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|Iivo Härkönen (1882-1941)|
Finnish writer, journalist, teacher, advocate of Karelian culture, who collected from the villages of the country's easternmost province old folk poetry. 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 became interested in reading, and tried his own hand in writing 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 collected poems from his native region for the the Finnish Literature Association. He studied as a teacher at Sortavala in 1898-99 and graduated in 1906. Between the years Härkönen taught in Karelia at small schools. From 1907 until 1918 he was employed a teacher in Helsinki. Occasionally he worked a journalist, editing Savon Sanomat (1912-13) and Karjalan lehti (1913-14). 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 (Akseli Gallen-Kallela), composers (Jean Sibelius) and writers (Eino Leino). 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. 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. Among Härkönen's other works is 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 died in Helsinki on August 28, 1941. He 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."
For further reading: 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)