(born Feb. 5, 1804, Jakobstad, Swedish Finland—died May 6, 1877, Borgå, Russian Finland) Finnish poet who wrote in Swedish. During an interruption in his academic career, he became a tutor at a country estate, where he encountered Finland's landscape and tales of the heroic past. His works, combining classicism with Romantic feeling and an understanding of peasant life and character, include the epic poems The Moose Hunters (1832) and Hanna (1836), which won him a place in Swedish letters; and Kung Fjalar, a cycle of romances derived from old legends. His patriotic poem “Our Country,” from Tales of Ensign Stål (1848, 1860), became the Finnish national anthem. Runeberg is considered Finland's national poet.
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Runeberg studied first in the cities of Vaasa and Oulu, later on at Academy of Åbo, where he befriended Johan Vilhelm Snellman and Zacharias Topelius. His studies concentrated mainly on the classical languages of Latin and Greek. From 1837 onwards he lived in Porvoo, where he served as professor of Roman literature in the Gymnasium of Porvoo.
Many of his poems deal with life in rural Finland. The best known of these is Bonden Paavo , (Farmer Paavo, Saarijärven Paavo in Finnish), about a smallholding peasant farmer in the poor parish of Saarijärvi and his determination, "sisu" (guts) and unwavering faith in providence in the face of a harsh climate and years of bad harvests. Each year he mixes double the amount of bark into his bread to stave off starvation and gives what he can to his neighbors.
Runeberg's most famous work is Fänrik Ståls sägner (The Tales of Ensign Stål, Vänrikki Stoolin tarinat in Finnish) written between 1848 and 1860. It is considered the greatest Finnish epic poem outside the native Kalevala tradition and contains tales of the Finnish War of 1808-09 with Russia. In the war, Sweden ignominiously lost Finland, which became a Grand Duchy in the Russian empire. The poem, which is composed episodically, emphasizes the common humanity of all sides in the conflict, while principally lauding the heroism of the Finns. The first poem "Vårt land" (Our Land, Maamme in Finnish) became the Finnish National Anthem. Runeberg is celebrated on 5 February each year.