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||Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804 - 1877)|
The national poet of Finland, who wrote in Swedish, and also exercised a great influence on Swedish literature. Runeberg's poetry has been compared to that of the great European romantics, such as Hugo, Shelley, Keats, Lermontov and Petöfi. He was the first Finnish writer to achieve a broad national significance and a wide international fame.
Who has given the wind wisdom,
Johan Ludvig Runeberg was born into a relatively poor Swedish-speaking family in Jakobstad (Pietarsaari), on the shores of the Gulf of Bothnia. His father, Lorenz Ulrik Runeberg, was a ship's captain, who had briefly studied theology. Anna Maria (Malm) Runeberg, the poet's mother, came from a family of merchants. Among Runeberg's famous relatives was Jacob Tengström, Archbishop of Turku.
At the age of eight, Runeberg was sent to Oleåborg (Oulu), where he was taken care of by his uncle. He entered the school there, and after his uncle died, he studied at the Vaasa Gramar School, and at the University of Åbo (Turku). In the 1820s he became friends with J.L. Snellman and Zachris Topelius, who gained later fame with historical novels. Runeberg's early erotic poems were inspired by Frederika or "Frigga" Juvelius, a pastor's daughter. In Vasa (Vaasa) Runeberg had started to read Swedish poets, such as Bellman, and in Turku he started to contribute to newspapers.
When his economic situation became difficult, Runeberg took a job as a personal tutor to a family, who lived in Saarijärvi in central Finland. Making acquaintance with the ordinary Finnish-speaking was the transformative experience in his life. During this period he heard tales of the Russo-Swedish war of 1808-09, which led to the cession of Finland from Sweden to Russia, and Finland became an autonomous Grand Duchy. Runeberg started to develop his idealized picture of the rural population. In this he was influenced by classical antiquity, Greek literature, and German idealism. Later the war formed the background for his ideal of patriotism.
In 1827 Runeberg received his Master of Arts degree. When the university moved its activity to Helsinki after the fire of Turku, Runeberg continued his studies in Helsinki and in 1830 he became a lecturer in Rhetoric. After reading Serbian folksong in a German translation, he was so impressed that he published a translation of them in Swedish. Runeberg's first collection of poems, Dikter (1830), reflected his love of Finland's landscape and the heroic inhabitants of the backwoods. One of its most famous poems, 'Bonde Paavo' ('Saarijärven Paavo'), was about a peasant, who repeatedly loses his harvest to the frost, never complaining of his lot. When he has nothing else to eat, he nibbles hard bread, pettu, made from pine bark. The figure of Paavo has become a proverbial representantive of the Finns, and an enduring personification of the concept "sisu" (endurance, stick-with-it-ness). Later Runeberg's vision has been criticized patriarchal – honest, hard-working common people are not supposed to rebel against their fate, or against God, but to understand instinctively their proper position, shown by the poet. This picture of the people, adopted by the educated elite, was shattered eventually during the Civil War (1917-18). However, in a prosaic description "A Few Words about the Nature, Native Character and Way of Life in the Parish of Saarijärvi", Runeberg did not hide the poverty and misery of the inland areas.
Runeberg was secretly engaged to Maria Juliana Nygren, but he married in 1831 Fredrika Charlotta Tengström; they had eight children (see Frederika Runeberg below). Their son Walter Runeberg (1838-1920) gained fame as a sculptor and his statue of his father was unveiled in Helsinki in 1885. Between the years 1831 and 1836 Runeberg worked as a teacher at the Helsingfors privatlyceum (private secondary school) With his wife Frederika Runeberg he contributed to Helsingfors Morgonblad. To earn extra money the Runebergs took lodgers – Zachris Topelius was one of them. In his diary Topelius wrote that Frederika was hard of hearing, she was shy and silent, and had poor health. Their first child, Anna, died in 1833.
Fredrika Runeberg (1807-1879) was a pioneer of historical novel in Finland, whose work show the influence of Sir Walter Scott. She was also a talented drawer, and while she was studying at the University of Turku, she earned money by selling her paintings and drawings. As a writer Frederika started her career about in the same years as J.L. Runeberg finished his last great works. Frederika Runeberg's Fru Catharina Boije and hennes döttrar (1858), set during the Great Wrath of 1710-21, could be called Finland's first historical novel. 'Intiaanivaimo' (1857) was most likely the first western story written in Finland. Sigrid Liljeholm (1862) contrasted the domestic world of women with the world of men. The female protagonist, Sigrid, is a fictional character, but the ruthless governor of all Finland, Klaus Fleming, is a real historical person. Frederika Runeberg tries to prove, that Fleming was not so black as he was painted. The book got bad press from J.V. Snellman, her husband's friend, and Frederika decided to publish no more fiction. However, she wrote for the magazines Litteraturblad, Finsk Tidskrift (1877-79), Helsingfors Dagblad, Litteraturbladet, Svenska Familj-Journalen (1872-75, 1877, 1882), Tidskrift fö Hemmet (1860-69). All her poems she read for her husband immediately after writing. "A man writes when he wishes and feels inspired to do so, a woman, at least one with children and a household, when she can and has time, happy and grateful at having been able to, as it were, purloin such a joy for herself." ('Heart, home – and writing' by Fredrika Runeberg, in The Story of My Pen, ca. 1869-1877, translated by David Hackston, in Books from Finland, Issue 4/2007) - Selected works: Fru Catharina Boije och hennes döttrar (1858, Rouva Catharina Boije ja hänen tyttärensä); Teckningar och drömmar (1861, Kuvauksia ja unelmia); Sigrid Liljeholm, (1862, suom.); Anteckningar om Runeberg: Mina pennas saga (ca. 1869-1877, Kynäni tarina; The Story of My Pen); Muistiinpanoja Runebergista; Brev till sonen Walter 1861-1879, 1971. For further reading: Den frivilligt ödmjuka kvinnan: en bok om Fredrika Runebergs verklighet och diktning by Åsa Stenwall (1979); Novels, Histories, Novel Nations: Historical Fiction and Cultural Memory in Finland and Estonia, edited by Linda Kaljundi, Eneken Laanes & Ilona Pikkanen (2015); Fredrika ja J.L. Runeberg: Kroksnäsin kesät 1838–1868 by Helena Hämelin (2018).
Runeberg's second collection of poems came out in 1833. His breakthrough work was the short epic Hanna (1836), an example of bourgeois romanticism written in the spirit of J.H. Voss – nowadays a nearly forgotten work. When Runeberg's hopes to be appointed professor of Latin and Greek at the university were crushed, he took in 1837 a post as a lecturer in classics at Porvoo Gymnasium (the college of Borgå). Next year he founded the Borgå Tidning and worked as its editor. His liberal views and attacks on pietistic narrow-mindedness provoked one of the most important debates about religion of the period. Porvoo, a small town, found also a good source of gossip in Runeberg's relationship with the beautiful daughter of Hauho's head pastor, Emilie Björkstén, who was nearly 20 years younger. Their passionate correspondence started in the 1840s. Emilie and Frederika Runeberg also had a lively correspondence and she was a regular guest at the poet's house. "What can I do, if I have got a man, who feels attraction towards young women," complained Frederika once. But she also admitted later: "My husband was a fierce lover".
As a teacher Runeberg was rigid, he did not spare the rod. Runeberg's disciplinary actions with the students strained his relationship with some of the parents. For the disappointment of his progressive friends, he turned down their suggestion of including Finnish in the school curriculum. Runeberg received in Sweden the Academy's highest award for poetry in 1839. For his literary merits he was granted a state pension. As an answer to growing interest in his work in Russia, Runeberg wrote Nadeschda (1841), about two brothers, one good, the other bad, who love the same girl. In 1847 Runeberg was appointed rector of the college. He moved with his family in 1852 to a new home, which was later transformed into a museum and opened to the public in 1882.
In the 1850s Runeberg wrote a several hymns – he also was a member of the Cathedral Chapter of the Diocese of Porvoo, and a bishopric was not an impossible idea for him. During a hunting trip in 1863 – he was an enthusiastic fisher and hunter – Runeberg suffered a stroke and was unable to write for the last 13 years of his life. Frederika left the house only once during in period, when her husband needed her. She sat by his bed 12 hours a day, and read him books. Runeberg died on May 6, 1877, in Borgå. The poet's death was the occasion for national mourning.
Among Runeberg's best-known works are Elgskyttarne (1832, The Elk Hunters), composed in Homeric Hexameters, Kung Fjalar (1844), in which the setting was taken from old Norse sagas and Macpherson's Ossian, and the greatest Finnish classical epic poem Fänrik Ståls sägner
(1848-1860, The Songs of Ensign Stål; The Tales of Ensign Stål), about
Finland's war of 1808-09. Although the war ended in defeat, Runeberg
transformed it into a patriotic praise of its known and unknown
figures. However, Runeberg himself never served in any army. The
different characters soldiers, from generals like von Döbeln to
ordinary infantrymen, are treated empathetically with emphasis on
personal traits. All of them are eager to die in the name of the
fatherland: "And if I am one, both in joy and woe, / Of the valiant
soldiery, / Then say when to battle or death we go! / God grant it
tomorrow be!" Noteworthy, the Russians are threated in the poem with
respect, and the censor passed the collection for publication after
only a couple of small revisions. When Part 1 was released at
Christmastime in 1848, half of the print sold within a few days. Part 2
was released also at Christmas.
Perhaps the most memorable Finnish character is Sven Dufva, not too
bright but a brave hero. When the others retreat, Dufva doesn't, and
dies in defending a bridge. Väinö Linna
(1920-1992) has later criticized in his essay 'Runeberg and suomalainen
kansallismentaliteetti' (1980) the poet's cult of sacrifice and death.
After Paavo Cajander (1846-1913) translated the work into Finnish it
was used as compulsory reading in schools.
"Ty visst var tanken" mente man, "hos Dufva knapp till mått,
The first poem in Fänrik Ståls Sägner, 'Vårt land', set to music by Fr. Pacius, became the Finnish national anthem ('Maamme,' Our Land). It was enthusiastically sung as a kind of drinking song at the student's traditional spring festival on May 13, 1848, after the official speech and in between toasts. In the following decades the patriotic heroism of Fänrik Ståls Sägner colored Finnish attitudes to Russia. However, Runeberg himself had been loyal to the government. By the end of the century, the relatively harmonious political situation in autonomous Finland as part of the Russian Empire had began to shake, and Runeberg's poems were adopted in political debate by promoters of the independence movement. Runeberg's work also served as a cultural weapon in the Civil War (1917-18), and again in the Second World War. A line from The Tales of Ensign Stål, "Let not one devil cross the bridge," served a slogan directed against the Russians.
Runeberg's lyrical language has inspired musical works by composers
as diverse as Karl Collan, Axel Ingelius, and Jean Sibelius, whose 'Sandels'
was created in the 1890s, when opposition to the Russification of
Finland reached new heights. Albert Edelfelt's illustrations for
the new edition of The Tales, published in 1898-1900, have done much to shape the commonly accepted visual image of the
heroes of the Russo-Swedish war. Among the famous historical paintings
inspired by Runeberg's poems is The Wounded Soldier (1880) by
Helen Schjerfbeck. 'Runeberg Day' is celebrated in Finland on the 5th
of February. A delicacy connected to the festival is called 'Runeberg's
tart.' It is a small, cylindrical sponge cake decorated with a
spoonful of jam. The cake was introduced as early as the 1840s.
According to a story, the tart was developed by Fredrika, and the poet,
fond of the pastry, had one every morning with a glass of punch.
For further reading: Johan Ludvig Runeberg: hänen elämänsä ja runoutensa I-II by Werner Söderhjelm (1904-08); Runeberg ja hänen maailmansa by Yrjö Hirn (1937); Runebergin runoilijaolemus by Yrjö Hirn (1942); Fredrika Runeberg by Karin Allardt Ekelund (1945); Lauantaiseura ja sen miehet by Toini Havu (1945); Runoilijan sydän, ed. by Lauri Viljanen (1946); Runeberg ja hänen runoutensa (Runeberg och hans diktning) by Lauri Viljanen (1948); Vänrikki Stoolin maailma: runojen elämää ja taustaa by O. Nousiainen (1961); A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); Runebergin Suomi by Rafael Koskimies (1977); Vapauden muunnelmat: J. L. Runebergin maailmankatsomus hänen epiikkansa pohjalta by Pertti Karkama (1982); Se kansa meidän kansa on, Runeberg, vänrikki ja kansakunta by Johan Wrede (1988); Finland: a Cultural Outline by Veikko Kallio (1994); Albert Edelfelt ja Runebergin Vänrikki Stoolin tarinat by Ville Lukkarinen (1996); 'Runeberg' by George C. Schoolfield, in A History of Finland's Literature, edited by George C. Schoolfield (1998); Poliitinen Runeberg by Matti Klinge (2004); J.L.Runebergi Kreikka ja Rooma by Teivas Oksala (2004); Världen enlight Runeberg by Johan Wrede (2005); Författaren, förläggarna och forskarna: J. L. Runeberg och utgivningshistorien i Finland och Sverige by Päivi Forssell (2009); Fredrika ja J.L. Runeberg: Kroksnäsin kesät 1838–1868 by Helena Hämelin (2018); Kansallisrunoilija: J. L. Runebergin elämä by Panu Rajala (2020). - Runeberg Award was founded 1986. J.L. Runeberg's Day is celebrated in Finland on February 5. Suom.: Runebergin teoksia ovat suomentaneet mm. Eino Leino, Otto Manninen, August Ahlqvist, Juhani Aho. See: Free electronic texts in Scandinavian languages: Project Runeberg.