âOnce upon a time, in a distant northern country, there lived a man who had seven sons and three daughtersâŠâ This might be the beginning of a folk-tale â and indeed young Armas Einar Leopold LĂ¶nnbohm, the youngest of the seven, born on 6 July 1878, would grow up to lead a life shaped by myth and poetry.
At the time of his birth in Paltamo, Finland was still a Grand Duchy under Russian control, and as he grew up he became aware of the increasing friction between the Finnish people and their oppressors, culminating in the assassination in 1904 of Nikolai Bobrikov, the Governor-General of Finland, by the young Finnish patriot Eugen Schauman. Helen Dunmoreâs novel House of Orphans (London, 2006; ELD.DS.193298) vividly evokes the atmosphere of that period and the fervour of the conspirators, afire not only with revolutionary zeal but with love of their countryâs culture and literature.
Our heroâs father had changed his surname from the plain Finnish Mustonen (Black) to the Swedish LĂ¶nnbohm in the interests of his career, but as a loyal Finn the seventh son could not accept this, and it was under a new name of his own choice that he achieved fame as the poet Eino Leino.
Orphaned while he was still at school, the boy was taken in by relatives in HĂ€meenlinna, where he was educated at the local grammar school and subsequently entered the University of Helsinki. He was already showing signs of a precocious literary talent; at the age of 12 he published his first poem, and in 1896, when he was just eighteen, he brought out his first collection, Maaliskuun lauluja (âSongs of Marchâ). Two years later he and his elder brother Kasimir founded a literary magazine together; Kasimir became not only a poet in his own right but also a critic and theatre director.
Eino soon decided that academic study held little attraction for him, and left the university to become a journalist and literary critic for various Finnish newspapers. He also embarked on a career as a novelist, writing both historical fiction and works of social satire. In 1909-10 he travelled through Italy, Germany and Sweden, absorbing influences from European literature, including those of Gabriele DâAnnunzio, Gerhart Hauptmann and Maurice Maeterlinck which inspired him to create a new Finnish theatrical tradition based on pure poetry rather than the naturalist drama typified by Ibsen. His poetry drew inspiration from Heinrich Heine and Johan Ludvig Runeberg, the poet whose words became the text of Finlandâs national anthem, but also from the Kalevala, linking Finlandâs present striving for independence with motifs from ancient legends. At the same time he sought to build bridges between Finland and the wider cultural legacy of Europe though his translations of Schiller, Racine, Corneille, Danteâs Divina Commedia (made in Rome in 1908-09) and Goetheâs Iphigenia auf Tauris (Helsinki, 1910; Ac.9080) and his essays on contemporary authors including Anatole France, Tolstoy, Ibsen and Strindberg.
However, he experienced a constant tension between nationalist objectives and individualistic ideologies. Like W. B. Yeats, in his poetry he frequently uses symbols from folk poetry to contrast the heroism of the mythical past with the squalor and disillusionment of modern politics, and his early Symbolist dramas such as Sota valosta (âWar over lightâ: Helsinki, 1900; 11758.bbb.43) introduce the theme of decadence into a world peopled by heroes such as VĂ€inĂ€mĂ¶inen, Ilmarinen and LemminkĂ€inen who are betrayed and rejected by a fickle populace greedy for material benefits rather than the light symbolized by VĂ€inĂ€mĂ¶inenâs flaming sword.
When in 1905 political strike action against Russian rule brought into focus the differing political interests of the intelligentsia and the working classes, Leinoâs pessimism increased as he witnessed the rise of the radical socialist workersâ movement and the clashes which occurred during the strike. From being an enthusiastic member of the Young Finland movement and ardent neo-romanticist, he became increasingly cynical; with the outbreak of the Finnish Civil War in 1917, Leinoâs idealistic faith in national unity collapsed, and his influence as a journalist and polemicist diminished, although he was granted a state writerâs pension in the following year.
Leinoâs personal life was similarly turbulent; he married three times, but possibly his most significant relationship was with the novelist L. Onerva (Hilja Onerva Lehtinen) whose two-volume biography of him, Eino Leino: runoilija ja ihminen (âEino Leino: the poet and the manâ) reflects the complex intertwining of their equally strong creative personalities.
After suffering years of health problems and financial instability, Leino died on 10 January 1926 in Tuusula and was buried in Helsinkiâs Hietaniemi cemetery. His birthday is celebrated throughout Finland on 6 July, when the national flag will be flying all over the country in honour of Eino Leino Day, âthe day of poetry and of summerâ.
Susan Halstead, Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services