Go Back

Pentti Saarikoski

Pentti Ilmari Saarikoski
Born September 2, 1937, Impilahti. Died August 24, 1983, Joensuu.

Studied at the University of Helsinki (Roman and Greek Literature, Aesthetics, Folk Poetry) 1954–

Author, translator
Editor-in-chief 1963–1967, Aikalainen magazine

Commemorative plaque 2004, Kerava
Finnish State Prize for Literature 1963, 1966, 1970, 1973, 1981, 1982
Radio Play Award of the Blind 1982
Finnish Cultural Foundation Award 1975
WSOY Translation Award 1974
Aleksis Kivi Award 1974
Pro Finlandia 1973
Otava Translation Award 1970
Mikael Agricola Award 1966
Union of Finnish Writers Award 1963
Tammi Translation Award 1962
Karisto Prose Award 1961
Kalevi Jäntti award 1959

Photo: Helsingin kaupunginmuseo
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by Johanna Spoof

A bohemian poet and translator

Pentti Saarikoski enrolled in the University of Helsinki in 1954. He was an enthusiastic student of Roman and Greek Literature, Aesthetics and Folk Poetry, but did not complete many courses. According to his fellow student, Matti Klinge, this was because Saarikoski suffered from some sort of examination phobia. He never acquired an academic degree.

Because he could not complete his studies, Saarikoski focused on writing. His first poetry collection, Runoja (‘Poems’), was published in 1958. Although the first works of the young poet were written in line with 1950s Finnish modernism, in the early 1960s Saarikoski began to distance himself from the movement, deeming it too mainstream.

Saarikoski was strongly influenced by classical poets early on as well. For example, he compared himself to the highly contradictory Roman poet Catullus. He also considered himself a modern version of the Odysseus-type adventurer.

Saarikoski is perhaps best remembered for assuming the role of a bohemian artist. He had a severe drinking problem, and was not afraid to showcase it and himself in the press. He consciously used publicity to increase his fame, and soon became the epitome of the debauched artist. Saarikoski’s desire to be in the public eye was strongly narcissistic. He himself said that he would not feel like he existed at all if he was not always talked about. According to Pekka Tarkka, who has researched Saarikoski, the poet’s alcohol abuse hampered his writing so much that it affected the quality of his work.

Saarikoski considered his Tiarnia trilogy to be his most important work. The first book in the series, Tanssilattia (‘The Dance Floor’), was published in 1977, after he had moved to Sweden. According to Tarkka, Saarikoski was able to produce high-quality poetry again after a long, problematic era of lesser quality works. The Tiarnia series was Saarikoski’s last masterpiece.

In addition to poetry, Saarikoski believed his diaries to be his greatest legacy. He kept a diary throughout his writing career, and saw them as an almost perfect representation of himself, the poet.

Saarikoski was also a significant translator. He translated over 70 books over the course of his career. Among these are poems ranging from Homer’s Odyssey to Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, as well as, for example, the Finnish translation of the Gospel of Matthew.


Pentti Saarikoski was a living legend



In this character study, produced in 1998, various people who knew Pentti Saarikoski (1937–1983) at different points of his life contemplate what kind of man he really was. Thanks to archived interviews, Saarikoski himself also gets the floor in this recording provided by Yle’s Eläväarkisto (‘Living archive’).





Go Back