Poet and essayist Hando Runnel writes poetry which has a national tinge; a large part of his monumental work relates to the belief he always retained that one day the Soviet occupation of Estonia would end and the Estonian Republic be restored. Right from his first collection of poetry Maa lapsed (Children of the Soil), which appeared in 1965, Runnel has examined issues of ethical values and resistance. He is one of the most well-known and beloved poets, also because of the musicality of his poetry. As it seems to be created for singing, 330 of his poems have been put to music.
Hando Runnel was born in 1938 in Järvamaa as a son of a teacher and farmer. He has inherited several echoes of his poetry from childhood: his father´s early death recurring as the death motif, as well as the deep, thorough perception of the environment, topophilia, which also has roots in the family´s earlier home in South Estonia. Especially his earlier poetry was to perpetuate the vanishing Estonian farmhouses and the eternal cycle of nature.
Runnel studied agronomy at the agricultural university, then worked on the editorial board of the literary magazine Looming and became a professional writer. In 1992 he founded the publishing house Ilmamaa. In 1992–93 Runnel was invited to be professor of the arts at the University of Tartu. He is married to the poetess Katre Ligi and is a father of six children.
Although Runnel is not an academic, instead an autodidact, he is one of those who best knows the Estonian cultural and literary tradition: he has a feel for the subtleties of his mother-tongue and in his poems he alludes to Estonian folk poetry and an earlier literary tradition with artistic poetry. This is the main reason why his work has been so well received by Estonians at large and why he is regarded as a national author and why his song texts have enjoyed such success, although his texts may often have the anonymous look of folk poetry. His poems are predominantly rhymed and have regular verse patterns. His scale is a wide one, ranging from satirical epigrams written with great pathos to ribald ballads whereby he attempts to escape social and psychological strictures. On account of allusions and puns, his poetry has been considered by some as being untranslatable – although he has been translated into many languages – but this quality helped, by way of ellipsis and subtexts, to evade the censor during Soviet times; Estonians were able to read between the lines. The culmination of this was his legendary collection Punaste õhtute purpur (The Purple of Red Evenings, 1982) of sharp socio-political satire, a book that was forbidden reviews by the authorities. Some texts he was unable to publish because of censorship were handed on by word of mouth, or carbon copies were made. But Runnel has also written pastiches where he simply enjoys imitation and creation, wordplay and the possibilities a language can offer.
Runnel has also written delicate poetry and sensitive love lyrics. What is on the surface deceptively simple does tackle profound issues, existential matters beyond the trivia of everyday existence. His collections of ceremoniously hymn-like poetry in praise of his native land and love, e.g. the cycle Ilus maa (Beautiful Country, 1982) and his thoughts on artistic endeavour, e.g. Taevas ja maa (Heaven and Earth, 1997), have been influential. His recent poetry is even proverb-like, like in the collection Ütles mu naine (Said My Wife, 2010).

One of Runnel's masterpieces is the collection Mõistatused (Riddles, 2000) in which he adds to the permanent theme of previous collections: the eternal woman. This collection contains somewhat ceremonious poems in Tagore style where Woman is mythologised, delicate hymns which are now subtly erotic, now more father-daughter in tone, then child-mother, man-woman. The central image here is the Motherland.
A prolific critic and a co-author of a play, Runnel is a very special poet for children: without trying to teach, he writes about serious topics the children may want an answer, simply, seriously, mischievously and in a funny, natural way, with a feeling of warmth.


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