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|V(eikko) A(ntero) Koskenniemi (1885-1962) - surname until 1906 Forsnäs|
Finnish scholar, writer, critic, professor at the University of Turku. Koskenniemi was one of the most prominent figures in Finnish literature until the breakthrough of modernist writers in the 1950s. He gained the status of an unofficial national poet after Eino Leino (1978-26), writing with patriotic, heroic pathos and with suggestive force, but also pondering sensitively the fragile existence of human beings. Koskenniemi was a follower of modern French and Swedish literature, and translated into Finnish works from Goethe, Keller, and Balzac. Although the tone of his poetry was pious and won him the support of the church, he remained an agnostic.
Cockcrows are heard from the villages sounding,
Veikko Antero Koskenniemi was born in Oulu, the son of Anders Forsnäs, a teacher, and Aina Maria Hällberg, who was 27 years his junior. After his father's death in 1888, the family went bankrupt, and Aina Maria moved with her children to live with her mother. Koskenniemi was brought up in a family of seven women. He learned to read at the age of five, and was all his life an omnivorous reader, but at school he was not the top student.
After graduating from the Oulu Lyceum, Koskenniemi moved to Helsinki, where entered the University of Helsinki, receicing his M.A. in 1907. During this time Koskenniemi started his career as a critic and worked as a free-lance writer. He wrote for Uusi Suometar and edited the magazine Aika (1912-21), and later Valvoja-Aika and Valvoja (1942-54). Koskenniemi viewed the tragic Civil War (1917-1918) as a struggle for independence against Russians and their allies, the misguided Finnish socialists. He wrote in May 1918, after the victory of the Whites, a short epic, Nuori Anssi (1918), which portrayed an imaginary hero, who goes into war with the encouragement of his father: "Men, against the devil and the Russians!"
Like Eino Leino, who was seven years his senior, Koskenniemi began to publish at the age of eighteen. His first collection of poems, Runoja (1906) introduced urban themes into Finnish poetry and gained critical success. It was followed by Valkeat kaupungit (1908), about longing and loss, and Hiilivalkea (1913). Many of these early poems, including 'Hyökyaalto' and 'On suuri sun rantas autius', and 'Elegia satakielelle' from Elegioja ja muita runoja (1917), were turned into songs by Yrjö Kilpinen. This collection contained one of Koskenniemi's most popular pieces, which opened with the lines, "You are alone, son of man, on your own in the middle of all things / you have been born on your own, you will depart on your own." (translated by Keith Bosley, in Skating on the Sea, 1997)
Koskenniemi's only novel, Konsuli Brennerin jälkikesä, came out in 1916; it was also translated into Swedish. In the 1920s Koskenniemi published a collection of aphorisms, Matkasauva (1925), several collections of poems, including Rakkausrunoja (1920), Isänmaan kevät (1921), Uusia runoja (1924), and studies in literature. His series of essay collections, entitled Kirjoja ja kirjailijoita 1-5 (1916-1931), with its masterful insights, is still inspiring reading, although his biographical and genetic methodology is considered dated. In 1921 Koskenniemi was appointed Professor at the University of Turku. He also served as rector of the university from 1924 to 1932.As a result of a conflict with Chancellor E.N. Setälä, who advocated the intrests of his own research institute Suomen suku (The Family of the Finnish Language), Koskenniemi left his resignation and settled into his true calling: literature. His nine-volume collected works came out between 1935 and 1944, and the twelve-volume works in 1955 and 1956.
In 1922 Koskenniemi married Vieno Pohjanpalo, the daughter of a manufacturer Juhani Pohjanpalo, who was a supporter of the extreme right-wing Lappo movement. Koskenniemi's nationalism was reflected in his poems and hymns, many of which were adapted into songs. Among them are Armas Järnefelt's 'Isänmaan kasvot,' Yrjö Kilpinen's 'Kuutamolla' and 'Lippulaulu,' Toivo Kuula's 'Epilogi,' Frans Linnavuori's 'Minä laulan sun iltasi tähtihin,' Selim Palmgren's 'Juhannus,' and 'Rukous,' and Jean Sibelius's 'Koulutie.' His lyrics for Sibelius's Finlandia hymn in Latuja lumessa (1940, Ski tracks in the snow) expressed hope and a new beginning, when war and destruction had threatened the nation: "Finland, behold, thy daylight now is dawning, / the threat of night has now been driven away. / The skylark calls across the light of morning, / the blue of heaven lets it have its way, / and now the day of the powers of night is scorning: thy daylight dawns, O Finland of ours." – Oi Suomi, katso, sinun päiväs koittaa, / yön uhka karkoitettu on jo pois, / ja aamun kiuru kirkaudessa soittaa, / kuin itse taivahan kansi sois. / Yön vallat aamun valkeus jo voittaa, / sun päiväs koittaa, oi synnyinmaa!"
Not differing from many other educated Finns of the day, Koskenniemi adopted pessimistic view of the progress in history, summoned in Oswald Spengler's work Der Untergang des Abendlandes (1918, 1922). Spengler rejected the liberal-democratic politics and saw the deterioration of the Western world as a part of its life cycle. Koskenniemi became convinced that only Mussolini and Hitler could save the West from the "Red barbarians". With Maila Talvio he was one of the central promoters of German culture in Finland in the 1930s and '40s. However, Koskenniemi was not the only prominent writer who did not see any discrepancy between the Third Reich and European humanist tradition. The critic, scholar, and later professor of literature, Rafael Koskimies, reviewed Hitler's Mein Kampf, in his essay 'Hitler ja hänen oppinsa' in Kirjallisia näköaloja (1936). Koskimies dismissed Hitler's racial views as "humbug" and saw them as an expression of a poetical myth, familiar from Shakespeare's Shylock in Merchant of Venice and Balzac's Gobseck in Le cousin Pons.
As a critic Koskenniemi opposed neo-romanticism and Kalevala-inspired backwoods attitudes. As a poet Koskenniemi himself used the Kalevala meter in a notable way only in his last collection of poems. He saw that the duty of the well-educated class was to give moral strength to the nation. Koskenniemi admired great cultural figures, such as Goethe in Germany and Aleksis Kivi in Finland. He was a respected and feared authority, who rejected leftist tendencies and writers who emphasized the revolutionary or unconscious forces behind mass movements. Well connected, member of the supervisory board of the publishing company WSOY, and later a member of its board of directors, Koskenniemi did not hesitate to use his influence behind the scenes – to prevent or support the publication of a particular book.
From the beginning, Koskenniemi's poetic "I" had the tendency of being spokesman for tragic feelings and anguish in the bleak world, which made him an easy target for ridicule. Koskenniemi searched out subjects from nature and from literary and historical sources, and emphasized the melodic characteristics of language. 'Nuijamiesten marssi' composed by Toivo Kuula in 1912-13, is perhaps Koskenniemi's most ominous poems, born from the darkest depths of national romanticism ("we have frost and night, we have snow and ice - / be frightened, be frightened!"):
Meill' on hanki ja jää, meill' on halla ja yö,
In 1935 Koskenniemi traveled widely in Germany and published his account of the journey in Havaintoja ja vaikutelmia Kolmannesta valtakunnasta (1937, Observations and impressions from the Third Reich). In his critique of the Aryan laws oppressing Jews he admitted that there are individual tragic cases, but the Jews are to be blamed for building a state inside a state and creating a German inferiority complex. Basically, Koskenniemi replaced reality of the Third Reich with his own idea of Germany, interpreted through the towering figure of Goethe.
Koskenniemi's plans to pursue an academic career outside Turku were wrecked when he was not the committee's first choice in 1939 for the professorship of aesthetics and comparative literature at the university of Helsinki. It was a hard blow, but he congratulated his rival Rafael Koskimies, who was appointed to the post. After his critically and commercially succesful poetry collection Latuja lumessa from 1940 was coldly reviewed by Koskimies, they exchanged a series of letters. Koskenniemi expressed his hurt feelings, and returned to the issue of their former rivalry, and its effect on their friendship, which he wished to continue. Unhappy with the continuing correspondence, Koskimies wrote at the top of Koskenniemi's last letter the words "gangster style."
Between the years 1941 and 1946 Koskenniemi was the chairman of the Association of Finnish Authors. After the outbreak of WW II, Koskenniemi openly sympathized with the German cause. In 1941, WSOY published Mein Kapf (Taisteluni I-II) and Koskenniemi wrote a review of the book for the daily newspaper Uusi Suomi. He was elected in 1942 deputy chairman of the "Europäische Schriftstellervereinigung" (European Writer's League), founded under auspices of Joseph Goebbels, and in the same year he won a German literary prize for foreign writers. Das Herz und der Tod, a selection of his poems, was published in Germany in 1943. A true believer in the comradeship-in-arms with Germany, Koskenniemi spoke for "the fight until the bitter end."
After the war Koskenniemi suffered from insomnia and melancholy. His easily recognized style was parodied by Kullervo Rainio in the magazine Lipeäkala (1946) in a poem about missing a tram: "Niin olet mennyt taas, sinä Kolmonen, kiireistä tietäs. / Mennyt oot menojas, Ah, mua oottanut et." During the breakthrough of modernism in Finnish literature, Koskenniemi's position as the leading poet began to look increasingly tenuous. He had taught the Finnish elite to learn by heart such lines as, "You are alone, son of man, on your own in the middle of all things," but his commitment to the poetry of antiquity and the old poetic conventions of Continental Europe (elegiac meter, the sonnet) was difficult to accept by the new generation of writers. However, Koskenniemi himself was an open-minded reader who had an eye for talent. When Aila Meriluoto's first collection of poems, Lasimaalaus (1946), captured his attention, he wrote to her a letter, in which he praised the work as "one of the most beautiful promises of the future of the Finnish literature." Meriluoto, to whom he fell in love with, was 23 and still a virgin; she became his Muse, but the relationship never turned physical. In 1948 Meriluoto married the writer Lauri Viita.
Koskenniemi became in 1948 the first writer appointed to the Finnish Academy. Among his later works are Vuosisadan alun ylioppilas (1947), a book of memoirs, Runousoppia ja runoilijoita (1951), a study in poetry, and Vaeltava viisaus (1952), a popular collection of some 6 000 aphorisms from about 700 thinkers and authors. Koskenniemi states in the foreword that has tried to be impartial between the different world views. However, such Communist philosophers as Marx and Engels are missing, not to mention Lenin and Trotsky and all Soviet authors. From the Russian writers Koskenniemi has accepted Mme de Swetchine, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Krapotkin, but not Gorky. Only a handful of women writers of the past are qualified in the book: Louise Ackermann, Charlotte Brönte, Mme de Châtelet, George Eliot, Maria Jotuni, Ninon de Lenclos, and George Sand are among the selected few.
After the fall of the national idealism represented by Koskenniemi, it took a decade before young writers became again interested in ancient Greece or Goethe's Germany. His work was reevaluated in 1985 in Kurkiauran varjo, a collection of essays. In 2001 the historian Martti Häikiö defended Koskenniemi in his article published in Suomen Kuvalehti. According to Häikiö, Koskenniemi's opinions and values, expressed in the biography Goethe: keskipäivä ja elämänilta (1944), had nothing to do with national socialism. He was deeply worried about the antagonism between Germany and France, and his European humanism was actually in tune with the great ideas behind the modern European Union. Häikiö's biography of the author, in which Koskenniemi's relationship with Nazi Germany is further examined, was published in 2010.