What are the requirements for becoming a national poet? According to a radio programme sent in May a national poet is one "who is concerned with the vicissitudes of his" - national poets tend to be men - "nation and has succeeded in touching the soul of the nation."

In Finland the "official" national poet is J. L. Runeberg (1804-77). He certainly did concern himself with the vicissitudes of the nation, and touched its soul even long after his death. But does he still? It has also been debated whether a Swedish language poet can be the national poet of Finland. His position seems to be under no threat, however. The usual Finnish language alternatives have been Aleksis Kivi (1834-72), V. A. Koskenniemi (1886-1964), and Eino Leino (1878-1926), the favourite. It's easy to dismiss both Kivi and Koskenniemi: Kivi was primarily a novelist, and Koskenniemi touched the soul of only one layer of the nation.

With Leino it is different. He was a prolific writer in all genres, but it is as a poet that he is best known and loved. He certainly touched the soul of the Finnish nation, and still does. But he didn't deal with the vicissitudes of the nation, he wrote primarily from the point of view of an individual as an individual, not of the nation, and not of individuals as a representatives of the nation as Runeberg had done. So, according to the definition above, he can't be a national poet. Yet he, too, has a flag day (6th of July) and a statue in the Esplanade Park collecting bird droppings, as well as Runeberg - but unlike Runeberg, no cobwebs.

So, who'd want to be a national poet then? But it's a pity: it would have been nice to refer to "my (distant) kinsman, the National Poet"...