Eeva Kilpi, “April”


Ei voi astua kahta kertaa
samaan virtaan.
Ei voi, koska itse on virta.
Ei voi, koska itse on pisara.
Ei voi, koska haarautuu

koska kohoaa ilmaan

muuttuu pyörteeksi,
ja putoaa sateena alas

Kerääntyy luhdaksi
ja luusuaksi,
alkaa kukkia myrkkykeisona,
kasvaa juolukkana.

Helisee kivien alla
ja jatkaa matkaa.

Astu sinä virtaani.

ice road


You cannot step
into the same stream twice.
You cannot because you are stream.
You cannot because you are droplet.
You cannot because you branch
into tributaries,
into streams,
into rivulets,
into wetlands,

because you rise into air
as haze,
as mist,
as fog,

you turn into vortex,
into cyclone,
and fall down as rain

You coalesce into floodmeadow
and riverneck,
begin blossoming as cowbane,
burgeon as bog bilberry.

You burble beneath rocks
and keep going.

Step into my stream.

Source: Eeva Kilpi, Kuolinsiivous (WSOY, 2012). Translation and photo by Living in FIN

Eeva Kilpi, “February”

On irrottava lapsistaan, sanoo isoäiti.
Se on vaikeampaa kuin vanhemmista irtoaminen,
koska vastuu siirtyy eteenpäin
ja kulkee mukana hautaan saakka.

On suojeltava lapsuutta lapsissaan,
heidän viattomuuttaan
joka vajoaa aikuisuuden kerrosten alle.

Siellä se kuitenkin yhä on,
syvällä, ahtaalla ja piilossa,
kunnes sen kohtaa taas
Silloin on suojeltava heitä,
sillä äkkiä hekin vain pyörivät maailmalla
ikäistensä kanssa

Siellä se kuitenkin yhä on,
syvällä, ahtaalla ja piilossa,
kunnes sen kohtaa taas
Silloin on suojeltava heitä,
sillä äkkiä hekin vain pyörivät maailmalla
ikäistensä kanssa

ja sinä ihmettelet
mihin aika meni,
miksi he muuttuivat
kun itse pysyit samana:

Eikä kukaan tiedä
että tähystäjä on talvisodan aikainen pikkutyttö,
jolle yhä tapahtuu mullistavia asioita,
jonka maailma yhä järkkyy.

– Minä virtailen, sanoi äiti.
– Minäkin virtaan, äiti,
ees ja taas.



You must let go of your children, Grandma says.
It is harder than letting go of your parents,
since the responsibility carries on,
going with you all the way to the grave.

You must protect your children’s childishness,
their innocence,
submerged beneath the layers of adulthood.

But it is still there,
deep, cramped, and hidden,
until you encounter it again
in your grandchildren.
Then you have to protect them,
because suddenly they’re just spinning around the world, too,
along with their agemates.

And you wonder
where the time went,
why they changed,
when you stayed the same:

a child observing life on earth
through the periscope of her old age.

And no one knows
the lookout is a little girl from the Winter War,
immune to aging,
to whom devastating things are still happening,
whose world is still shaking.

“I’m flowing,” said Mother.
“I’m flowing, too, Mother,
back and forth.”

Source: Eeva Kilpi, Kuolinsiivous (WSOY, 2012). Translation and photo by Living in FIN

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.



Suddenly passion mounts the day
and they rise on their wings,
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.


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.


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



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.



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.

* * * * *


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.

Eeva Kilpi: Now I Am Old

karhumaki house

28.5.2002 KLO 24
Nuorena minua autettiin enemmän. Nyt kun olen vanha, minua ei auta kukaan. Rahasta on apua, mutta se ei ole ihminen. Eikä se ole voimaa. Se on vain tietynlaista valtaa. Ja helppoutta sillä voi kyllä ostaa.

12:00 a.m., May 28, 2002
When I was young I got more help. No one helps now I am old. Money helps but it is not a person nor is it power. It is only a kind of authority. And you can, indeed, buy an amount of ease with it.

12.6.2002 KLO 7.45
Minä yritän opetella tätä vanhuutta. Minun pitäisi olla vanha, kaikki odottavat minulta sitä, mutta silti minun on tehtävä kaikki itse, hoidettava asiat, tehtävä päätöksiä, jaksettava toteuttaa ne, oltava oma palveluskuntani, emännöitävä, jos haluan tavata jälkeläisiäni, läheisiäni. Muutenhan minä en siedä ihmisiä ympärilläni. Pitäisi osata olla vanha ja silti jaksaa kuin nuori.

7:45 a.m., June 12, 2002
I am trying to get the hang of old age. I am supposed to be old, everyone expects this from me. I still have to do everything myself, though. I have to take care of things, make decisions, and manage to carry them out. I have to be my own staff and hostess if I want to see my offspring and intimates. Otherwise, I cannot stand having people around me. I should have the knack of being old while still feeling like a young person.

29.6.2002 KLO 22.55
Pitää olla valmis siihen, että kuolee äkkiä, mutta myös siihen, että kuolee hiutuen.

10:55 p.m., June 29, 2002
You have to be ready to die suddenly but you also have to be ready to languish to death.

Source: Eeva Kilpa, Sininen muistikirja (Helsinki: WSOY, 2019), pp. 7, 9, 15. Translation and photo by Living in FIN

Eeva Kilpi, “Those the Gods Hate”


Niistä joita jumalat vihaavat enemmän kuin opettajia
he tekevät sääennustajia.
Joka kerta kun tuuli kääntyy
he tuntevat sen luissaan.
Aina kun sade on tulossa
he ovat kuolemankielissä.
Kylmän korpit nokkivat heidän lapojaan,
kourivat niskaa,
istuvat polvien päällä,
repivät varpaita,
herkuttelevat jänteillä ja sidekudoksilla.
Kipujen siirat vilistävät lanteista pohkeisiin,
purevat sieltä, näykkäävät täältä,
turpoavat ja lisääntyvät
matalapaineen edellä.
Lepäävät harvoin, auringossa.
Ja kaiken tämän kukkuroidakseen
jumalat tekivät heistä pitkäikäisiä.

Those the gods hate more than schoolteachers
they make weather forecasters.
Every time the wind turns
they feel it in their bones.
Whenever precipitation is on the way,
they are on the verge of death.
Cold’s ravens peck at their shoulders,
pummel the napes of their necks,
perch on their knees,
gnash at their toes,
feast on sinews and connective tissues.
Pain’s woodlice scuttle from haunches to calves,
biting them and snapping at them here and there,
swelling and multiplying
in advance of the low pressure area.
They seldom relax, and then in the sun.
And, to top it all off,
the gods made them long-lived.

Source: Eeva Kilpi, Terveisin (WSOY, 1976), p. 57. Translated by Living in FIN. Photo by NASA’s Aqua MODIS satellite. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Eeva Kilpi, “The Moon Shines Brightly”


Kuu paistaa heleästi
kuollut ajaa keveästi,
elävää naitattaa.

Parempi on naida kuin palaa.
Parasti on naida salaa.

Sais yöllä syyä,
päivällä naia
ja aamulla nukkua.

The moon beams brightly,
pursuing the dead lightly,
making the living horny.

It’s better to fuck than fry.
It’s best to fuck on the sly.

You should nosh at night,
shag in the afternoon,
and snooze in the morning.

Source: Eeva Kilpi, Terveisin (WSOY, 1976), p 41. Translation and photo by Living in FIN