Paavo Haavikko

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Biography

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Paavo Juhani Haavikko was born on January 25, 1931, in Helsinki, the capital city of Finland, a city in which the poet has lived all of his life and which he has always found attractive and exciting, and about which he also has written a book. Haavikko’s father was a businessman, and after his high school graduation in 1951 and customary service in the Finnish Army, Haavikko also entered the business world, working as a real estate agent. Like many Finnish modern poets, Haavikko has consistently maintained a second profession alongside his literary career; in fact, he believes that an author who is solely occupied by writing loses touch with the realities of life. Indeed, in his poetry Haavikko never seems to be an observer on the sidelines; he appears to be in the middle of the events and freely uses concepts and imagery from commerce and the business world in his creative writing, most of which he has done on weekends. From the late 1960’s, Haavikko has been the literary editor for a major Finnish publishing company and a literary consultant to several printing presses. In 1955, Haavikko married poet and writer Marja-Liisa Vartio (born 1924); she died in 1966. Haavikko and literary historian Ritva Rainio Hanhineva were married in 1971.

Haavikko has always, in his work, shown a great skepticism toward any political or philosophical ideology: “If the philosophy is wrong, all deeds become crimes.” Varying political ideologies are much the same in Haavikko’s eyes: “Socialism! so that capitalism could begin to materialize./ Capitalism! the Big Money!/ They spend their evenings in a small circle,/ hand in hand, fingers linked in fingers, and like to remember their youth.” Haavikko’s stand is that of an anti-utopian realist, to whom an individual’s uniqueness and freedom are the highest values; in his view, man has “perhaps a two percent margin” in the maze of corporations, institutions, and governments and their bureaucracies, or simply in the complexity of life and in facing fate. To Haavikko, the most positive aspects of life are nature, the biological world, and the human mind.

In his own country, Haavikko is generally seen as a conservative and patriotic poet, who paradoxically has often through his work questioned some of his society’s most cherished myths and values. Beginning in the 1980’s, Haavikko was a regular columnist for the magazine Suomen Kuvalehti, and in the 1990’s he started a small publishing press called Art House. By this point in his career, Haavikko had become a well-known figure in Finnish cultural life, even to people who did not particularly follow poetry. Gray-haired, distinguished-looking, and wearing thick eyeglasses, Haavikko had become a national sage without suffering the decrease in literary quality often associated with such a status.

History, Politics, and Communication

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

After The Winter Palace, Haavikko turned to writing prose. He had already in his earlier collections of lyrical poetry, particularly in Synnyinmaa (native land) and Lehdet lehtiä (leaves, pages), dealt with the issues of the politics of the day, especially examining the events during the war and its aftermath, illuminating and assessing, through similar historical events, the actions and reasoning of the principal Finnish statesmen, as well as probing the Finnish national identity and attitudes. Historical themes in general increased in Haavikko’s work considerably in the next two decades; seventeen of his plays are within a historical framework.

Haavikko continued questioning the essence of power, the motives and aims of those wielding it, and how they influence the world, in particular the fate of the individual, who is tied to a historical situation. Most of Haavikko’s novels and plays deal with social problems and issues involving the state, the church, the judiciary and taxation systems, diplomacy, commerce, and the family unit. In these contexts, the writer examines the problem of communication, how different social roles are manifested in...

(The entire section is 1,895 words.)