Thursday, 4 December 2014


Kineserne betragter metallet som et element. Jeg holdt mig til den vestlige tankegang i kvartetten, men metallet blev ved at spøge og dukker op i denne bog, hvor den knytter sig til smagssansen. I digtet vises forbindelsen mellem flere elementer, dels når de forholder sig produktivt til hinanden, dels destruktivt. En cyklus, der kan gå begge veje. Det produktive kan afføde mere positiv produktion, men kan også slå om i sin negation, så det destruktive tager over. Det er to sæt af kræfter, vi må forholde os til, to forskellige kræfter, der griber ind i vores liv.
The Chinese view metal as an element. I stuck to the Western way of thinking in the quartet, but metal continued to haunt it and it shows up in this book, where it is linked to the sense of taste. In the poem the connection of several elements appears, partly when they relate productively to each other and partly when they do so destructively. A cycle that can go either way. The productive can generate more positive production, but can also turn into its negation, so that the destructive takes over. There are two sets of forces we must relate to, two different forces that intervene in our lives.

- Pia Tafdrup, in a note on her new collection Smagen af stål (The Taste of Steel), Gyldendal 2014

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Friday, 17 October 2014

Two Collections

Here are links to the Amazon pages for the forthcoming Bloodaxe collections One Evening in October I Rowed out on the Lake by Tua Forsström and Salamander Sun and Other Poems by Pia Tafdrup, both in my translation. Both books are scheduled for publication on January 25, 2015.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Tove Jansson: Work and Love

I now have an advance copy of my translation of Tuula Karjalainen's biography of Tove Jansson, which will be published by Penguin's Particular Books imprint on November 27. Am pleased with the production of the book, and the clarity of the illustrations and artwork.

Tove Jansson Letters

My translations of selected letters of Tove Jansson and an introductory essay by Pia Ingström are now online at the Books from Finland website.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Pia Tafdrup: Snow Flowers


The snow has settled on the branches, filled
the empty bird nests in trees and bushes along
roads that all lead to the church.
The March sun dazzles, the snow on the ground dazzles,
shadows fall where we walk,
flocks of crows circle high up above us.

The cold in the church, the cold round our feet, silence
swirls giddily in the vaulted space,
where no sounds from outside
Having to lose is what we can’t make ourselves ready for.

The dead woman
we have come to bury is not here. No tracks
lead anywhere.
An invisible frontier is crossed, a part
of our life is gone,
a chapter of Europe’s history over.

We must bury the body she left behind,
she herself carried on,
though we see her in the open coffin, give thanks for
what we received.

We see the dead woman,
see her dressed in travel clothes, see the dead woman
with  mouth closed and lips pressed together,
though in life she was always laughing and talking,
muscles robbed of movement, skin like stone.

There was a time when it was to us
she laughed and talked.
The loss we must all bear, it
does not make it any less hard.

We see and don’t understand. We are present here
and don’t understand.

We lay flowers, stand
in the smell of incense with lighted candles.
Except that her head is not tilted,
the dead woman resembles

the image of the Virgin Mary in the icon
that is placed in the open coffin.

The funeral is
for the living, the dead woman's soul
has already gone.
Several days ago it vanished for us.

Dear soul,
We bury your body, but you are free.

The language we speak is not the same as before,
the snow falls into me,
snow flowers drift cold in the blood.
We look and look at the dead woman.
The sight of her face is imprinted
forever, the wax candles are burning down.

Now it is us. Now loneliness shines.
Star-visited night,
many-multiplied arrival,
frost-lit fields, ice-bound soil,
loss burns itself into the mind,
a strange and unfamiliar freedom.


Sneen har lagt sig på grenene, fyldt
de tomme fuglereder i træer og buske langs
veje, der alle fører til kirken.
Martssolen blænder, sneen på jorden blænder,
skygger falder, hvor vi går,

flokke af krager cirkler højt oppe over os.
Kulden i kirken, kulden om fødderne, stilhed
hvirvler svimmelt i det hvælvede rum,
hvor ingen lyde udefra
trænger ind.
At skulle miste kan vi ikke gøre os klar til.

Den døde,
vi er kommet for at begrave, er her ikke. Ingen spor
fører nogen steder hen.
En ikke synlig grænse er passeret, en del
af vores liv er væk,
et kapitel af Europas historie slut.

Vi skal begrave legemet, hun efterlod,
selv fortsatte hun,
skønt vi ser hende i den åbne kiste, takker for
hvad vi fik.

Vi ser den døde,
ser hende iført rejseklæder, ser den døde
med lukket mund og læberne presset sammen,
skønt hun i live altid lo og talte,
muskler berøvet bevægelse, hud som sten.

Der var en tid, hvor det var til os,
hun lo og talte.
Tabet skal vi alle bære, det
gør det ikke mindre svært.

Vi ser og fatter ikke. Vi er til stede her
og fatter ikke.

Vi lægger blomster, står
i duften af røgelse med tændte lys.
Bortset fra at hovedet ikke hælder,
ligner den døde

billedet af Jomfru Maria på ikonet,
der sættes i den åbne kiste.

Begravelsen er til
for de levende, den dødes sjæl
er allerede rejst.
For flere dage siden forsvandt den for os.

Kære sjæl,
Vi begraver din krop, men du er fri.

Sproget, vi taler, er ikke det samme som før,
sneen falder i mig,
sneblomster fyger koldt i blodet.
Vi ser og ser på den døde.
Synet af hendes ansigt prentes ind
for altid, vokskærterne brænder ned.

Nu er det os. Nu lyser ensomheden.
Stjernebesøgt nat,
mangedoblet ankomst,
frostbelyste marker, isbundet jord,
tab brænder sig ind i sindet,
en sær og fremmed frihed.

(from Smagen af stål [The Taste of Steel], Gyldendal 2014)

translated from Danish by David McDuff

Marie Under: Poems



Now once again on us these white nights fall,
no sleep is had by heavens, land or sea,
or the expectant blood of this humanity:
desire like embers burning in the soul.

These white nights are like silver fetters, chains:
and all the scents in flowers’ silk embrace
have woken trembling in their secret place
as from afar the waters bring refrains.

Then golden hair flies streaming in the breeze
and large eyes sparkle with a secret glow –
Who wove these dreams around me in the air?

And red and redder swell my lips with ease –
No one can kiss away and make them go,
the countless kisses that have ripened there.



Nüüd jälle tulevad need valged ööd,
kus und ei saa ei taevas, maa, ei meri,
ei inimlaste ootus-ärev veri,
kus ihad hinges hõõguvad kui söed.

Need valged ööd kui hõbevalged keed:
kõik lõhnad õite siidilises süles
on sala värisedes ärgand üles,
ja mingit kauget laulu toovad veed. 

Siis kuldseis juustes lehitsemas tuuled
ja suuris silmis salaline sära –
Kes kõik need unelmad mu ümber palmind!

Ja puna-punasemaks paisumas mu huuled –
ei suuda keegi suudelda neilt ärä,
mis lugemata suudlusi sääl sääl valmind.


Over a lonely path
half bent in two I walk,
always keeping my eyes
on time’s hurrying clock.

Beside the lonely path
the last flower freezes in air.
Death reaps time and fortune,
somewhere, somewhere...

Somewhere a house is waiting
Remember it where you stand!
Endure now, endurer,
waiting somewhere is a land.

Somewhere a house is waiting,
waiting somewhere is a land –
Endure now, endurer:
the heart will not ease its demand.


Üle üksiku raja
kõnnin poolkummargil,
silmad alati aja
ruttaval osutil.

Ääres üksiku raja
külmetab viimne lill.
Surm niidab õnne ja aja
kusagil, kusagil...

Kusagil ootab üks maja –
Mäleta mäleta!
Kannata, kannataja,
kusagil ootab üks maa...

Kusagil ootab üks maja,
kusagil ootab üks maa –
Kannata, kannataja:
südänt neist lahti ei saa.

poems translated from Estonian by David McDuff

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Sunday, 15 June 2014

True North

True North: Literary Translation in the Nordic Countries  (ed. B.J. Epstein)
is the first book to focus solely on literary translation from, to, and between the Nordic tongues. The book is divided into three main sections. These are novels, children’s literature, and other genres – encompassing drama, crime fiction, sagas, cookbooks, and music – although, naturally, there are connections and overlapping themes between the sections. Halldór Laxness, Virginia Woolf, Selma Lagerlöf, Astrid Lindgren, Mark Twain, Henrik Ibsen, Henning Mankell, Janis Joplin, and Jamie Oliver are just some of the authors analysed. Topics examined include particular translatorial challenges; translating for specific audiences or influencing audiences through translation; re-translation; the functions of translated texts; the ways in which translation can change a genre; the creation of identity through translation; and more. 
(from the publisher's book description)

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Blue Ejder - Karin Boye

Some of my translations of poems by Karin Boye have been set to music by the Swedish/English duo Blue Ejder, in a CD album featuring Sunniva Brynnel (voice, piano, kalimba), Aubin Vanns (guitars) and Neil Yates (flugelhorn, voice).

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Thaw

Foreword Reviews have published a review of Ólafur Gunnarsson's latest collection of short stories. The stories are in English, translated by the author:
For all its thought-provoking content, the translation is uneven: “The nurse was tending to the child tenderly,” could have been rendered using a verb and an adjective that do not share the same root, for example. Likewise, it would be unlikely that a seven-year-old character would refer to his class art display as an “exhibition.” However, at other times, the translation fits with the story and showcases the author’s way with words, as in this description of an airplane accident: “And like a black goose that had been shot, the enormous plane crash-landed on the gravel airfield.” Or this ironic phrase that expresses a role reversal of a father and his terminally ill daughter: “[She] sat there in her wheelchair like a solemn old woman expressing her approval of her well-behaved grandson.”
Overall, in this elegant collection, Gunnarsson’s stories succeed.

Walker on Water

Unnamed Press, U.S.A., have published a new collection of prose pieces by the Estonian poet Kristiina Ehin, Walker on Water. An excerpt from Ilmar Lehtpere's translation:
Lately I’ve discovered that my husband’s head opens at the back. I hadn’t noticed that before. There’s a hatch there. When Jaan comes home after a tiring day at work, he opens the hatch and takes his brains out. They steam on the table, but Jaan stretches his legs out on the sofa and looks at me with his happy, drowsy eyes.

Friday, 28 February 2014

The Beggar and the Hare

My translation of Tuomas Kyrö's novel Kerjäläinen ja jänis (The Beggar and the Hare) will be published by Short Books on March 6, and is available for pre-order as a hardback or a Kindle download.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

One Evening in October

I'm working on a complete translation of Tua Forsström's collection En kväll i oktober rodde jag ut på sjön (One Evening in October I Rowed Out on the Lake, Schildts & Söderströms, 2012), to be published by Bloodaxe in a bilingual Swedish-English facing-text edition in early 2015.

Versions of some of the translations have already appeared in Books from Finland and Swedish Book Review.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Two Poems

bGösta Ågren

The Future Is...

The future is unfurnished
as if it were a room
in place of an idea,

but your plans are ready
and you start work,
as to begin with fate is

so light that we don’t notice
the burden. The inevitable
needs no emphasis.

 July. Night.

The road doesn’t release
its grip on the car.
Driving is only
rhythm. The journey
moves slowly through
the summer night, which is
white with now. Sadness
heals sorrow.

from Centralsång (2013)

translated from Finland-Swedish by David McDuff

The Bridge of Sleep

by Saima Harmaja

Long is the days’ journey
to evening’s dim domain.
Lonely the blissful moment
exhausted by the pain:
I slumber in blue evening,
a bridge spans in between,
taking me from time’s chasms
to the land of the unseen.

When darkness wraps the senses
and, warm, the mind succumbs,
beside me they are present,
they breathe, the  heavenly ones.
Gone is the cruelest longing.
From my pain I am freed
he smiles with shining eyes
the one whom I met in my need.

He that went on ahead,
precious, grown cold his brow,
like a pale star of spring
he stays here with me now.
Broken the frame of his body.
Spirit and earth are one.
Into my tear-hot eyes
the brightness trickles down.

Waking in midst of sleep
I see, veiled by dust from above:
it is one, the land that lies there,
the kingdom of longing and love.
Across the bitter limit
on gleaming threads set free,
love goes from the circle of time
to a land that I cannot yet see.

May 3, 1936


Pitkä on päivien retki
illan himmeyteen.
Yksi on autuas hetki
kivusta uupuneen:
nukkua siintoon illan,
uneen, mi kaartua suo
pois ajan kuiluista sillan
näkymätönten luo.

Kun jo on hämärä hellä
kietonut aistimet,
luonani hengähdellä
alkavat taivaiset.
Poissa on kaipaus julmin.
Tuskani irroittain
hymyy hohtavin kulmin
hän, jota nääntyen hain.

Hän, joka edeltä lähti,
kallis ja kylmennyt,
kuin kevätkalpea tähti
luonani viipyy nyt.
Murtunut on kehä ruumiin.
Yhtä on henki ja maa.
Silmiini kyynelkuumiin
kirkkaus uppoaa.

Valvoen keskellä unta
nään, tomuhuntuinen:
yksi on valtakunta
kaipuun ja rakkauden.
Ylitse katkeran rajan
hohtavin langoin käy
rakkaus piiristä ajan
maahan, mi vielä ei näy.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Aale Tynni

Books from Finland magazine has published a selection of my translations of poems by the Finnish poet Aale Tynni (1913-1997). There is an introductory essay by the scholar and academic Tuula Hökkä.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Pakko paha?

"If there is no requirement to choose another language in place of Swedish, the fear is that a lot of people will no longer study a language," said Kari Jukarainen of the Finnish Language teachers association. "We would have a large group of pupils whose only foreign language is English."

Friday, 3 January 2014


Mårten Westö finds some curious errors in the Finnish translations of subtitles in Swedish-language films: 
Tabben fick mig ändå att ägna resten av filmen åt att analysera den finska textningen.
Den visade sig vara en katastrof.
Det vimlade av fel och direkt missvisande information i nästan varje scen. Ibland blev det snudd på galghumoristiskt, som när pappans svenska arbetskompis säger till sin norske kollega: ”Och så får vi slita röven av oss. Det är bara för att ni har oljan.” På finska: Saamme huhkia toden teolla. Saadaksemme olutta (En i och för sig kul freudiansk felsägning som varje frustrerad översättare säkert kan identifiera sig med.)

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Central Song

Reviewing Gösta Ågren’s new collection Centralsång, Michel Ekman writes about the “deceptive calm” of Ågren’s poetry:
Vår plikt är att minnas grymheten, men själva minnesakten kräver ett mått av ro och avskildhet... En dal i våldet hette det stora urval ur sin produktion som Gösta Ågren en gång gav ut. Spänningen mellan å ena sidan iakttagandet / formulerandet och å andra sidan det blinda och ständiga våldet som genomsyrar tillvaron går igenom hela hans författarskap.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Ark Books, Copenhagen

Ditte Nesdam Madsen writes from Copenhagen:
Ark Books, a new international bookshop at Møllegade 10 in Copenhagen from spring 2014. We are opening the doors as an English bookshop selling all types of books from classics to new undiscovered titles that normally wouldn't reach the Danish market. We are also going to have a small selection from the other big European languages as French, German, Italian etc. We are also going to promote our wonderful Danish literature to non-Danish speaking readers in Copenhagen by selling Danish Literature in translation.
We are all volunteers and the shop is going to be non-profit. 
For the moment, we're working hard to achieve the dream. However, it is difficult to get funding to a small work-in-progress project based on literature. We have therefore created a crowdfunding campaign with wonderful gifts. You can check it out here:
Besides that we're having an event December 5th in the cellar of Literaturhaus with the Danish author Helle Helle and her translator Martin Aitken. The author and the translator are going to read the book in Danish and English and afterwards they will discuss the relationship between author and translator and translation as a discipline. Feel free to join us for this amazing night! We're planning on having several events as this one, once the shop is open.

Monday, 4 November 2013


In its World Poetry Portfolio series, Molossus literary quarterly has published a selection of poems by Pia Tafdrup in my translation.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Laborare et Amare

I'm working on a translation of Tuula Karjalainen's new biography of Tove Jansson, Tove Jansson – Tee työtä ja rakasta (Tove Jansson  Work and Love, Tammi, 2014) for Penguin Press, UK. In addition to illustrations, the Finnish text also contains excerpts from Tove Jansson's letters and notebooks, and these I am translating from the original Swedish. The English edition is scheduled for publication in autumn next year.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Acceptance Speech

Here's my acceptance speech.
The Finnish State International Translator's Prize is an award that I never expected to receive, and it means a great deal to me. I would like to thank everyone who recommended me for it.

Many years ago I visited Finland for the first time, as a young Edinburgh University student of Russian: it was July 1966, and I was travelling along the Baltic by ship, with some friends, on the way to the Soviet Union. Disembarking in Finland for a few all-too brief hours, my first impressions were of the city of Helsinki, but what I remember most of all were the light, stillness and calm of the late summer evening that greeted me as I walked up from the harbour. It was a calm that I hadn't experienced in any other city I'd been to, and I remember wondering where all the people were, for at that particular time of the evening there was almost no one about. I didn’t know it then, but in the years to come I would make many more visits to Finland and meet many people there, both in life and in books.

I've spent a large part of my life studying and translating, for the most part, the literature of three languages: Russian, Swedish and Finnish (I’ve translated poetry and fiction from other Northern languages, including Danish, Norwegian and Icelandic, but the three languages I mention are the ones that have held the most significance for me). The choice may at first sight seem strange, yet if one looks at the map it does makes sense, as Russia, Sweden and Finland are close neighbours, and have a common, if not always harmonious, history – and that is the context in which I discovered them.

Although the three languages – Russian, Swedish and Finnish – are structurally and lexically quite different from one another, my university study of Russian and Russian literature (which I pursued to doctorate level) was accompanied by a study of German. This led me to learn the Nordic languages, including Icelandic at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, and then some years later, with the encouragement of the Finnish Literature Information Centre – which is now called FILI – Finnish, first under Hannele Branch at London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies, and later at the University of Helsinki.

In the late nineteenth century and during the early twentieth century it was not uncommon for educated people in North-Eastern Europe to speak, read and understand all three of my chosen languages, although nowadays the unlikeness of Russian, Swedish and Finnish is thought to make them mutually exclusive. That was not the case in the past, and the change of attitude may be due at least in part to political and socio-historical factors.

I put the emphasis here on “languages” rather than “countries”, for in my experience literature only rarely coincides with frontiers on maps: it exists not behind national boundaries but in language, and in a psychic and emotional space that is governed by the laws of reading and common fellowship. The novels of Dostoyevsky and the poetry of Baratynsky and Blok may tell us something unique about the Russian soul, but they also speak in universal terms. Likewise, the verses of the Kalevala and the plays of Strindberg tell us much about the psyche of Northern Europe, but they also draw inner maps of human consciousness, and of the unconscious. And indeed, in my years of work as a literary translator I have become aware that in literary terms the three linguistic cultures I mentioned tend to overlap with one another. The work of Edith Södergran, the first of the poets of Finland whom I endeavoured to translate, is one of the living confirmations of that.

My first translations of Finland's literature were nearly all of Swedish-language poets and authors, of whom there are almost more than in Sweden itself. Then I began to study Finnish, first at London's School of Slavonic and East European Studies, and later at the University of Helsinki. Through my own reading and my many years of contact with members of the Finnish Literature Centre and the editors of Books from Finland magazine, I developed a knowledge of both Finland-Swedish and Finnish literature. This was further helped by meetings and friendships with contemporary authors – especially the poets Gösta Ågren, Bo Carpelan and Tua Forsström, with whom I worked on translations of their poetry, learning an enormous amount in the process – and with their editors and publishers in Finland. My British publishers Penguin and Bloodaxe also gave me encouragement in my work as a literary translator.

In recent years I have been reading the Finnish poetry of the early twentieth century, and am surprised to learn how few of the poets who lived in that period are translated into English. So that is one of my projects both for the present and for the future: to try to make the voices of Saima Harmaja, Kaarlo Sarkia, Katri Vala, Uuno Kailas and other poets from that long-ago time heard in English, for they still have many things to tell us.

Again, I would like to say thank you for this award, which I’m honoured to receive: for me it’s a landmark in my continuing discovery of Finland, its people, and its extraordinarily rich and diverse literature.

Translator's Prize

News from Helsinki that I've been awarded the Finnish State Prize for Foreign Translators.

It's a great honour.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Don't Be Afraid of Life

by Kaarlo Sarkia

Don’t be afraid of life,
Don’t shut out its beauty.
Invite it to sit by your fire,
or should your hearth expire,
to meet it outside is your duty.
Don’t turn your back on its strife.
Don’t go away to the graveyard to hide
for death’s door will stay opened wide
Like a bird you should fly,
not dwelling on past life’s ruins.
Turn your attention to now,
Let what has been take a bow.
Let them lie in the grave, your doings,
then face the future, and try.
Be free as the wind, unfettered, unbroken,
the gate of death is always open.

Do not ever say:
this is mine alone.
Drink from life’s cup
and once again give its pain up.
If you never beg to own,
the world's riches are yours today.
Be bold, stake all on one card:
ahead you will always see death’s gate unbarred.


Älä elämää pelkää
älä sen kauneutta kiellä
suo sen tupaasi tulla
tai jos liettä ei sulla,
sitä vastaan käy tiellä,
älä käännä sille selkää.
Älä haudoille elämää lymyyn kulje;
ei kuolema sinulta oveaan sulje.

Kuin lintu lennä
älä viipyen menneen raunioilla
nykyhetkeä häädä
suo jääneen jäädä
suo olleen haudassa olla
tulevaa koe vastaan mennä.
Ole vapaa, kahleeton tuulen tavoin
on kuoleman portti aina avoin.

Älä koskaan sano:
tämä on iäti minun
elon maljasta juovu,
taas siitä kivutta luovu
on maailman rikkaus sinun
kun mitään omakses et ano.
Elä pelotta varassa yhden kortin
näet aina avoinna kuoleman portin.

The One who Fled

by Kaarlo Sarkia

Did I love you?
That I do not know.
In my soul I trembled
when you turned to go.

I know that you left it
with reason to flee.
No way to deny it,

From my soul was lifted
the innermost veil.
You could not bear it,
butterfly, you set sail,

fled from the gloomy
enigma in fright:
in front of you opened
a pitch-black night,

deeper than leagues, you saw the dark pit,
 - and then you fled
the cruel sight of it.

Did I love you?
That I do not know -
In my soul I trembled
when you turned to go.


Rakastinko sinua?
Tiedä en tuota.
Värisin, kun lähdit
sieluni luota.

Tiedän: kun lähdit,
et lähtenyt syyttä.
Kieltää on mahdoton

Väistyi sieluni
sisimmäisin verho.
Nähdä et kestänyt,
pakenit, perho,

säikähdit synkkää
eteesi aukeni
yö sysimusta,

pimeän kuilun näit, peninkulmaa
syvemmän – pakenit
näkyä julmaa.

Rakastinko sinua?
tiedä en tuota -
värisin, kun lähdit
sieluni luota.