Go Back

Bo Carpelan

Bo Gustaf Bertelsson Carpelan
Born October 25, 1926, Helsinki. Died February 11, 2011, Espoo.

Master of Arts (Literature), 1948, Licentiate of Philosophy, 1956, Doctor of Philosophy, 1960, University of Helsinki
Library Diploma, School of Social Sciences, Tampere
Studies in France (1951), United States (1961), England (1962)

Honorary Arts Professor, 1980–1993
Study counsellor, 1950-59; section librarian 1960–64; Assistant librarian, 1964–80, Helsinki City Library
Literary reviewer, 1949–64, Huvudstadsbladet newspaper
Board Member, Finlands svenska författareförening (Society of Swedish writers in Finland), 1950–70
Finnish representative, Nordic Council of Ministers, 1965–71

Le Prix Européen de Littérature, 2007
Svenska Akademiens nordiska pris (Ruotsi) 1997
Finlandia Prize 1993, 2005
Suomen runoilijaliiton Vuoden runoilija (Finnish poetry association, poet of the year) 1993
National award for translation, 1986
Karl Emil Tollander prize 1983
Pro Finlandia (award for non-fiction), 1978
Nordic Council Literature Prize, 1977
Nuorisokirjallisuuden valtionpalkinto (’ Young writers’ national award’) 1969, 1989
Valtion kirjallisuuspalkinto (’National award for writing’) 1967, 1972, 1987, 1989

Photo: Schildts & Söderströms
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by John Calton

Minimalist poems, then books for children and novels

Bo Carpelan began his writing with Som en dunkel värme (‘Like dark warmth’, 1946), a poetry collection published when he was just twenty. The Swedish-language Finnish literature of the day was looking for exemplars, especially from the Swedish modernist movement of the 1940s known as fyrtiotalism, and French existentialism. These influences could be detected in Carpelan’s early works, which he did not place much value on in later life.

Carpelan was already part of the Finnish poetic elite by the 1950s. He was at pains to distance himself from the creation of political and ideological poetry of the time and condemned the spread of

politicised poetry in the 1960s. In Carpelan’s view, politicised writing constituted a betrayal of poetry’s primary function. Poetry should be simple but handle profound themes, not a rallying point for simplistic political slogans.

In terms of poetic styles, Carpelan’s works changed over time. For the most part however his poetry tended towards restraint and precise description. At their extreme, these can be found in the 1960s works of ascetic minimalism, such as in the collection 73 dikter (‘73 poems’, 1966). At their most minimal the poems were compressed into just four or five words. Carpelan had moved to a freer and more relaxed style at the end of the decade, with a collected called Gården (‘The yard’, 1969). He wrote prose as well as poetry, and the best of his prose works are among his most significant work. Of these the novel Axel (1986) is noteworthy, a text that was 16 years in the making. It tells about Axel Carpelan, the author’s great uncle, who was one of Sibelius’ friends and admirers. The writer himself has used the novel to illustrate just how slow the process of writing can sometimes end up being. Carpelan was also a two-time winner of the coveted Finlandia prize – in 1993 for Urwind and in 2005 for Berg. Carpelan also wrote radio plays and fiction for children and young adults.

It meant a lot to Carpelan that writing was available for different language groups. Several of his poetry collections and novels were translated into Finnish, and he translated the work of his Finnish contemporaries into Swedish. Carpelan’s poetry became an essential part of the Finnish lyrical canon, and he was one of the most influential postwar figures by virtue of his Swedish translations.

Photo: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.​
Photo: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.​


  • Matti Soutkari, ”Bo Carpelan. 1926–2011”, Svenskt översättarlexikon online. Accessed March 24, 2015.
  • Schildts & Söderströms, Bo Carpelan, Schildts & Söderström’s writer’s profile. Accessed March 24, 2015.
  • Bo Carpelan, Mitä olen oppinut: Bo Carpelan (’What I have learned’), Ylioppilaslehti online. Accessed March 24, 2015.
  • Pekka Tarkka, ’Bo Carpelan’, Helsingin Sanomat newspaper obituary. Accessed March 24, 2015.
  • Otava, Bo Carpelan, Otava publishing house writer’s profile. Accessed March 24, 2015.
  • Tytti Seessalo, ’Sinut tavoittaa tuuli, ja näet kirkkauden, valon’ (’You catch the wind, and see clear light’) Yliopisto-lehti online. Accessed March 24, 2015.
  • Johan Wrede, “Carpelan, Bo”, National Biography of Finland online. Accessed March 24, 2015.
Go Back