Jorma Etto, “A Finn”

Suomalainen on sellainen joka vastaa kun ei kysytä,
kysyy kun ei vastata, ei vastaa kun kysytään,
sellainen joka eksyy tieltä, huutaa rannalla
ja vastarannalla huutaa toinen samanlainen:
metsä raikuu, kaikuu, hongat humajavat.
Tuolta tulee suomalainen ja ähkyy, on tässä ja ähkyy,
Tuonne menee ja ähkyy, on kuin löylyssä ja ähkyy
Kun toinen heittää kiukalle vettä.
Sellaisella suomalaisella on aina kaveri,
Koskaan se ei ole yksin ja se kaveri on suomalainen.
Eikä suomalaista erota suomalaisesta mikään,
ei mikään paitsi kuolema ja poliisi

—Jorma Etto, Ajastaikaa (WSOY, 1964)

A Finn
A Finn is the kind of person who answers when she isn’t asked,
asks when he isn’t answered, and doesn’t answer when asked.
The kind of person who loses her way, hollers on the shore,
and another like him hollers from the opposite shore.
The forest resounds, echoes, the big pines drone.
The Finn comes from over there, groaning, and here she is, groaning.
He goes over there, groaning, and groans as if she is in the sauna
When another person tosses water on the stove.
A Finn like this always has a pal.
She is never alone, and that pal is a Finn.
Nothing separates Finn from Finn,
Nothing except death and the police.

* * * * * *

Jorma Etto’s poem “A Finn” rose to national prominence when President Urhu Kekkonen quoted it during a New Year’s speech in the 1970s. When asked by journalist Maarit Tyrrkö what a Finn was, during a tape-recorded interview in 1976, Kekkonen also quoted the poem, albeit omitting lines six through eight accidentally or intentionally.

I have taken perhaps unwanted license with the sex of the collective singular Finn sketched in the poem, because the Finnish language has complete gender neutrality and, thus, utter ambiguity, when it comes to grammar, if not always (or, hardly ever) in real life. If you would like a more conventional albeit decidedly masculine rendering of Etto’s classic poem, see Keith Bosley’s excellent translation.

Photo and translation by Living in FIN. Video courtesy of Apu magazine.

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