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Johan Ludvig Runeberg

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Excerpted from History of the International Order of Runeberg lodges by C. Vern Mattson, 1977

Johan Ludvig Runeberg is regarded in both Finland and Sweden as Finland's greatest poet. His poetry awakened a sense of a common history among the Finns and the Swedes in Finland, and played a significant role in the development of a sense of national identity among the people.

Runeberg's grandparents had come from Sweden and settled in Finland. He was born in Jakobstad [1] on February 5, 1804, to Ulrik and Anna Maria (Malm) Runeberg, the first of their six children. After some early schooling in his hometown and in Uleåborg where he lived with an uncle, he prepared for higher education during the following seven years in Vasa Gymnasium. In 1822 he was admitted to Åbo Akademi [2]. There he received his Master's degree the next year and his Ph.D. in1827. To earn his living, he was a tutor during summers for children of well-to-do families in inland parishes, especially Saarijärvi[3] and Ruovesi[4]. Through this experience he became acquainted not only with the beautiful nature of the inland country but also with the character of the common Finnish people. Both impressed him very favorably and were later reflected in his poetry.

In 1837, he was appointed "Lektor" at Borgå[5] College - first in Latin and then in Greek literature. Later he became "Rektor" (headmaster) of the college. In 1857 he retired from his teaching career. Then in 1865, Runeberg suffered a stroke and became almost completely incapacitated for the rest of his life. He died on May 6 1877, exactly 40 years after he had been appointed Lektor at Borgå College. May 17th, the day of his burial, was observed as a day of national mourning.

Of all his poetry, that which gained him the greatest recognition by all the people and by the whole nation was the cycle Fänrik Ståls Sägner [6], which utilized stories about persons and events in the War of 1808-09, where Finns and Swedes had fought side by side against the Russians. The first part began with the song, Vårt Land, which expressed a deep love of the homeland in all its varied natural aspects and under all social conditions. Sung to a melody by Pacius[7], it soon became and has since remained the National Anthem of Finland. [8]

Today Runeberg is regarded as Finland's foremost national epic writer and is still widely read. He has been praised as the "National Interpreter" of Finland.

Runeberg is also remembered as the national poet of Finland. Following is Vårt Land which contains some of the noblest strains of patriotic verse ever written. It ranks among the world's greatest literary works. Vårt Land is very difficult to translate and still retain the full beauty of the crystal simplicity and somewhat elaborate verse form.

VÅRT LAND

 (English translation of Finnish National Anthem)
 (Original written in Swedish)
 by Johan Ludvig Runeberg
 
 Our land, our land, our fatherland,
 Let the dear words ring forth!
 No hills to heaven their heights expand,
 No valley dips, seas wash no strand,
 More cherished than our home far north,
 Than this our native land.
 
 Our land is poor, it has no hold
 On those who lust for gain,
 And strangers pass it proud and cold,
 But we, we treasure every grain,
 For us, with moor and fell and main,
 It is a land of gold.
 
 We love the thunder of our streams,
 Our torrent's headlong bound,
 Our gloomy forests' mournful themes,
 Our starry nights, our summer's beams,
 All, all that here by sight or sound
 About our hearts is wound.
 
 Here fought our fathers their good fight
 With brain and plough and blade.
 When skies were sullen or were bright,
 When all went ill, when all went right,
 The Finnish heart bore undismayed
 The burden on it laid.
 
 O who can reckon up the tale
 Of trials this folk withstood,
 When battle raged o'er hill and dale,
 When frost brought famine in its trail,
 Who measures all of its outpoured blood
 And all its fortitude?
 
 And it was here they fought and bled
 For us, those men of yore,
 And it was here their joys were bred
 And it was here their tears were shed
 Those who for us our burdens bore
 So many years before.
 
 This is a sweet and lovely spot,
 All, all we need lies here.
 However fate may cast our lot
 A land, a homeland, we have got..
 And what is worthier, far or near,
 To cherish and hold dear?
 
 And here around us lies this land
 Too near for sight to miss,
 We have but to stretch forth our hand
 And gladly point to lake and strand,
 And pointing say: See this and this,
 Our fatherland it is!
 
 And were we wafted to the skies,
 Their golden fields to till,
 Should life become a paradise
 With no more tears and no more sighs,
 Yet this poor land of ours would still
 Our hearts with longing fill.
 
 Land, which a thousand lakelets hast,
 Where song and honour dwell!
 Shore upon which our life was cast,
 Land of our future and our past!
 Let not thy poverty thee quell,
 Be free, rejoice, live well!
 
 Thy bloom, a tender bud till now,
 Shall burst its bounds ere long;
 See from our love for thee shall grow
 Thy hope and joy, thy fame shall glow,
 And ringing louder and more strong
 To Finland raise our song.

Submitted by [June Pelo]



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