughter Helena Anhava. In
her memoir, Toimita talosi (2006),
she recalled that his father was always writing, but the door to his
study was half open and he was fully present with his family at dinner
time. Certain Russian classics, such as Tolstoy and Turgenev, he read
over and over again.
Pohjanpää's brother, the lawyer Arvi Pohjanpää (1887-1957), also published fiction. Selected works: Tuntureilta (1913); Revontulten alla (1916); Valo (1918, play); Jumalan käskynhaltija (1937, play); Keisarin käräjillä (1943, play). Arvi Pohjanpää's daughter Elina (1933-1996) became a popular film actress. She was married to the actor Pentti Siimes. Helena Anhava was married to the poet, critic and translator Tuomas Anhava (1927-2001).
For further reading: 'Lauri Pohjanpää' by Unto Kupiainen, in Suomalainen lyriikka, pp. 45-50 (1948); Aleksis Kivestä Martti Merenmaahan: suomalaisten kirjailijain elämäkertoja, toim. Martti Haavio (1954); 'Pohjanpää, Lauri', in Suomen kansallisbiografia, ed. by Matti Klinge, et al. (2006); Toimita talosi by Helena Anhava (2006) - Other writers of animal fables: Jean de La Fontaine, Ivan Krylov