Monday, 27 April 2009

Lars Huldén: a dialect poem

Lars Huldén (born 1926) is the grand old man of Finland-Swedish poetry. Born in the Ostrobothnian town of Jakobstad (Pietarsaari), he later became Professor of Nordic Literature at Helsinki University. He first published poetry in 1958 and has, by now, a large œuvre.

A 500-page selection of his poems over 50 years, entitled
Utförlig beskrivning av en bärplockares väg (Detailed Description of a Berry-Picker's Way) appeared in 2006.

One of his poetry collections
Heim / Hem (1977) is a parallel text set of 30 poems written in the Munsala dialect, with a translation into standard Swedish. This book does, of course, raise all the fraught translation questions, should someone want to translate the thirty poems into another language. But rather than agonise, I am simply going to translate one poem from the standard Swedish version, and allow the reader to marvel at the dialect traits unhindered. The reader will note how strong the dialect is, and also, that there is not a whiff of Finnish in the dialect, which is in fact nearer to Old Norse:
Ti arbeit i laag

Hä ä in lykkotå an kan arrbeit i laag
mä tem såm an höör ihåop mää.
Papp såm ä håssbond,
Mamm så ä mattmåor,
båånin tå di byri dåga ti naa,
gambäfåltji så läng ti
levär å årk.
Såm tå an höibärga
på i uutsjifft förr i väädin.
Mitt i daain kuna mattmåor kåma
peedand mä maatin.
Tå sesstist vi allihåop i ladun åsta äta.
Tå va vi allihåop.
Vi va vi tå.


Att arbeta tillsammans

Det är en lycka
då man kan arbeta tillsammans
med dem som man hör samman med.
Far som är husbonde,
mor som är matmor,
barnen när de börjar duga
till någonting,
de gamla så länge de
lever och orkar.
Såsom då man höbärgade
på ett utskifte förr i världen.
Mitt på dagen kunde matmor komma
cyklande med maten.
Då satte sig alla i ladan för att äta.
Då var vi allesammans.
Vi var vi då.


Working together

It's a joy
when you can work together
with those you belong to.
Father who's the master,
mother the missis,
the children when they start to be able
to do things,
the elderly as long as they
live and are able.
Like when you made the hay
in a back field in the olden days.
In the middle of the day the missis could come
cycling along with the food.
Then everyone would sit down in the barn to eat.
Then we were all together.
We were ourselves then.


Translated from dialect into Swedish by Lars Huldén; from Swedish into English by Eric Dickens


David McDuff said...

It's a nice poem. I wondered about the word "utskifte" - is it a field, like "skifte"?

Eric Dickens said...

I cheated - couldn't find it in the ordinary dictionary. But I decided not to let this one word stymie me. This is because my excellent Finland-Swedish dictionary by Wessman, plus the little one by Stenmark, were rather inaccessible. I've now fished them out, but alas, they give no clue.

However, I have now found it in my Östergren. It is a field distant from the farmhouse. As you suggest, it is a kind of "skifte". Östergren quotes Upsala Nya Tidning from 1946 as using the expression. Now to find the exact English word. Meanwhile, I will alter with a stopgap translation.

Anonymous said...

I think 'skifte' evokes feudal (feodal) connotations.

Take a look here for ideas of possible field-words:

Eric Dickens said...

I don't think feudalism is very relevant to a poem written in the 1970s and maybe looking wistfully back a few decades. The specific word in question is "utskifte", and the above poem, as can be seen, was in the context of the role of family and neighbours, not really a hint at anti-feudalism. Lars Huldén is firmly on the side of the rural peasantry and their descendants, but is unlikely to be describing a cycling mum bringing the workers' food on a bicycle in terms of the class struggle.

The large ten-volume Swedish dictionary compiled by Olof Östergren, and published in 1968, specifically says for "utskifte" (standard Swedish, not dialect):

Utskifte: Jordområde (skifte) långt från själva gården. [Example:] Egendomen består av två skiften, ett hemskifte och ett utskifte." Upsala Nya Tidning, 1946.

The word "utskiftningsskatt" (the next dictionary entry) does have feudal connotations, but I don't think these are relevant here. An English word with a mediæval tinge might nonetheless be suitable. I'll have a look at the website that Anonymous suggests.

Eric Dickens said...

I've changed "distant field" to the rather vague but slightly more earthy "back field".

Eric Dickens said...

One more thing. Those connoisseurs of dialect can compare the Munsala and Nykarleby dialect versions of the poem (plus the standard Swedish) at:

You will note that Munsala, like Nynorsk, knocks the ending off the present tense, which Nykarleby retains. One consistent feature of both dialects, as opposed to standard Swedish, is the letter "t" where you would expect a "d", e.g. "tå" versus "då".

David McDuff said...

Going back to "utskifte" for a moment: I found these uses of the word when picking at random through texts on Google:

"Idag äger Thomas gården, föräldrarna har ett utskifte en liten bit bortom åkrarna, strax innan skogen tar vid. En syster bor i ett tredje hus strax intill."

"Längtan efter egen torva gjorde att de köpte ett utskifte i Tväråbyn 1909, och där fanns vid denna tidpunkt ingen människa förut. Medan de satte upp en stuga bodde de i en riskoja."

"Välkommen till fastigheten England 1:2, belägen 2 km väster om Åre centrum, som sträcker sig från Åresjön och upp till Ullådalen samt har ett utskifte på Husådalen. Total yta: 112 hektar, 1120 mål. Fastigheten är bebyggd med två bostadshus, ett timrat fritidshus, ladugård, lada, sjöbod samt en jaktkoja på Husådalen. Jaktstugan ligger mitt i ett älgjaktsområde och vid Husåbäcken med möjlighet till fiske, bäcköring."

From the context, the first example would suggest that the word "utskifte" is being used in the sense of a building or structure. However, in the other two examples it is giving the sense of a "parcel of land" or "stretch of land".

So "back field" may or may not be the right translation after all.

Eric Dickens said...

I'm simply assuming that these are rural workers taking a break from their haymaking or similar. Whether they would be indoors or outdoors would depend on the weather. The Swedish text of the poem uses the preposition "på" ("på i" in the dialect version). This to me suggests an open space, or parcel of land.

Looking on the internet, I found the expression:

"Ragnar Viksten död av lungtuberkulos 30 år. Han hade vårdats i hemmet. Ragnar hade vuxit upp i Stenbäcken och bott i Ljusvattnet i ett tiotal år. Han efterlämnade hustrun Gunhild och tre barn. Han hade hunnit köpa ett utskifte och planerade att odla upp det."

I don't think you would "odla upp" a building. So I would put my money on the latter two quotes that David gives, plus this one.

And another quote, this time about Ängsjödal gård in Sweden:

"Gården består av ett hemskifte med betesmark, tallskog, lite åker, paddock och byggnadscentrum. Tvärs genom gårdscentrum rinner en liten bäck ifrån Lilla Äggsjön som också ligger på markerna.

Några hundra meter ner längs vägen finns också ett litet utskifte med vacker tall- och lövskog. Vi har även skog några kilometer bort i Ramsjölider."

The contrast "hemskifte" versus "utskifte" seems to substantiate the plot interpretation. Though the best way to resolve this mystery is to consult the author or another Ostrobothnian.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean literal comparison or reference to feudal times by the poem, merely employment of terminology as device.

Eric Dickens said...

I see what Anonymous is driving at, but the poetry of Lars Huldén tends to be straightforward. You get what you pays for, as opposed to with Claes Andersson and others, where you get a lecture about the injustices of this world.

I think that "Heim / Hem", is the only complete collection of Huldén's where he uses dialect, as opposed to hinting at it. "Utskifte" will have been in common usage in 20th century Ostrobothnia, so I would personally shy away from using anything in English that is exclusively mediæval, as this would archaïcise the poem. (My pet hate as a translator is Ezra Pound on this score.)

Continuing with the problem of dialect, one poem where Huldén hints at dialect, rather than writing the whole poem in it, is in his Runeberg suite, where he starts a poem:

"Sidu, det är så med oss, Runeberg..."

I would be sorely tempted to translate this one pointer to dialect "sidu" with it's Broad Yorkshire equivalent "sithee", which I heard my own grandfather say:

"Sithee, that's what it's like for us, Runeberg..."

It has the same meaning of "look". As the rest of the poem is written in standard Swedish, this one hint would suffice and not force the non-Yorkshire reader to wade through a mass of thoil, lakin', parkin, and other words incomprehensible to outsiders, but would afford the reader a gentle hint at dialect.

What does the team think?

David McDuff said...

I personally wouldn't have anything to do with attempts to create an English "dialect" version of the poem. Donald Adamson has had success with translating standard Finnish poetry into modern Scots (see the "How To Address The Fog" anthology) - perhaps that would be a better solution?