In Association with

Choose another writer in this calendar:

by name:

by birthday from the calendar.

Credits and feedback

for Books and Writers
by Bamber Gascoigne

This is an archive of a dead website. The original website was published by Petri Liukkonen under Creative Commons BY-ND-NC 1.0 Finland and reproduced here under those terms for non-commercial use. All pages are unmodified as they originally appeared; some links and images may no longer function. A .zip of the website is also available.

(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.
He is looking mutely at us and away from us.
Now he sees me and commanding: look!
And then I perceive who is also a guilty man."

(from 'The Guilty Man', in Purjehtijat, 1925)

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.

Also 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 ideology of right-wing movements in Finland marked Kailas's poem 'Rajalla' (on the border), but it also reflected his Manichean view of the world. 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."

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. 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!
Kuolema on pitkä. Laula siis!"

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. In Paljain jaloin (1928, On bare feet) he expressed his resignation and in Uni ja kuolema (1931, Sleep and death) he bid his 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 man. 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, ed. by George C. Schoolfield (1998); Suomen kirjallisuushistoria 2, toim. Lea Rojola (1999); Uuno Kailas - Runoilija psykiatrin silmin by Kalle Achté (2001)

Selected works:

  • Tuuli ja tähkä: ynnä muita runoja, 1922 [The wind and the corn's ear]
  • translator: Stephen Leacock, Pukinsorkka, 1923 (title novel: The Cloven Foot)
  • translator: F.W. Bain, Rakkauden korkea veisu: muinaisintialainen runoelma, 1924
  • translator: Kaunis Saksa: sarja saksalaista lyriikkaa, 1924
  • translator: Rudolf Bruhn, Kuuden kerho, 1924 (original title: De seks)
  • translator: Erwin Rosen, Kaikkien valtojen uhalla: saksalaisen kynäniekan elämäntaisteluita, tappioita ja työvoittoja, 1924 (original title: Allen Gewalten zum Trotz)
  • Purjehtijat, 1925 [Sailors]
  • Silmästä silmään: runoja, 1926 [From eye to eye]
  • translator: J.A. Thibaut & Anatole France, Aadamin ensimmäisen vaimon tytär: kertomuksia yliluonnollisista aiheista, 1926
  • translator: Arvid Mörne, Meren kasvojen edessä, 1926
  • translator: Gabriel Scott, Polku, 1926 (original title: Stien, eller Kristofer med kvisten)
  • Alladin, taikalampun prinssi, 1928 (as Unilukkari; illustrated by Ola Fogelberg)
  • Paljain jaloin: runoja, 1928 [On bare feet]
  • translator: Edith Södergran, Levottomia unia, 1929 (foreword by Hagar Olsson)
  • translator: Joseph Kessel, Ruhtinasöitä, 1930 (play; original title: Nuits de princes)
  • Uni ja kuolema: runoja, 1931
  • Runoja, 1932 (ed. by U. Kailas)
  • translator: Esais Tegnér, Fritjofin taru, 1932 (original title: Frithiofs saga)
  • Punajuova: kuoleman jälkeen julkaistu runokokoelma, 1933 (posthumously)
  • Novelleja, 1936
    - Rökskuggan: efterlämnade noveller (med inledning och till svenska av Th. Warburton, 1941)
  • Isien tie: kokoelma isänmaallisia runoja, 1941
  • translator: Edith Södergran, Runoja, 1942 (illustrated by Tapio Tapiovaara)
  • Valikoima runoja, 1958
  • translator: Max Dauthendey, Keisarinnan kisailut, 1958 (radio play; original title: Die Spielereien einer Kaiserin)
  • Uuno Kailaan runoja, 1963 (edited by Maunu Niinistö)
  • Suomalainen rukous=Finsk bön, 1968 (övers. av Joel Rundt)
  • Ja tomust' alkaa avaruus: valikoima Uuno Kailaan runoja, 1984 (edited by Alpo Salmi)  
  • Kodin suuret klassikot: Uuno Kailas, 1985 (edited by Pertti Lassila)
  • Unen, kuoleman ja intohimon lauluja, 1987 (edited by Salme Saure)
  • Palava laulu: valitut runot, 2000
  • Runot 1922-1931, 2002

In Association with

Some rights reserved Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen. Kuusankosken kaupunginkirjasto 2008

Creative Commons License
Authors' Calendar jonka tekijä on Petri Liukkonen on lisensoitu Creative Commons Nimeä-Epäkaupallinen-Ei muutettuja teoksia 1.0 Suomi (Finland) lisenssillä.
May be used for non-commercial purposes. The author must be mentioned. The text may not be altered in any way (e.g. by translation). Click on the logo above for information.