Hannu Salakka, “Yet”


Kuinka tarkkaan elämä vie kaiken ajan!

Tämän tästä hänen on oltava siellä,
toisen tuolla,
ties missä,
kaikki on hoidettava,
jokainen velvollisuus täytettävä,
sillä huonolla omallatunnolla
on mahdoton
Ja kun lopulta koittaa taas yhteinen hetki,
vanhat velvollisuudet eivät noin vain suostu unohtumaan
ja uudet alkavat jo asettua taloksi mieleen.

Ja aina on ja on ollut näin;
oli kevät,
tuli kesä,
meni talvi,
kiireessä on mahdoton kunnolla rakastaa,
kului vuosia,
yhä useammat asiat
alkoivat olla tapahtuneet jo vuosia sitten.

Ja silti on aikaa koko se elämä
joka niin tarkkaan vie kaiken ajan.
Aikaa rakastaa minkä ehtii.


How life takes up all your time!

One of you has to be there,
The other somewhere else,
who knows where.
Everything must be managed,
every obligation fulfilled,
because with a bad conscience
it is impossible
to love.
And when finally a shared moment comes again,
the old responsibilities won’t just agree to be forgotten
while the new ones are already making themselves at home in your head.

It has always been like this.
There was spring,
summer came,
winter passed.
It’s impossible to love properly in a hurry.
Years passed,
more and more things
started happening years ago.

And yet there is time for all that life
that takes up so much time.
Love the time you have time for.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), p. 511. Image courtesy of Amazon.in. Translated by Living in FIN

Hannu Salakka, “The sky and the horizon like dirty water”

Taivas ja taivaanrannat kuin likaista vettä
tai ikkunalasia.
Ihmiset tulevat yhä enemmän toistensa kaltaisiksi
ja menettävät mielenkiintonsa,
yhä selvemmäksi käy että hyvät ajat ovat vain
sisäisiä tunteita,
mieli ainoa ajateltavissa oleva onnea tuottava
vapauden korvike.

The sky and the horizon like dirty water
or window glass.
People are becoming more and more like each other
and lose their savour.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that good times are just
a matter of inner feelings,
consciousness the only conceivable happiness,
a surrogate for freedom.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), p. 429. Translation and photo by Living in FIN

Hannu Salakka: Three Poems

Patsaat ovat alkaneet elää
niinkuin menneisyys olisi astunut voimaan,
niinkuin kaikki kannetut taakat
yhä painaisivat kantajaansa.
Iloiset vainajat ovat kerääntyneet
neuvonpitoon tulevaisuuden porteille;
kuolematonta puhetta tavoitellessaan
mutisevat kuin vuosisadat.

● ● ● ● ● ● ●

The statues have come to life
as if the past had come into force,
as if all the burdens borne
still pressed down on their bearers.
The happy dead have gathered
for negotiations at the future’s gates.
In their pursuit of immortal speech
they mutter like the centuries.

Viilenee hitaasti,
miedot tuoksut kohoavat aaltoina.
Valvoa myöhään, herätä varhain,
olla jouten koko pitkän päivän.
Mutta jokin huolestuttaa.
Ehkä kadonnut taito päästä irti asioista,
Jotka eivät tapahdu täällä.

● ● ● ● ● ● ●

It cools slowly,
mild scents rising in waves.
Staying up late, waking up early,
Being idle all day long.
But there’s something worrying.
Maybe the lost art of letting things go
that do not happen here.


Odotan ystävää,
mutta häntä ei kuulu.
On jo pimentynyt,
ikkunastani vain loistaa valo,
ja kuu
alkaa jo kohota.
Jos hän on jo lähtenyt matkaan,
tapaa ystävän.
Jos viivyttelee,
löytääkö katkeran miehen.
Viini on hyväksi sille,
joka osaa olla sille ystävällinen,
mutta pahaksi sille,
joka muutenkin tuottaa elämässään vahinkoa
Mutta tunne sitä ei kukaan.

Varasin viiniä molemille,
se alkaa olla jo lopuillan, kuu korkealla.
Metsä kylmä ja sumuinen,
katsomattakin tiedän, miten asiat siellä ovat,
mutta nyt haluaisin kuulla, kuinka se on vaiti.
Tunnen sen:
kun on joku ihminen mukana,
esittelen kuin kotiani.
Mutta kun menen yksin
ja kaikki pakenevat,
en tiedä miten olisin.


I wait for a friend,
but he is nowhere to be heard.
It has gone dark already:
the light shines only from my window,
and the moon has
started to rise.
If he’s already on his way,
he will find a friend.
If he dawdles,
he might find a bitter man.
Wine is good for the one
who can be sweet to it,
but bad for the man
who goes through life doing harm
to himself as it is.
But no one knows this.

I have set aside wine for both of us.
It’s getting to the end of the night, the moon is high.
The woods are cold and foggy.
Even without looking, I know how things are out there,
but now I would like to hear them quiet.
I can feel it:
when there’s a person involved,
I’ll show you around like I’m home.
But when I go alone
and all flee,
I don’t know how to be.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), pp. 246, 156, 67. Photos and translation by Living in FIN

Hannu Salakka, “Dead Day”

Kuollut Päivä

Siinä missä nyt jaksaa valittaa
että mitään ei tapahd u,
että aika ei kulu,
voisi samalla vaivalla,
ja syyllä,
tai ehkä hieman suuremmalla,
nauttia elämästään,

Mutta ei siihen usko.

Entiset päivät ovat kuolleet.
Vain me voimme nähdä itsemme
ja muutaman muun
myös silloin.

Dead Day

Just as you feel like complaining now
that nothing happens,
that time stands still,
you could, with the same effort,
for the same reason,
or maybe all the more reason,
enjoy your life,
enjoy this selfsame

But you don’t believe in it.

The old days are dead.
Only we could see that we
and a few others
were alive
even then.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), p. 503. Translation and photo by Living in FIN

10,000 Steps (International Translation Day)

In recent years, I have celebrated International Translation Day on this day, September 30, here at Living in FIN. Today, I discovered that the overarching theme of this year’s celebration is “Finding the words for a world in crisis.” It is not that I think that the world is not in crisis (or that I thought it was ever not in crisis), but having worked for thirteen years on a much more intense and exhausting online translation project that only this month has, for the first time, passed the ten thousand monthly views mark, I do wonder how much difference translation makes to a “world in crisis.”

More to the point, when you sometimes wait, as I do, for months to get paid for rush translation jobs, that is, for “real work” (not the fun I’m having here) or are offered (as I was the other day) 1,200 euros for translating a six-hundred-page book (which should cost at least 12,000 euros) you feel both inspired and then, just as instantly, let down when you read that translation is a “moral debt,” as I did a few days ago on the Facebook page of a well-known poet and translator.

A moral debt to whom? To people who think that translation is as easy as falling off a chair, a kind of menial mechanical intellectual labor? To people who cannot be bothered to learn to speak any foreign language fluently? To people hostile to the foreign tongues in their midst?

Yes, it’s lovely to share your talents by giving people access to the lives, dreams, sufferings, and joys of other people, sometimes far away, whose languages they don’t speak. But since, I suspect, most translators labor without much in the way of recognition and appreciation (and money) from anyone, including even the people who benefit from their work, it’s better to imagine that, on the one hand, translating is something you’re doing for your own sake, something you’re doing to escape “the heavy bear that goes with me,” as Delmore Schwartz so aptly called his (our) brutish inner self, and, on the other, that translators are workers, too, and should demand good pay for fair work.

So, the hell with “moral debt.” Let’s be escapists instead. Here is today’s installment of Viivi & Wagner.

Panel 1
Wagner: I’m going to circle the bed until I get to 10,000 steps.

Panel 3
Viivi: I’d like to sleep. How many steps have you taken today?
Wagner: Those two just now.

Source: Helsingin Sanomat

Almost Finns have a few pro-tips for dealing with the kaamos, the polar night or the nearly endless darkness of winter nights and days on or above the sixtieth parallel.

Turn on the English subtitles if you don’t speak Finnish. Thanks to Tiina Pasanen for the link.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Finally, it wouldn’t be a Living in FIN party without a few words of gloomy wisdom from the late great Hannu Salakka.

Elämä ei sellaista
kuin lauseiden synnystä saattaisi luulla.
Olen vain hetkeksi karannut tähän miettimään,

Life is not like that
like the way you might think sentences are born.
I’ve just run away for a while to think about it,
to think back.

lapsi opettaa kävelemään
niinkuin vanhaa miestä,
pysähtelemäänkin, katselemaan taakseen.

On afternoon strolls
a child teaches you to walk
like an old man,
even teaching you to stop and look back.

joka ei ole iloinen eikä surullinen,
mutta täynnä tunnetta.

A sound (a voice),
which is neither happy nor sad,
but full of emotion.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), pp. 419–421. Translated by Living in FIN. Images courtesy of Duolingo, the best thing since sliced bread, especially since it started teaching Finnish.

Hannu Salakka, “Bird Calls, Migrating Flocks in Flight”

Kutsuäänet, muuttoparvien lento.
Tuntuu että kaipuunikin jättää minut
oman onneni nojaan
ojanlaitaan, pellonreunaan.
Alan ymmärtää,
että en ole vielä nähnyt kaikkea
mitä en enää koskaan tule näkemään.

Bird calls, migrating flocks in flight.
It feels like my longing is leaving me too
reclining in my own happiness
at the top of a ditch, the edge of a field.
It is starting to dawn on me
that I have not yet seen all of
what I will never see again.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), p. 575. Translation and photo by Living in FIN

Hannu Salakka, “Evening”


Jokaiseen ääneen vastaa aina jokin toinen ääni.
Sinä vain olet nyt yksin;
lintu lentää ikkunaan.

Mietteliäät pilvet painuvat maailman ohimoille.

ilta paino



Every sound is always answered by some other sound.
Only you are alone now;
a bird flies in the window.

Pensive clouds press down on the world’s temples.


Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), p. 380. Translation and photo by Living in FIN. The award-winning Finnish writer Hannu Salakka died seventeen years ago today, at the age of forty-eight, in Kangasniemi (South Savonia, Finland), near where the photo, above, was taken.

Hannu Salakka: Five Poems

Menneisyys on vain ennustus
matkalla takaisin
että aikani siellä oli jo ohi.

The past is just a forecast
of what is coming.
On the way back
I understood
my time there was over.


Märkä, viileä yö.
Ajattelin sinua
niinkuin jotakin lämmintä.

A wet, cool night.
I was thinking of you
as something warm.


ehkä jotakin muutta.
Äkkiä vain sellainen olo
että sitä ei tunne.

Eikä se saa edes surulliseksi nyt
kun ei enää mikään saa.

Stirrings of love,
maybe of something else.
Suddenly you just have the kind of feeling
that you cannot feel it.

And now it doesn’t even make you sad anymore
when nothing comes of it.


Liikkuvaa vettä katsellen
tuulen kummallista kieltä
ja äkkiä tunnen
että on vielä jotakin uutta,

Istun hetken
kuin rauhallisin mielin.

Looking at the moving water
I listen
to the wind’s strange tongue
and suddenly I feel
there is still something new,
something unreachable.

I’ll sit for a while
as if my mind were at peace.


Kun lakkaa odottamasta
jää vain todellisuus,
se minkä voi nähdä.
Ja muistot,
kuinka toisin luuli olevan.

When you stop expecting
all that remains is reality,
what you can see.
And memories,
how different you thought you were.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), pp. 251–255. Translation and photos 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.

Hannu Salakka, “Airs and Orations”

margin walkers

Puheet, ilmeet
eivät synnytä minussa mitään
nyt, kun kaikkien on ollut pakko
osoittaa kyvyttömyytensä.
Kuollessani haluan kasvaa metsiin.

Airs and orations
leave me untouched
now when it is compulsory for all and sundry
to flaunt their incompetence.
When I die I want to grow into forests.

Source: Hannu Salakka, Kuin unessa viipyen (Otava, 1990), p. 208. Translation and photo by Living in FIN