International Translation Day: Eeva Kilpi

Eeva Kilpi. Courtesy of

I have it on good authority that today, September 30, is International Translation Day.

In real life, I’m a fairly experienced professional translator from Russian to English.

In my virtual life, I’m a hapless tyro still trying to get a handle on the orderly but utterly alien beauty of Finnish.

I’m only happy to say that, after studying the language for five or six years more or less seriously, some things are starting to feel less alien.

Then there are the dumb things you do when you’re “young”—in a language, not in life. I’ve fallen in love with an 88-year-old Finnish writer whom I’ve never met in real life and probably never will meet.

Her name is Eeva Kilpi. In Finland and other parts of the world, she is quite famous. She has even been rumored to be on the long list or shortlist (I don’t really know) for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

In English, however, she is virtually unknown. The first selection of her poems in English translation, wonderfully translated by Donald Adamson, A Landscape Blooms within Me, was published only two years ago. I could not recommend it more highly, especially because, as a bilingual edition, the book is a real boon to Finnish language learners like me.

If you’re one of the eight or nine humanoids who have been following this blog, you will have noticed I’ve been making way too much space lately for my own dubious translations of Eeva Kilpi’s poems.

So I can think of no better way of celebrating International Translation Day than pumping up the old random number generator to pick me a page number and, thus, a poem from Kilpi’s collected poems, Perhonen ylittää tien (A Butterfly Crosses the Road, WSOY, 2000), to translate for the occasion.

Chance operations took mercy on me today. They directed me to page seventy-one.

Vain kirjeen alussa me tohdimme enää
nimittää toisiamme rakkaaksi ja hyväksi.

Only at the letter’s beginning do we still dare
To call each other darling and dear.

—Eeva Kilpi, Laulu rakkaudesta ja muita runoja (WSOY, 1972)

Translated 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, “Our Dead Speak to Us through Our Senses”


Runolaituri (Poetry Platform), Jäppilä Cape Road, Imatra, South Karelia
Runolaituri (Poetry Platform), Jäppilä Point Road, Imatra, South Karelia

Our dead speak to us through our senses
as the marsh respires
reeks and squelches
bubbles and blooms
proffers its berries
and carries the bear.

Like the wind passing over the marsh
Lulling the cottonsedge as far as the eye can see
So our dead are present
in our soul’s
drowned plants are swaying.

Our dead are rooted in us
they rest in us
our soul is heavy with drowned snags
and perhaps fruitful
perhaps in its cavities something forms a chain
and something invisible to us
surreptitiously proffers its purpose
(what relief)
is none of our business.

Eeva KilpiRecent Poems, 1996–2000

Translation and photos by Living in FIN