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||(Frans) Uuno Kailas (1901 - 1933) - formerly Salonen. Pseudonyms: Unilukkari, U.K.|
Finnish poet and translator, one of the most popular poets of the period between the world wars. Kailas's life was a prototype of a poor, tragic poet, destined to die poor and at a young age. His work was marked with anguish and feelings of guilt due to all miseries in the world – Kailas saw himself as a suffering, dying fish caught in a net, unable to escape to freedom.
"He is being shot. He is the guilty man.
Uuno Kailas was born in Heinola into a farmer family. His mother, Olga (Honkapää) Salonen died when Uuno was two, after giving birth to twins; they did not survive. During the short marriage, she had already given birth to three sons, none of whom lived long. Her death broke the family. Eevert Kailanen (later Salonen, then Salomaa), his father, devoted himself to his bohemian way of life, he married again, and Kailas told his classmates in the secondary school that he was dead. Actually Eevert died in 1952 in poverty and nearly blind. Kailas grew up in his grandmother's, uncle's, and aunt's families. His grandmother, Maria Fredrika Juhontytär, was very religious and her Christian set of values influenced Kailas. For her Kailas later devoted one stanza in his poem 'Synnyinseutu' (1930, native place): "Näin samoin maassa maatuvan / myös mummon: laihan selän / ja uskolliset askeleet / ja kädet laihat, hyvät / ja poskikuopat syvät."
In 1919 Kailas participated in a military operation in Russian Aunus. During this operation, Kailas lost his close friend Bruno Schildt, whom he had persuaded to join the risky adventure. Kailas was not physically strong, and after endless, hard marching and poor supply he deserted his company, was caught and punished. In 1933 in his last letter to his friend, the writer Elsa Heporauta, Kailas wrote that he saw a dream of Bruno.
Kailas studied from 1920 to 1926 aesthetics and history of literature at the University of Helsinki. During this period, Kailas devoted himself more and more to writing. He published critics, translation works and contributed to the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat and the literary magazine Nuori Voima. In the 1920s Kailas came in contact with expressionism through the works he translated (see: Edith Södergran). The movement influenced his own poetry and he presented it for the wider public in the magazine Suomen Kuvalehti in 1923.
From start to beginning Kailas's writing was based more or less on self-inspection, his inner fears and obsessions. Kailas's debut as a poet with Tuuli ja tähkä (1922, The wind and the corn's ear). The somewhat akwkard collection did not gain critical success, but Kailas did not show his disappointment. "Poetry doesn't starve," he said under the pseudonym of "Defensor" in Suomen Kuvalehti. "In itself there is life, which it carries on its wings into the sky." From the writers and poets connected to the literary association Nuoren Voiman Liitto Kailas found kindred souls, among them Katri Vala. However, he did not join the poets who were enthusiastic about the urban, hectic life, speed, and machines – feelings of guilt, not joy, were more close to him, reflecting the other side of the thoughts of the post-war generation, after the traumatic experiences of the Civil War (1917-18). Kailas's second collection, Purjehtijat (1925, Sailors), shows the influence of German expressionism. In the title poem Kailas writes, "the depths below us lie like the jaws of a dragon / like the lap of the Atlantic – soon we sink." Both early works use Christian and mythological symbols, arising from his thoughts of death.
Kailas's erotic themes and praise of sensual pleasures images in Silmästä silmään (1926, From eye to eye) annoyed the conservative newspaper Kotimaa, edited by Martti Ruuth, professor of theology; the newspaper suggested that the poet be sued. In the love poem 'Pieni syntinen laulu' Kailas wrote: "My little delight, in my bed / you have been naked. / The memory of our sin in my song. / I do not deny: it is beautiful." Edwin Linkomies gave a good review on the collection in the influential magazine Valvoja-Aika. Linkomies compared Kailas's devoted attitude toward poetry to that of Juhani Siljo (1888-1918). One of Kailas's models was Baudelaire, whose poems he also included in the collection. Moreover, two years earlier Kailas had translated into Finnish Hindu love stories, Rakkauden korkea veisu, which was based on Francis William Bain's work. Bain claimed that he had transtated the tales from Sanskrit into English.
Kaarlo Sarkia (1902-1945), who tried to hide his homosexuality,
inspired Kailas's work. The two poets shared similar feelings of guilt
and loneliness, but their friendship cooled dramatically due to
Kailas's both tyrannical and slavish conduct with regard to Sarkia.
Other important writers for Kailas were Friedrich Nietzsche, Edith
Södergran, Walt Whitman, and Edgar Lee Masters. The macabre fascinated
him. Kailas had read Poe and Robert Louis Stevenson and for many years,
he planned to write a collection of horror stories.
Though Kailas was not a political writer, his poem 'Rajalla' (On the border), published in Uni ja kuolema (1931, Sleep and death), in perhaps the most cited expression of the Finnish nationalist spirit of his day. Like Kipling, Kailas saw that there is an unresolved antagonism between East and West, and Finland was the guardian station of Western culture on the Soviet border: "Raja railona aukeaa. / Edessä Aasia, Itä. / Takana Länttä ja Eurooppaa; / varjelen, vartija, sitä." ("Like a chasm runs the border" . . . ) Basically 'Rajalla' reflected Kailas's Manichean view of the world, but it also speaks of another kind of border: that which separates the living and the dead. As if in a séance, the "I" of the poem addresses the spirits of the forefathers, and promises to defend their land and precious heritage.
Between the years 1923 and 1925 Kailas's served at the Finnish Army. In 1926 he was employed a stylist at Suomen ilmoituskeskus (1926-27) and later he was as a subeditor at the magazine Kuluttajain Lehti (1927-28). In the literary group Tulenkantajat (The fire bearers), which declared "Art is holy. We serve it", Kailas was one of its leading poets. The name of the group, which soon dissolved, was derived from a brochure which appeared in 1924.
Kailas's great love was Lyyli Pajunen, who offered her home for him
in 1926. Their relationship ended partly because Kailas already showed
signs of increasing mental instability. Moreover, she had an abortion,
which shocked him; for Kailas it was unforgivable on her part. Deeply
depressed, he wrote the poem 'Poikani' (My son, in Paljain jaloin, 1928), which begins with the lines "My son – unborn / and only dreamed of – ".
Kailas was sexually inhibited and suffered from impotence – masturbation became for him a constant source of self-torturing thoughts. Lyyli Pajunen had also experienced a disappointment in her sexual life (see Uuno Kailas by Maunu Niinistö, 1956, p. 127, 133). However, Kalle Achté doesn't underline this side in Kailas's life in his psychoanalytical study Uuno Kailas - Runoilija psykiatrian silmin (2001), but connects, in general, tendency to depression with creative personality type, and emphasizes his traumatic childhood experiences and feeling of insecureness. Human destiny appeared to Kailas as a lonesome, futile journey through the desert in the poem 'Karavaani' (Caravan). Although he was perhaps the most admired poet along with V.A. Koskenniemi, Kailas felt that his devotion to his craft was a heavy burden.
"Elämä on kaunis. Siksi laula!
In 1929 Kailas went to hospital because of mental problems – he was
restless, brooded on suicide, and he suffered from a delusion of
persecution. Kailas had also contracted tuberculosis. Once he imagined
he saw his friend, the translator Yrjö Gustafson, who had drowned in
Paris a few days earlier, sitting in a restaurant. Kailas visited
Gustafson's mother, and begged her forgiveness on his knees. The
knowledge of the approaching death shadowed Kailas's later works, where
central themes circle around suffering, sin, and efforts to achieve
purity of spirit.
Paljain jaloin (On bare feet) expressed Kailas's resignation and in Uni ja kuolema he bid his final farewell to his friends: "There is no door / for friends or visitors to come. / But two doors have I, / two: to dream and to death." Among
the central images of the collection are a house, circle, and a strange
The last weeks of his life Kailas spent at the Villa Constance in Nice. In a letter to Lauri Viljanen he compared his stick thin legs and bony knee caps to those he had seen in pictures of Indian famine victims. Despite having feelings of being deserted he was not alone, but was taken care of Armas Launis, a Finnish composer, and his family. Kailas was not an easy patient to deal with; both his nurse and Launis got annoyed with him. Kailas died in Nice on March 22, 1933. His ashes were brought to Finland and buried in Helsinki. Kailas's memorial by the sculptor Yrjö Liipola was erected in 1939. The statue of Uuno Kailas, made by the sculptor Essi Renvall, is situated in Heinola. Kailas received the State Literary Award three times: 1926, 1928, 1931. Sven H. Rossel wrote in A History of Scandinavian Literature, 1870-1980 on Kailas: "His major poems are placed in the twilight zone between vigil and dream and become magnificent projections of the poet's feeling of guilt and fear of death. They belong to the most fascinating artistic achievements of modern European poetry."
For further reading: Voices From Finland, ed. by Elli Tompuri (1947); 'Kailaan itsekritiikistä' by Aaro Hellaakoski, in Kuuntelua (1950); Uuno Kailas by Maunu Niinistö (1956); Runoilija ja eksistenssi by Jenny Lilja (1972); A Hisory of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); A History of Scandinavian Literature, 1870-1980 by Sven H. Rossel (1982); '"Syyllinen mies" Uuno Kailas psykologian näkökulmasta' by Juhani Ihanus, in Kauneus ja kuvotus (1987); A History of Finland's Literature, edited by George C. Schoolfield (1998); Suomen kirjallisuushistoria 2, toim. Lea Rojola (1999); Uuno Kailas - Runoilija psykiatrin silmin by Kalle Achté (2001); Vapauttava kieli: kirjallisuuden ja taiteen toiseudesta by Juhani Ihanus (2010); 'Uuno Kailas tänään' by Erkki Kiviniemi, in Novelleja (2011); 'Kuoleva runoilija ja tyttö' by Jussi Lehmusvesi, in Helsingin Sanomat (lauantaina 19.5. 2018); 'Uuno Kailas, kauhukirjailija' by Juri Nummelin, in Hauta meren alla: Kauhunovelleja ja -runoja by Uuno Kailas, edited by Juri Nummelin (2019)