Sunday, 5 April 2009

Poem by Eeva-Liisa Manner


by Eeva-Liisa Manner (1956)

To Erik Lindegren

You picked up the planet like an egg
and set it spinning
in slow motion on the floor of the world.
The stars arranged themselves upon request
around the red magnet
and formed singing mosaics, like swallows or notes of music.
Oh, this soaring Braille, grammar of space
that makes the birds happy,
those passionate instruments
above sedimented mountains and broken church towers.
Oh, sloughed-off faces of the indifferent ones
and the grudge of those who can no longer read
(except for cruel bibles, between whose pages doves and corpses have been dried).
Oh, woe to us here in the lonely place on the moon's side
hair and eyes in the wind, in our hands
uncertainty and the boomerangs of echoes.
Oh, these vaults of language, transforming the skies
into which the letters rise like flags of distress.

I look for the question to which this mutabor is the answer.
I kneel
to pluck the letters' mutilated feet,
their gouged-out eyes,
in them is the wounded shining secret,
in which I lost my wings
before the development of discriminating fingers.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff and Hildi Hawkins


Eric Dickens said...

Eeva-Liisa Manner has, for me, been one of those Finnish poets who has stuck out as being rather unusual. I find reading her in Finnish is still a trifle difficult, but I do have a couple of selections in Swedish. In one of them I read, referring to several starred poems:

"Som grund för tolkningen till svenska har legat en av författarinnan ändrad finsk version av dikten eller prosastycket".

Did E-LM make a habit of rewriting her poetry? Because I have her "Runoja 1956-1977" and the Finnish version is clearly different from the one David and Hildi translated. I've noticed that some poets and short-story writers often polish and repolish earlier poems to perfection.

I had this problem when translating Friedebert Tuglas' stories. I finally agreed with the editor to use the Collected Works as the default version. Because Tuglas used to experiment with neologisms, which he later abandoned and turned into more standard Estonian. These things can be tricky for translators.

David McDuff said...

Yes, Eeva-Liisa Manner did indeed create different versions of her poems. The process of the modification of older poems seems to have been a major feature of her way of working as a poet. One recent critic says:

Manner tunnetusti muunteli tekstejään vuosien varrella ja pyrki entistä kirkkaampaan ja selkeämpään ilmaisuun. Siksi rytmin absoluuttinen merkitys ei olekaan vähäinen asia hänen osin uudelleen muokatuissa runoissaan.

When Hildi and I translated this poem along with others in 1993 we used the original 1956 edition of Tämä matka, from which "Otit planeetan" is taken.

In another post I'll put up an English version of a poem which Manner didn't change, as far as I know.