Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Mirjam Tuominen - 10

by Tuva Korsström


A biography of love

Mirjam Tuominen's last secular 'signposts' were Rilke and Hölderlin. She published a large volume of her translations of Rilke's letters in 1957 and in the same year the first complete Swedish translation of Die Sonette an Orpheus.

'Whoever has begun to read Hölderlin will return to him and will gradually become a willing captive of his poetry,' she writes in her introduction to Hölderlin. En inre biografi (Hölderlin. An Inner Biography, 1960).

She had herself been for many years been a willing captive both of Hölderlin's poetry and of his life, which bore many resemblances to her own. Hölderlin's loss of his father, his hesitation between his need for contact and his unwillingness to lead a social life, his brilliant career as a poet, his illness and labelling as an unfortunate and madman - all these drew Mirjam Tuominen to an identification and idealising admiration.

As a biographer of Hölderlin, Mirjam Tuominen reveals equal amounts of understanding and intellectual blindness. There is none of the slightly ironical distance from which she considered Kafka and Proust. Her study of Hölderlin has the intensity and the subjectivity with which one looks at one's child or beloved. The biography is in fact just as much about herself as it is about Hölderlin. She defends all the phases in Hölderlin's life, and the same time in her own. She even exalts the long, silent period in the poet's life into something inevitable and sacred.
Hölderlin, with his incommunicable but resigned duty to live for a long time, silent and silenced, without illusions, alone with the wandering clouds, the birds flying outside his window and the minute insights of quietism in his inner being is an inviolable phenomenon. The silence that emanates from the latter half of his life has self-mastery and piety.

God is present

In Under jorden sjönk Tuominen makes Spinoza deduce God's existence:


Out of the simple
into the manifold
composed of the simple
through the simple
deduced from the simple
leading to the manifold
again leading onward
to new manifoldness
simple deductions
all the way to the most
simple of all
the simplest simple
the whole.

When in the mid-1950s Tuominen began to take an interest in the Roman Catholic church, she entered a more varied spiritual context than the Lutheran church had been able to offer her. The Virgin Mary added motherliness and femininity to the image of the divine. There was ample choice of spiritual company to be found among the saints. Mirjam Tuominen chose Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross and St Thérèse of Lisieux.

She converted to Roman Catholicism in 1963 and religion entirely dominated the rest of her life. Her poetry took the form of prophecies and rrevelations, while her prose became a dynamic, often questioning dialogue with the Bible and the writings of the saints.

The meditation Gud är närvarande (God Is Present, 1961) is the last book she published. Her publisher rejected two subsequent and very large manuscripts of religious poetry: Jesu Kristi lyra (The Lyre of Jesus Christ) and Ave Maria. Her own sketches for covers for her last published books were also rejected. Her crayon drawings, including the covers, have been recognized as outstanding and exceptional works of art more than twenty years after her death.

Mirjam Tuominen interpreted these rejections as a last unforgivable insult from the outside world. She considered herself condemned to a silence which she had not chosen herself and which was not, like that of Hölderlin, dictated by God.

Her last, silent years, until she died, from a cerebral haemorrhage, in the summer of 1967, were possibly the most unhappy period of her life. Writing had been her life, the life she had chosen. Writing had given her human dignity and the strength to 'look ahead, always ahead', like Irina in her very first short story:
I lived my life observing. What I met with, I observed. I was a zero and pure observation.

In the days after I died, however, I became very articulate. People wondered why. With good reason. For it was not I, but my observations, that became articulate in a strangely profound, though swiftly transient manner. They flew away and came back again. They fly away and come back again. They named them with my name, honoured them unpretentiously, and it was the unknown in themselves that they so honoured.
(Epitaph for a zero. Gud är närvarande ).


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