Haavikko, Paavo 1931–
Haavikko is a Finnish poet and dramatist. A leader in the modernist revival of poetry in Finland, he also introduced the Theater of the Absurd to that country with his drama Münchhausen. Both ancient and modern history have proved to be a great influence on Haavikko: the theme of history as myth as well as the poet's own perceptions of modern history inform his work.
[Two important poles are represented in the poetry of Paavo Haavikko.] On the one hand, the world is real, unavoidable, but difficult to understand. One cannot help listening to its voice. On the other hand, man cannot expect permanence or stability. The world flows like his own speech, and in this changing world the only possibility of orientation is to "know almost everything yourself." This is man's basic situation in Haavikko's poetry. (p. 41)
Haavikko was twenty when he published his first book in 1951. The title Tiet etäisyyksiin could be translated somewhat inexactly as "The Ways to Far-away." This, with some of its central motives, gives the book a certain romantic undertone: there are deep shadows, decorative historical images, views of old houses and gardens. But these images are used in a personal way, illustrating the aims of the poet. The opening poem is typical: one has to ride through the countries drawn on maps, faster than "the troops of thoughts." In hindsight, this poem can be considered as a pretentious artistic program. At any rate, Haavikko has done what he predicted—he has passed the well-known countries drawn on the map of Finnish poetry, and has also succeeded in keeping a distance from the "troops of thoughts." The military image of the troops (or an army) of thoughts is typical of him, just like the other historical, medieval images of riding, horses, kings, or falcons.
His second book Tuuliöinä ("On Windy Nights," 1953) is his most lyrical collection. He writes love poems and speaks more openly than before, but he also makes use of mythical material. In the third collection, Synnyinmaa ("Birthplace," 1955), historical imagery again dominates; the book contains also some magnificent poems about poetry, and meditations on the situation of man in the contemporary world…. Haavikko's fourth book Lehdet lehtiä is less uniform in tone than its predecessor, but it further develops some central themes and introduces new ironic accents in his poetry…. Talvipalatsi ("The Winter Palace," 1959) is a synthesis of Haavikko's poetry of the Fifties—a poem of poetry, language, love, and history. (p. 42)
In the autumn of 1966 Haavikko returned to poetry with a new collection, Puut, kaikki heidän vihreytensä ("Trees in All Their Verdure" …), considered by many critics his best book….
There are a few recurrent subjects in Haavikko's verse. Again and again, four matters occupy his mind: history, poetry (and language), love, and death. They are of course not separate, static elements, but changing themes; all can exist in the same poem, blending one with another, or leading into still different themes. Sometimes they are present stylistically: Haavikko can write love poems in historical terms, or treat of historical events in economic or statistical language. His artistic solutions are never simple. But how could they be so, when he deals with topics such as the relativity of human life, the complexity of the world, or the insecurity of man?
Still another difficulty arises in Haavikko's poetry: his unwillingness to give names to single poems or to classify his experiences conceptually. In the collection "Trees in All Their Verdure" there is a poem called "Faulkner, Early in the Morning"; but the title is to be...
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Haavikko's poetry may be viewed as a two-pronged attack on the style and content of Finnish poetry before 1950. However, while the details of many poems are peculiar to Finland, most of Haavikko's poems are international in their modern style and attack on positivism and national romanticism, and on the irrationality of human perception.
The nine-poem cycle "Winter Palace," published in 1959, is one of the landmarks of modern Finnish literature, and firmly established Haavikko as the most original voice in postwar Finnish poetry. The poem is the culmination of many of the themes of the first decade of his writing….
["Winter Palace"] uses the modern associative technique, described in the opening lines as:
Side by side:
To have them tell you….
And, apropos of this technique, the poet also questions the tyranny of language and syntax, viewing them as one of the many conceptual categories which severely limit our perception and expression. Elsewhere he asks: "And what is the subject of this poem,/And is it a poem?"
The answer to his second question was clear: one young Finnish poet published a book of blank pages to dramatize the impact of the "Winter Palace" in forcing younger poets to redefine their conception of lyric poetry and find a new starting point. (p. 161)
Richard Dauenhauer, "Finno-Ugric and Baltic Languages: Paavo Haavikko," in Books Abroad (copyright 1970 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 44, No. 1, Winter, 1970, pp. 160-61.
Jaakko A. Ahokas
When Finnish poets broke with tradition in the 1950s, there was no leader among them, no innovator bolder than the others who could mark a road for others to follow. Haavikko's first collection of poems … was not the very first to be written in the new manner; but the author almost immediately established himself as the most individual of the new poets and also … the least accessible to the average reader. At times critics and essayists have expressed bewilderment when attempting to analyze his works; ready-made labels do not easily apply to them, although such terms as "imagism," "decadent surrealism," and "romanticism" have been used…. Features typical of Haavikko's poetry [are an] interest in a mythical or, at times, quite well-defined past, described in solemn and slightly mysterious words, somewhat in the manner of St.-John Perse, and his abrupt changes from the description of material things to the rendering of thoughts and feelings…. In the 1950s, critics and essayists stated more than once that poems were not intended to be clear and unambiguous messages, that they are not even meant to be understood, and, in his way, Haavikko has stated something similar. Flowers are often taken as the symbol of pure, non-materialistic beauty, but it would seem that to Haavikko even they are too tangible to represent his poetry; at any rate, when speaking of the "farmers" by whom he obviously means the general public, he says: "but they will say then: I told you so,/I know that they will plant rows of chrysanthemums into the landscape,/for, they say, I am a lie,/…/for,...
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Paavo Haavikko has always been a prolific writer. Poetry, prose, plays, whatever he turns his hand to he executes with ease and assurance. The year 1975 was a gala year for him: in addition to his collected poems in two large volumes, Runot 1949–1974 … and Runoelmat …, he also produced a highly successful opera libretto, Ratsumies (The Horseman …). (p. 337)
Haavikko's poetry as a whole forms a tightly-woven, complex tapestry, in which many themes merge and emerge. Most poets write of love and death, many of poetry. Haavikko's interest in history seems, however, to put him in a more select company among modern poets. In [a] radio interview he was asked why he so often veiled his themes in the history of Rome or Byzantium and in the Finnish past. His reply was:
Everything is history. The antique world is where it happened. I am not veiling them in history. When I was young I read poems, but I didn't understand them at all. They only contained generalizations, and he who generalizes is a fool. I thought that if I should write poetry myself I would start from reality, from real events.
[In] much of his work Haavikko concocts a poetic mix of history and myth. The myth is evident early in Synnyinmaa (Native Land; 1955). Later, in his long narrative poem Kaksikymmentä ja yksi (Twenty and One; 1974), where the subject—the search for the sampo—is mythical, this...
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["Wine, Writing" is Haavikko's tenth volume of poetry.] Wine is life, and so are women and bread. Drinking, eating, Eros—all are of the same category. They give the taste of life. The glass is shaped like a woman; wine is god too. Haavikko writes of "the man who eats and drinks his god, in little pieces, as bread and as wine." And writing is drinking, wine the writer: "Wine writes better than me, it's true/in the bottle lives a savage spirit."
Life and death are inextricably interwoven. Death is a tyrant to beware of "when death begins to seem safe, gentle,/trustworthy." Life and death are represented by elemental things, the wind, grass, leaves, trees. Like the trees, the writer too must die,...
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At the end of "Harald's Farewell" the Narrator tells us that the King "meditates, in his mind, that life in the end is a pretty villainous tale. Goodbye." "Harold's Farewell" (Harald, jäähyväiset, 1976) is the last of twelve plays collected in Paavo Haavikko's Näytelmät (Plays,… 1978). All the tales are pretty villainous in their way, though their ways are various enough; but there are certain recurrent themes, some of them familiar from Haavikko's poetry, some more suited for drama. Critics of Haavikko generally agree on his complexity and ambiguity, the inseparability of the components and concepts of his world. This makes the task of analyzing his works more difficult. In trying to clarify, one...
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