Eeva Kilpi, “Suddenly Passion Mounts the Day”

Äkkiä intohimo astuu päivän
ja ne kohoavat siivilleen
toisiinsa kietoutuneina
ja siitä liitosta synnyin minä kuin metsänelävä,
vapaa mutta uhanalainen,
kevyt ja unohdettua nautintoa täynnä,
talviuni jäsenissä
yhtaikaa levon ja rasituksen kaltaisena.

Kiitos ettet soita.
Kiitos ettet kirjoita.
Kiitos ettet toivo tapaamista.
Kiitos että maltat mielesi.

Odota.

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Suddenly passion mounts the day
and they rise on their wings,
intertwined.
And from that union, I was born, like a forest creature,
free but endangered,
airy and replete with forgotten pleasure,
the limbs in hibernation,
reposed and straining at the same time.

Thank you for not calling.
Thank you for not writing.
Thank you for not wishing to meet.
Thank you for changing your mind.

Wait.

Source: Eeva Kilpi, Animalia (WSOY, 1987). Translation and photo by Living in FIN

Eeva Kilpi, “One Morning the Earth”

Eräänä aamuna maapallo havahtui ja ravisti ihmiset harteiltaan kuin syöpäläiset, kyllänsä saaneena, myös maailmanparantajat. He roiskahtivat avaruuteen kuin täit tai tähdet. Muutaman itsetietoisen poliitikon se tappoi kynnellään, muutamia porvareita se potkaisi persuksiin ja muutaman rähisevän radikaalin se puhalsi ilmaan kuin höyhenen. Ja kun se oli taas pitkästä aikaa vapautunut näistä herhiläisistä, se huokasi syvään, asettui lepäämään ja alkoi kukkia joka rakosestaan.

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One morning the earth, full of days, awoke suddenly and shook the people from its shoulders like vermin, including the reformers. They splattered into outer space like parasites or stars. It clawed a few conceited politicians to death, kicked a few bourgeois in the backside, and blew a few brawling radicals into the atmosphere like feathers. When a long time had passed since it liberated itself from these hornets, it sighed deeply and settled down to rest, and its every crack and crevice began to blossom.

Source: Eeva Kilpi, Laulu rakkaudesta ja muita runoja (WSOY, 1972). Translation and photo by Living in FIN

International Translation Day: Hannu Salakka

 

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Today, September 30, is International Translation Day.

I celebrated International Translation Day in 2016 by sending a virtual love letter to the great Finnish poet and writer Eeva Kilpi, who published two new books this year at the ripe young age of ninety-one.

It was a chance encounter with Kilpi’s poems that inspired me to take the rash step of translating from Finnish to English in the first place. And, although I am often distracted by my real job (translating from Russian to English) and my dangerously job-like hobby (translating articles about Russian grassroots politics and culture), I have found the time, since I first happened upon Kilpi’s poems (in a hut by the side of a road to a paradise-like place in the countryside, where, as I learned last year, Kilpi’s father once had a summer cottage) to translate many more poems by her and let other chance encounters lead me to other great Finnish poets.

Aside from Kilpi, the Finnish poet who has made himself most at home in my life has been Hannu Salakka (1955–2003). While Kilpi is known to a good number of readers outside of Finland through translations of her novels, memoirs, stories, and poems, and was, apparently, nominated for a Nobel Prize, Salakka (whose collected poems, published in 1990, is two hundred pages longer than Kilpi’s collected poems, published in 2000) is now, sixteen years after his death, nearly as obscure in his homeland as he is abroad.

Although both poets share a certain aesthetic sensibility and a deceptively simple approach to writing poems, Salakka’s work has never been translated into English either at all or in any noticeable quantities. This is a shame because his poems are every bit as wry, profound, humane, and therapeutic as Kilpi’s are, although they are probably a good deal bleaker.

Or, perhaps, they seem that way to me because Salakka died at the age of forty-eight, four years younger than I am now, and because his obscurity seems irrefutable, a sad fact brought home to me by the number of times I have found his books abandoned and offered for a pittance in secondhand stores and piled up, so I imagine, in the backrooms of the booksellers from whom I have bought the books of his I did not find at random in Finland’s ubiquitous secondhand stores.

As I did three years ago on this day, I have chosen a poem from Salakka’s collected poems using a random number generator. I could not have chosen a better poem to illustrate his gifts as a poet. The poem also revolves around a beautifully apt metaphor for what it is poets and translators do when they are at their best: they set words free to soar and sing.

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Laululintu

Löysin maasta linnun,
elävän, harmaan pienen linnun,
aran kuin vain lintu voi olla arka.
Silitin sitä ja puhuin sille,
vaikka näin sen sitä pelkäävän.
Halusin sen laulavan,
mutta se vapisi ja pysyi mykkänä.
Mutta kun avasin käteni,
se lensi,
lensi yhä kauemmas ja korkeammalle.

Ja vielä vuosienkin jälkeen
kuulen lintujen yhä laulavan.

* * * * *

Songbird

I found a bird on the ground.
A little gray bird, it was alive,
and bashful as only a bird could be.
I stroked it and spoke to it,
though I saw this made it afraid.
I wanted it to sing,
but it shivered and kept mum.
When I opened my hand, however,
it flew,
it flew ever farther and higher.

And even years later
I can still hear the birds singing.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viiypen (Helsinki: Otava, 1990), p. 122. Photo and translation by Living in FIN. This translation is dedicated to V., my comrade in life, translating, and Finnish. It also happens to be her name day today.

Jorma Etto, “Othello”

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Othello

Lapsesta asti rakastin sanoja,
sanoja kunniotin, ihailin sanoja,
neitseitä ne olivat, jaloja niin:
desdemonaksi kuvittelin substaantiivit.
Nyt inhat, irstaat, yököttävät kaikki nuo,
monien siitämät, silti marrot,
käytetyt portot joita rakastan.
Oi Aika, jalo ystäväni, kivesi kokoat
ja heität kasvoilleni. Siitä nämä uurteet.
Helpoksi kaiken teet,
pehmeiksi päivät sanoja maat. Hyi!
Ken on se Jago? Se sietäis tappaa
sijasta desdemonan, lemmittyni.
Nuo viisaat kaikki, nuo luulevaiset kirjat,
minulle kuiskuttivat ja minä uskoin:
syvälle päästäkseen on surmattava puhtain,
joksikin mahdutettava mihin ei se mahdu,
myrkkynsä sekoitettava, juotava myrkky,
verensä musteena haavoistaan vuodatettava
palstoille pohjattomille. Oi viisaus, Jago,
Kristuksen minusta naulitsit ristiin
että päästäisit minusta pois Barabbaan.
Olen levittänyt desdemonani pellavalle kuin uhrin
(mutta naarmuakaan ei saanut lumenpuhdas,
alabasterinhieno), ja kynttilän, jo läikkyvän,
puhalsin sammuksiin (oi sammu, tuli, sammu!)
Oi kuinka ruusun taitettuaan sen saisi
elämään uudestaan ja kukkimaan? Ei.
Se kuihtuu, kuolee. Minä myös.
Liikaa rakastin, nyt suurmaani lemmin,
en edes luita desdemoman saata unohtaa,
puhtaita niin, niin hentoja: sanoja suloisia suutelin
kun niiltä hengen vein. Ja tuhkasi, oi desdemona,
nyt sormin tunnottomin, jäykin,
riveiksi näiksi kylvän tälle aukealle.

* * * * *

I loved words ever since I was a kid.
I respected words, I admired them.
They were virgins, so noble.
I imagined nouns as Desdemonas.
All of them are now wretched, wanton, nauseating,
Beget by many yet barren,
The secondhand harlots I love.
O time, my noble friend, you gather your stones
and toss them in my face, hence these furrows.
You make everything easy,
you soften days, words, countries. Ugh!
Who, pray, is the Iago? You would have to kill him
instead of Desdemona, my beloved.
All those wise men, those gullible books
whispered to me and I believed
I must kill what is purest to go deep,
squeeze something where it does not fit,
mix my poison, drink poison,
shed blood like ink from my wounds
into bottomless columns of print. O wisdom, Iago:
you would nail the Christ in me to the cross
to drive the Barabbas in me out.
I spread my Desdemona on linen like a sacrifice
(but pure as snow, fine as alabaster, she did not suffer
a single scratch) and the candle, already spilling,
I blew out. (Go out, flame, go out!)
Can a rose, after it has snapped,
be brought back to life and bloom? No,
it withers and dies. Me too.
I loved too much, now it is my great country I love.
Even Desdemona’s bones I cannot forget,
so pure, so delicate: I kissed sweet words
when I took their lives. And your ashes, o Desdemona,
with fingers numb and stiff
I now sow as these lines on this clearing.

Jorma Etto, Ajastaikaa (Porvoo–Helsinki: WSOY, 1964), pp. 27–28. Translation and photo by Living in FIN

Arja Tiainen, “I Roll Up the Rug”

Käärin maton rullalle ja paiskon sen
pihalle puistellakseni myöhemmin,
pestäkseni lattiat. Mietin kristinuskon ja buddhalaisuuden
eroja ja yhtäläisyyksiä. Millaista olisi elää tietämättä
synnistä mitään? Miksi juuri mietiskely koetaan pahana?
Täältä ne lähtivät viidakkoihin, käännytystyöhön.
Minun mieltäni ei käännytä mikään.
Kohta katson millainen on täydellinen nainen: tietysti
hänellä on märkä pusero ja pitkät hiukset?
Täydellisistä miehistä ei ole paljon filmejä!
siihen ei miesohjaajien mielikuvitus yllä.

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I roll up the rug, tossing it
outside to give a good shake later
when I wash the floors. I think about Christianity and Buddhism’s
differences and similarities. What would it be like living with no
knowledge of sin? Why has it been meditation people see as bad?
From there it was a short step to heading off to proselytize in the jungles.
Nothing can change my mind.
I am about to see what a perfect woman is like.
Naturally, she has a wet sweater and long hair, no?
There are not many movies about perfect men.
They are too hard for male directors to imagine.

Source: Arja Tiainen, Jokainen yksinään paperin äärellä (Porvoo–Helsinki–Juva: WSOY, 1989), p. 63. Photo and translation by Living in FIN

Johanna Venho, “Heavens, How Tired I Was Sans Skeleton”

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Taivas miten väsyin ilman tukirankaa
siinä tulituksessa: maailmaan kylmäpanoksia vatsaan
lippaan täydeltä. Oli päästävä pois! vain yksin pysysin koossa.
Syvä-pimeässä. Älä kysy missä olin,
rittääkö: hukuin jo kerran.
Jokin korsi nousi nikama nikamalta,
meriruoko, antoi merkin.

Olen alkanut purkaa ja akvaarion seinää.
Kun tulet, tiedoista en välitä kuulla. Puhu
se viiva jolla vesi leikkaa ilmaa, työntyy ja
imeytyy sen sisään

* * * * *

Heavens, how tired I was sans skeleton
amid the firefight: a clipful of the world’s cold bullets
to the stomach. I had to get out! Only alone could I hold it together.
Deep in the dark. Don’t ask where I was.
Suffice it to say I drowned once already.
A stem rose vertebra by vertebra,
sea sedge. It was a signal.

I have set about demolishing the aquarium wall.
I don’t care to know when you are coming. Speak
the line with which the water cuts the air, penetrating and
absorbing it.

Source: Johanna Venho, Postia Saturnukseen (Porvoo-Helsinki-Juva: WSOY, 1998), p. 53. Photo of Imatra Rapids (Imatrankoski) and translation by Living in FIN

Risto Rasa: Three Poems

Yö oli himmeä, nyt linnut
alkavat laulunsa, crescendo,
on posteljoonin aika.

* * * * *

The night was dull. Now the birds
have struck up their song crescendo.
It’s time for the postman.

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Yksin.
Sade kohahtaa kuin katsomo.

* * * * *

Alone.
The rain murmurs like an audience.

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Kohon vierestä
kala nappaa hyttysen.
Voi rannan hiljaisuutta
ja aamuauringon pehmeyttä
etten kyllästy kun
saalista ei tule.

* * * * *

The fish nabs a mosquito
alongside the float.
Oh, the silence of the shore,
the morning sun’s softness.
I won’t be fed up when
I don’t catch a thing.

Source: Risto Rasa, Hiljaa, nyt se laulaa (Helsinki: Otava, 1976), pp. 19–21. Photos and translation by Living in FIN