Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Bo Carpelan

It's sad to read of Bo Carpelan's passing - in many ways he was the last remaining representative of the classical Finland-Swedish modernist poetry tradition. If anyone feels like reading some of my translations of Carpelan's poetry, there's an excerpt from one collection here.

As far as my own role in making Carpelan's work better known outside Finland is concerned, there isn't really much to say: for several years I worked with him on getting two of his novels (Axel and Urwind) into an English format he was more or less happy with, as well as three collections of his poetry - the latter were published in a single volume by Carcanet Press in 1993. Although Carpelan came from an upper-class Finland-Swedish background, and Axel is in some ways a spiritual and intellectual history of Finland-Sweden, there was little in his essential artistic and aesthetic orientation that could be called specifically Finnish or Swedish: while he gravitated towards Anglo-American literature, his ideal was an international one, and like his contemporary Tove Jansson he reached out to a wider audience. He was a shrewd, kind and occasionally stubborn man who wanted to find the way home, both for himself and for his contemporaries everywhere:

A few words sought their way close up to me
as though they sought protection from something
that was too difficult to see. I wrote them down.
This they taught me, the words that came:
farewells are part of everything that is
and, when I have dreamt most strongly,
a homecoming.

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