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|Otto Manninen (1872-1950)|
Finnish writer, poet, and highly acclaimed translator of world classics into Finnish. Along with Eino Leino in the beginning of the 20th century, Manninen was a pioneer of poetry, who combined short expression with rich nuances. As a translator Manninen's range extended from Homer to Heine, and from Scandinavian dramatists to Finland-Swedish poets. In his own time Manninen's poems were not so widely read as his translations.
All things like the twilight waver,
Otto Manninen was born in Kangasniemi into a well-to-do farmer family, known from the sixteeth century. He studied at the University of Helsinki and received his M.A. in 1897. From 1898 to 1899 he was a subeditor of the magazine Valvoja. His early translations of Heine appeared in the student publication Koitar in 1897. Parts of Heine's Saksanmaa (Deutschland) was published in the magazine Valvoja in 1900 – the whole Finnish version appeared in 1904. When Eino Leino wrote his Helkavirsiä (1903), the two poets went through the text critically. The result of their cooperation was one of Leino's chief works.
From 1907 to 1909 Manninen worked for the Finnish National Theatre. He was appointed a lecturer at the University of Helsinki in 1913, remaining in the post for the next 25 years. In addition, he was a member of editorial staff of several nonfiction books, including Tietosanakirja (1909-21), and the chairperson of the National Council for Literature for nearly fifteen years. His follower in the 1930s was J.A. Hollo, another prominent translator. During the Civil War (1917-18), Manninen supported the White Army. As F.E. Sillanpää, Eero Järnefelt and his other friends, he was a member of the Civil Guards.
Kuolo taikka voiton palmu!
Otti, kiitti. - Orjan suku!
In 1907 Manninen married Anni Swan, who first had rejected his proposal. He was 34 and she was 32; their marriage became a happy union of two creative persons. They had met already in Mikkeli in the 1890s, where they studied at the same grammar lycée. Manninen was her persistent suitor but Swan was attracted to the young Eino Leino, who composed his first published love poem for her. The writer Juhani Aho encouraged Swan to focus on fairy tales, and her first book, illustarated by Aho's wife Venny Soldan-Brofelt, came out in 1901.
From the 1910s, the Manninens spent their summers on the island of Kotavuori in Puulavesi, where they built a house. The place was visited by a number of their writer friends, Juhani Siljo, Joel Lehtonen, Aaro Hellaakoski. In the peaceful surroundings, Manninen did most of his writings and finishing his translations. Kotavuori became also the subject of several of his small lyrical pieces.
As a poet Manninen started his career relatively late, at the age of 33. His first collection was Säkeitä I (1905, Verses I). Some of its lyrics had appeared already in anthologies. The book, in which Manninen used his wide store of words from old written language, to archaisms and his own neologisms, went unnoticed. In reviews it was considered difficult due to its compressed expression.
Manninen published his verses at long intervals. The second collection, Säkeitä II (Verses II), came out in 1910. One of its most analyzed and difficult poems is 'Musa lapidaria', about the process of creativity, which Manninen first wrote in Swedish. It took 15 years before he finished the third collection, Virrantyven (Still waters). By this time, Manninen's expression had became more open and more intelligible to all. However, in his study Otto Manninen runoilijana (1933), Viljo Tarkiainen saw that the work did not reach the level of the first collections. Most of the book consisted of anniversary poems, translations, and patriotic poems written in the aftermath of the civil war. The brief conflict was over in the spring of 1918; the non-socialist Civil Guards, backed by Germany, defeated the Red Guards, backed by Moscow.
In Virrantyven, spring is a symbol of renewal and new hope, but this old image was also given national and historical meanings. A noteworthy exception in Manninen's nationalistic enthusiasm is the antimilitaristic 'Pyhä sota' (holy war)', which mocked expansionism and bellicose policies. In 'Jean Sibelius', written for the composer's 50th birthday, Manninen questioned authoritarian values: "Is only he, whom clouds of incense bear, / great from the clattering armour he must wear?" Manninen's answer was that beauty wins over material goods, "In triumph you arrive, and castles quake / and bosoms yield to beauty in your wake." (translated by Keith Bosley)
Manninen's last collection was Matkamies (1938, The traveler). It included several poems, such as 'Nyt' (now) and 'Kaukainen tie' (distant road), which dealt with the loss of his son Sulevi (1909-36). Manninen describes him as a guiding star, who now helps his father to accept his own fate. During his short career, Sulevi Manninen translated with his father Molière's play Porvari aatelismiehenä (The Bourgeois Gentleman) into Finnish and published a collection of poems, Levoton päivä (1936). The other sons, Antero and Mauno, also were writers. Antero Manninen, who worked as a civil servant at the university, translated among others Kipling's poem 'The White Man's Burden' into Finnish in 1976. Mauno Manninen (1915-1969), his youngest son, became a theater manager and wrote two collections of poems, Rautaiset tornit (1944) and Kaks silmää vain (1965). He married in 1965 Lina Heydrich, the widow of the assassinated Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich, known as "The Hangman" or The Butcher of Prague."
Manninen rendered into Finnish such world classics into Finnish as Goethe's Faust, Sophocles' Oedipus, Euripides' Medea, and Homeros' Ilias and Ulysses – the latter was also translated by Pentti Saarikoski in the 1970s. But when Manninen closely followed the classical hexameter and utilized the whole scale of language material, Saarikoski abandoned the meter, and took liberties with the original text. Manninen's version, which do not correspond to standard Finnish usage, has been criticized for its artifical character, but as a literary achievement, it is considered unsurpassable. A supporter of the ideology of Finno-Ugric brotherhood, Manninen translated into Finnish Estonian poetry and works by the Hungarian writers János Arany and Sándor Petöfi.
Manninen's laconic, tight use of language, differed a lot from the dominating songful lyrics of the early decades of the 20th century. Viljo Tarkiainen stated in 1933 that a poet Manninen was more important to Finnish literature than his acclaimed translations. From the first collection to the last, Manninen kept his quality high, without much changes in his plain style or world view. Pessimism and resignation is often the prevailing mood. "Embers glow as they gaze / nightward shoot your best flare high. / Briefly you have lived a tale / of the sun and stars. Now die." ( 'Embers', in Säkeitä I, translated by Keith Bosley) Manninen's recurrent conclusion is that the best hopes and dreams are doomed to fail, but in 'Rauhanmies' he also satirizes conformity and people who are easily satisfied: "Pois luonto lyhytmalttinen / ja paatos ylenpalttinen! / Tie tasainen, asfalttinen / on varmin vaeltaa." (from Virrantyven)
Noteworthy, when Manninen turned 70 in August 1942, he was congratutaled by President Svinhufvud and C.G. Mannerheim, the Commander-in-Chief of the army, in the middle of the Continuation War. Manninen died in Helsinki on April 6, 1950. Muistojen tie (Road of memories) was assembled from the poet's literary estate in 1951. His statue (1954) by the sculptor Wäinö Aaltonen is situated in Mikkeli.
For further reading: Otto Manninen runoilijana by V. Tarkiainen (1933); Otto Manninen: ein finnischer Dichter by Hans Fromm (1952); Otto Mannisen Homeros-suomennosten runomitasta by Aarre Heino (1970); A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); Suomalaisen runouden struktuurianalyysiä by Hannu Launonen (1984); Kotavuoresta rakkaudella, ed. by Antero Manninen (1997); Skating on the Sea: Poetry from Finland, ed. and trans. by Keith Bosley (1997); A History of Finland's Literature, ed. by George C. Schoolfield (1998); Suomen kirjallisuushistoria 2: Järkiuskosta vaistojen kapinaan, ed. by Lea Rojola (1999); Silkkihienot siteet. Anni Swanin ja Otto Mannisen kirjeenvaihtoa 1898-1908, ed. by Antero Manninen and Hellevi Arjava (2000); Juuret Rasikankaalla: Otto Mannisen ja hänen sisarustensa kirjeenvaihtoa 1897-1913, edited by Hellevi Arjava (2001)