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29.07.2020

Johan Ludvig Runeberg Statue, Helsinki

Johan Ludvig Runeberg (5 February 1804 - 6 May 1877) was a Finnish-Swedish lyric and epic poet. He is the national poet of Finland and author of texts for the land of Vart, which became the national anthem of Finland. Runeberg also participated in modernizing the Finnish Lutheran collection and prepared many texts for the new edition.

Runeberg was born to a Swedish-speaking family in Jacobstad, on the Gulf of Bothnia. At the age of eight, Runeberg was sent to live with his uncle and to attend school in Oulu. Runeberg studied in Vaasa, later at the Turku Imperial Academy, where he became friends with Johan Wilhelm Snellman and Zachariah Topelius. His research focused mainly on the classical languages of Latin and Greek. He received his master's degree in philosophy in 1827. He was a mentor (1822-1826), associate professor at the Imperial Alexander University (1830), and teacher at the Swedish Language Lyceum of Helsingfors (1831-1836). From 1837 he lived in Porvoo, where he worked as a professor of Latin literature at the Gymnasium of Porvoo. The owner of the Finnish salon Natalia Kastren (1830-1881) was a member of his cultural circle. 

Many of his poems are dedicated to life in rural Finland. The most famous of them is Bonden Paavo (Farmer Paavo, Saarijärven Paavo in Finnish), about a small peasant in the poor Saarijärvi parish and his determination, "sisu" (courage) and unshakable belief in providence in the face of harsh climate and years of bad harvest. Three times a frosty night destroys his harvest. Each time he mixes double the amount of bark with the bark to prevent hunger working harder and harder to dry the swamp on land that will not be exposed to night frosts. After four years, Paavo finally gets a rich harvest. When his wife jubilates, thank God, and tells Paavo to enjoy full bread made entirely from grain, Paavo instructs his wife to mix the bark and grain again, because their neighbor's crop was lost in the frost, and he gives half of his crop to a poor neighbor. 

Runeberg's major works included the idealist poem Älgskyttarna (Elk Hunters, 1832) and the epic book Kung Fjalar (King Fjalar, 1844). The heroic poem "Fenrik Stols Sagner" ("Stories of the Ensign", "Tarinat of the Viennese Tabola" in Finnish), written between 1848 and 1860, is considered the greatest Finnish epic poem outside the native Kalevala tradition and contains stories about the Finnish War of 1808-09 with Russia. In the war, Sweden shamefully lost Finland, which became the Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire. The epic, which is composed episodically, emphasizes the common humanity of all parties to the conflict, while mainly praises the heroism of the Finns. The first poem Vårt land (Our Land, Maamme in Finnish) was the Hymn of Finland.

He was married to his cousin Fredrika Runeberg, born Tengström, who wrote poems and novels. They were the parents of eight children, including the sculptor Walter Runeberg, who was their eldest son.

Runebergin päivä is celebrated annually on 5 February, Runeberg's birthday. Almond cake, called Runeberg's cake (Finnish: Runebergintorttu; Swedish: Runebergstårta), is usually sold in shops from early January to 5 February. 

The monument to Johan Ludwig Runeberg erected by his son Walter Runeberg on Esplanadi in the heart of Helsinki. 

Runeberg was chosen as the main motif of the Finnish commemorative coin, a commemorative coin of Johan Ludwig Runeberg for 10 euros and Finnish poetry. It was minted in 2004 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth. The obverse of the coin shows a stylised portrait of Runeberg's face. The reverse shows an 1831 font sample from the Swedish newspaper Helsingfors Tidningar, as Runeberg painted most of his work in Swedish. 

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