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Aleksis Kivi (1834-1872) - Alexis Kivi (Kiwi) - originally Alexis Stenvall


Finnish national writer, playwright, poet, novelist, whose major work was Seitsemän veljestä (1870, Seven Brothers). Aleksis Kivi was the first professional writer publishing his works in Finnish. He died in poverty at the age of thirty-eight.

EERO: How many stars in Charley's Wain, how many sons at Jukola?
JUHANI: We are seven. Seven holes therefore and seven sons. Well, all the worse. Seven holes! Always worse and worse. See how men and hard fate are joined together against us. Seven holes like millstone-eyes!

(in Seven Brothers, 1870)

Aleksis Kivi was born at Nurmijärvi in southern Finland, some twenty miles north of Helsinki. He came from a poor background. His mother was Annastiina (Hamberg) Stenvall, the daughter of a smith, who was five years older than her husband. Eerik Johan Stenvall, Kivi's father, was a tailor, who could read and write. Eerik had learnt Swedish, the language every educated Finnish spoke, before a Finnish-language culture fully developed. Kivi also acquired a complete mastery of Swedish. However, in the wake of national awakening Kivi translated his surname (Stenvall, 'stone-bank') into Finnish (Kivi, 'stone').

In 1846, at the age of twelve, Kivi left for school in Helsinki, where he found lodgings at the home of a prison warder. For a year his teacher was A.J. Cranberg, an old sailor, and at his small cottage Kivi studied among others Swedish. While living at the home of a master tailor, named Albin Palmqvist, he read widely in his library. With Palmqvist's daughter, Albina, who was five years his senior, he discussed of such writers as Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Byron. Kivi fell in love with Albina, and according to some sources, he proposed marriage. Albina went in 1853 to Denmark, where she started to use morphin for her neuralgia. During the following years, Albina spent much time abroad, but when she visited Finland, she met Kivi several times. Kivi never married and Albina also remained single. However, Albina possibly influenced a number of Kivi's female characters in his plays, including Liisa in Yö ja päivä (1866), Elma in Karkurit (1866), Lea in Lea (1868), Marianne in Canzio (1868).

Kivi managed to finish in 1857 secondary school, although he occasionally neglected his studies, partly because he suffered from hunger. In 1859 Kivi managed to enter the University of Helsinki, where he read the classics of world literature and became interested in the theater. At the Swedish teatter of Helsinki, he saw plays by Molière and Schiller and he was familiar with the Danish dramatist Ludvig Holberg. Kivi's first play, Kullervo (1859), was based on the Kalevala and showed the influence of Shakespeare in its dramatic technique. In Helsinki Kivi made friends with J.V. Snellman, the famous philosopher, journalist and politician, who helped him economically. Among his friends were also such Finnish-speaking intellectuals as Fredrik Cygnaeus, Elias Lönnrot, Julius Krohn, and Emil Nervander.

At university Kivi studied sporadically. He was more interested in writing and intended to become a celebrated poet like Runeberg. Kullervo won a competition held by the Finnish Literature Society. With the prize money Kivi could continue his literary career. In Nurmijärvi and Siuntio he was helped by Charlotta Lönnqvist, a self-sacrificing benefactress, and perhaps also by the Adlercreutz family. From 1863 Kivi devoted himself to his calling. He published 12 plays, collection of poems and Seven Brothers, which he wrote for ten years. The work was crushed by the influential critic August Ahlqvist, who opposed its realism. Ahlqvist's hostile criticism became later a symbol of oppression of artistic freedom. "It is a ridiculous work and a blot on the name of Finnish literature," Ahlqvist wrote in the newspaper Finlands Allmäna Tidningen.

Seven brothers is a humorous novel depicting orphan brothers, which first appeared in four volumes in 1870. To evade the Lutheran Church's requirement, that they learn to read and write before confirmation, the brothers flee to the wilderness. After encountering all kinds of disasters, they return to society – matured and ready to take responsibilities. Kivi's individualism and his unconventional approach won him many enemies among the Fennoman movement, which emphasized agrarian and conservative values. Kivi also challenged taboos concerning what was considered decent. His independent country boys were considered too wild – they were not modelled on an idealized picture of the people, but revealed their ignorance, laziness, tendency to heavy drinking, and 'Roussean' resistance to bourgeois values. Moreover, Kivi's mixture of comical, mythological, and tragic was not understood. Nowadays Seven Brothers has been interpreted at many levels. -

--JUHANI: On one corner of the earth a day of peace still gleams for us. Ilvesjärvi lake yonder, below Impivaara, is the harbour to which we can sail away from the storm. Now my mind is made up.
--LAURI: Mine was made up last year already.
--EERO: I'll follow you even into the deepest cave on Impivaara, where it is said the Old Man of the Mountains boils pitch, with a helmet made of a hundred sheepskins on his head.
--TUOMAS: We'll all move there from here.
--JUHANI: Thither we'll move and built a new world.

(Seven Brothers)

In 1865 Kivi won the State Prize for his play Nummisuutarit (The Heath Cobblers). He lived in Siuntio from 1864, reading, writing, visiting Helsinki – and when he could afford it, occasionally drinking in taverns. Kivi also wrote a play about a beer outing at Schleusingen, Olviretki Schleusingenissä (1866), which was not published during his lifetime, and a brisk drinking song: "Hail, brown barley juice, / Hail strong foaming cheer! / Let it all go down / So long as it's beer." (translated by Keith Bosley) While in Nurmijärvi, Kivi liked to swim, fish and roam the wild forests with his rifle on his shoulder.

Although Kivi had influential supporters, among them Kaarlo Bergbom, who established the Finnish Theatre, he was deeply depressed by the attacks of Ahlqvist and other critics. In the late 1860s Charlotta Lönnqvist could not support the author any more. All of Kivi's money, which he earned from his writings, went to debts. His last years were shadowed by economical worries, and a physical and mental breakdown. However, most of his life Kivi had been healthy.

Showing signs of schizophrenia, he was committed to a mental hospital in Lapinlahti. It has also been suggested that he suffered from borreliosis (lyme disease). After nine months, on May 1872, his brother Albert brought him from Lapinlahti to Tuusula, where he spent his last months in a small rented cottage. Kivi died on the same year on December 31. According to the popular legend his last words were: "Minä elän!" (I am alive!).

Now dig my grave
Beneath the bay willows' boughs
And with blackness cover it over again,
The for evermore
Go from my domain:
I wish to slumber in peace.

(from 'Weariness', translated by Keith Bosley)

Among Aleksis Kivi's most famous poems is 'Sydämeni laulu' (Grove of Tuoni, grove of night / Song of my Heart) – a dark and very moving work, in which a woman seems to wish her baby dead. The poem was basis for Jean Sibelius song (Op. 18 No. 6) with the same title from 1898. In the poem a mother sits alone with her child and asks: "Tell me, my child, my summerbright, tell me: wouldst thou not sail away from here to a haven of everlasting peace while the white pennant of childhood still flies clean? On the shore of a misty, tideless lake stands the dark manor of Tuoni; there in the heart of a shadowy grove, in the bosom of a dewy thicket a cradle is prepared for thee with snowy linen and wrappings. Hear therefore my song; it wafts thee to the land of the Prince of Tuoni." ('Grove of Tuoni' can be translated as 'Grove of Death'. Keith's Bosley's translation in Aleksis Kivi: Odes from 1994 uses more modern language than Alex Matson in his work.) Although none of the brothers die in Seven Brothers, death is also one of themes in the book. Usually literary critics have emphasized humorous aspects of the story.

Grove of Tuoni, grove of night!
There thy bed of sand is light.
Thither my baby I lead.
Mirth and joy each long hour yields
In the Prince of Tuoni's fields
Tending the Tuonela cattle.
Mirth and joy my babe will know,
Lulled to sleep at evening glow
By the pale Tuonela maiden.
Surely joy hours will hold,
Lying in thy cot of gold,
Hearing the nightjar singing.
Grove of Tuoni, grove of peace!
There all strife and passion cease.
Distant the treacherous world."

(translated by Alex Matson)
For further reading: Aleksis Kivi by V. Tarkainen (1915); Aleksis Kiven muisto by V. Tarkiainen (1919); Aleksis Kivi aikalaistensa arvostelemana by J.V. Lehtonen (1931); Nurmijärven poika by J.V. Lehtonen (1934); Aleksis Kiven persoonallisuus by Paavo E.S. Elo (1950); Aleksis Kiven runomaailma by Lauri Viljanen (1953); Aleksis Kivi 1860-1960. Bibliografinen opas Kiven maailmaan by Sulo Haltsonen (1964); Runoilija ja arvostelija by Eino Kauppinen (1966); Aleksis Kivi by Erik Ekelund (in Swedish 1960, translated into Finnish 1966); Aleksis Kiven näytelmät by Aarne Kinnunen (1967); Aleksis Stenvallin elämä by Veijo Meri (1973); A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); Tuli, aurinko ja seitsemän veljestä by Aarne Kinnunen (1974); Aleksis Kivi by Rafael Koskimies (1974); Paloon Stenvallit by Jaakko Puokka (1979); Syksystä jouluun by Kalle Achté (1982); Elon saarel tääl by Veijo Meri (1984); Aleksis Kiven maailmasta, ed. by Markku Envall (1984); Aleksis Kivi by Kai Laitinen (1989); Kohtalon vaihtoehdot by Oiva Ketonen (1989); Lumivalkea liina: Aleksis Kivi ja rakkaus by Esko Rahikainen (1998); Aleksis Kivi by Hannes Sihvo (2002); Seitsemän veljestä ja lukemisen juonet by Aarne Kinnunen (2002); Metsän poika: Aleksis Kiven elämä by Esko Rahikainen (2004); Albina: Aleksis Kiven suuri rakkaus by Anja Kauppala (2003); Vimman villityt pojat by Pirjo Lyytikäinen (2005); Impivaaran kaski: Aleksis Kivi kirjallisuutemme korvenraivaajana by Esko Rahikainen (2009) - Literary festival: Kivi's birth-county Nurmijärvi is celebrating the national writer every year with plays and other events based on his works. See other literary festivals: Pentinkulma Days (Väinö Linna Association) and Päätalo  Days in Taivalkoski. Aleksis Kivi in films, plays, opera, novels: Minä elän (1946), film dir.  Ilmari Unho, starring Rauli Tuomi; Aleksis Kiven elämä (2002), film dir. Jari Halonen, starring Marko Tiusanen. Aleksi Kivi (1974), play, written by Veijo Meri; Yössä Gehennan (1984), play, written by Ilpo Tuomarila; Yks perkele, yks enkeli (1985), play, written by Arvo Salo. Aleksis Kivi (1997), opera, composed by Einojuhani Rautavaara. Nuori Aleksis (1947), novel, written by Elsa Soini; Stenvallin tapaus (1995), novel, written by Kirsti Manninen and Jouko Raivio; Aleksi Kivi ja Serbian prinsessa (1996), novel, written by Antero Viinikainen. Kivi, novel, by Hannu Mäkelä (2010)

Selected works:

  • Kullervo, 1859 (play)
    - Kullervo (music by Aulis Sallinen; svensk översättning Lars Huldén,1993)
    - Aleksis Kivi's Heath Cobblers (Nummisuutarit) and Kullervo (translated by Douglas Robinson, 1993) / Kullervo (music by Aulis Sallinen; English translation Erkki Arni, 1993) - Hu hai en chou lu = Wuhoi jansau luk = A Legend of Hate and Love around the Sea and the Lake/Kullervo (translated by Chapman Chen, 2005)
  • Nummi-suutarit: komedia 5:ssä näytöksessä, 1864 (play) Sockenskomakarna (övers. av Per Åke Laurén, 1917)
    - Aleksis Kivi's Heath Cobblers (Nummisuutarit) and Kullervo (translated by Douglas Robinson, 1993)
    - films: Nummisuutarit, 1923, dir. Erkki Karu, starring Axel Slangus, Heidi Blåfield, Kirsti Suonio, Aku Käyhkö; Nummisuutarit, 1938, dir. by Wilho Ilmari, starring Unto Salminen, Aku Korhonen and Siiri Angerkoski; Nummisuutarit, 1957, dir. by Valentin Vaala, starring Martti Kuningas, Lauri Leino, Alice Lyly; Puolimatkan krouvi, TV film 1967, dir. by Eino Salmelainen, Matti Tapio, starring Nisse Rainne, Reino Kalliolahti and Ossi Kostia; Eskon häämatka, TV film 1967, dir. by Eino Salmelainen, starring Lauri Leino, Elna Hellman, Tapani Perttu 
  • Vuoripeikot, 1864 (short story)
  • Kihlaus: komedia yhdessä näytöksessä, 1866 (play)
    - Förlofningen (öfvers. af Per Åke Laurén, 1916)
    - Eva (translated by R. P. Cowl, 1926, reprinted 1980)
    - films: 1922, dir. by Teuvo Puro, starring Iisakki Lattu, Martti Tuukka and Annie Mörk; 1955, dir. by Erik Blomberg, starring Mirjami Kuosmanen, Hannes Häyrinen. Heimo Lepistö; TV film 1961, dir. by Seppo Wallin, starring Kaarlo Halttunen, Leo Riuttu, Kirsti Ortola;  TV film 1966, dir. by Eino Salmelainen, Matti Tapio, starring Lauri Lahtinen, Veijo Pasanen, Jorma Huttunen 
  • Kanervala: runoelma, 1866
    - Ljunglandet och andra dikter (övers. av Thomas Warburton, 1995)
  • Yö ja päiwä: näytelmä yhdessä näytöksessä, 1866 (play)
    - Natt och dag (övers. av Arvid Mörne, 1915)
    - TV film 1967, dir. by Jouko Turkka, starring Jyrki Nousiainen, Merja Linko, Heikki Kinnunen, Olli Tuominen, Kristiina Halkola 
  • Karkurit: näytelmä viidessä näytöksessä, 1866 (play)
  • Olviretki Schleusingenissä, 1866 (play, published first time in Kootut teokset III, 1916)
    - TV film 1967, dir. by Veikko Kerttula, starring Arvi Anttila, Pekka Autiovuori and Tapio Hämäläinen, Leo Jokela, Heikki Kinnunen, Seppo Kolehmainen, Martti Kuisma, Rolf Labbart,Pekka Laiho, Matti Lehtelä, Seppo Lehtonen, Vesa-Matti Loiri, Esko Mattila, Matti Nurminen, Saara Pakkasvirta  
  • Canzio, 1868 (play)
  • Lea: näytelmä yhdessä näytöksessä, 1868 (play)
    - Lea: skådespel i två akter (öfvers. af Per Åke Laurén, 1916)
    - TV film 1958, dir. by Kaarlo Wilska. Heikki Packalén, starring Lauri Lehtovaara, Iris-Lilja Lassila, Jaakko Pakkasvirta 
  • Seitsemän weljestä: kertomus, 1870/1873
    - Sju bröder (övers. av Per Åke Laurén, 1919; Elmer Diktonius, illustrerad av Marcus Collin, 1948; Thomas Warburton, 1987)
    - Seven Brothers (translated by Alex Matson 1929/1952; Rickhard A. Impola, 1991)
    - films: Seitsemän veljestä, dir. Wilho Ilmari 1939, starring Edvin Laine, Eino Kaipainen, Kaarlo Kytö, Kaarlo Kartio, Joel Rinne, Unto Salminen, Arvo Kuusla; TV series 1960-61, starring Olavi Naalisvaara, Keijo Komppa, Ari Laine, Oiva Luhtala, Raul Wallinvirta, Kai Savola, Ernest Ervasti; 1976, dir. by Kalle Holmberg, Matti Tapio, starring Esko Salminen, Vesa-Matti Loiri and Heikki Kinnunen; animation 1979, dir.  Riitta Nelimarkka, Jaakko Seeck; TV-drama in 12 parts 1989, dir. by Jouko Turkka, starring Kai Lehtinen, Jarmo Mäkinen, Martti Suosalo, Jari Pehkonen, Taisto Reimaluoto, Pertti Koivula, Tero Jartti; TV film 2004, dir. by Kari Heiskanen, starring Pekka Räty, Tom Petäjä, Tapani Kalliomäki, Mikko Jurkka, Paavo Honkimäki, Janne Kallioniemi, Iikka Forss
  • Margareta: näytelmä yhdessä näytöksessä, 1871 (play)
  • Valitut teokset I-II, 1877-78 (foreword by Eliel Aspelin-Haapkylä)
  • Koto ja kahleet, 1878 (short story)
    - TV film 1971, dir. by Mirjam Himberg, starring Pekka Autiovuori, Veikko Honkanen, Kauko Laurikainen, Lauri Leino, Marjatta Linna, Risto Palm, Vilho Siivola, Maija-Leena Soinne
  • Paimentyttö: kertovainen runoelma, 1904 (ed. A.V. Forsman)
  • Kootut teokset 1-4, 1915-19 (edited by E.A. Saarimaa ja V. Tarkiainen; 1944-5; fourth printing 1984)
  • Selman juonet, 1916 (play, in Kootut teokset. 3)
    - TV film 1984, dir. by Seppo Wallin, starring Pekka Autiovuori, Hannu Huuska and Martti Järvinen
  • Leo ja Liina, 1916 (play, in Kootut teokset. 3)
  • Valikoima runoja, 1916 (ed. E. A. Saarimaa and V. Tarkiainen)
  • Alma, 1916 (play, in Kootut teokset. 3)
  • Eriika, 1922 (short story)
  • Kanervala: runoelmia, 1944 (illustrated by Matti Visanti)
  • Sydämeni laulu: Aleksis Kiven runokartano, 1946 (illustrated by Matti Visanti)
  • Aleksis Kiven ajatuksia, 1946 (edited by Eino Kauppinen)
  • Aleksis Kiven tarinoita, 1947 (illustrated by Matti Visanti)
  • Vuoripeikot, 1947 (illustrated by Erkki Tanttu, afterword by Oskari Nousiainen)
  • Kootut runot, 1954 (introduction by Lauri Viljanen)
  • Halavan himmeän alla, 1988
  • Heilahda korkealle keinu: valikoima runoja, 1988 (edited by Salme Saure)
  • Odes, 1994 (selected and translated with an introduction by Keith Bosley)
  • Sydämeni laulu: valikoima runoja, 2007 (illustrated by Pekka Vuori)
  • Kaukametsä: Aleksis Kiven runoja, 2009 (eds. Aimo Hakkarainen and Timo Niitemaa)
  • Aleksis Kivi: Kirjeet. Kriittinen editio, 2012 (Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura; edited by Juhani Niemi et al.)

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