Sunday 20 August 2017



He, a man enchained, who once long ago was free,
casts his gaze, full of suffering, in my direction.
On the rocky path he approaches me,
in the dark mist of a dream my soul detects him.

Whips have eaten streaks of blood into his back,
against his slumped head there’s a pillory.
The sweat on his sticky brow, his mouth a painful crack,
and gaze grown rigid now cause me anxiety.

You, maimed one, do I know you? You, noble and brave?
Who has whipped you, most sensitive of creatures?
Who marked your forehead with the brand of slave?
Your home turf, is it stocks and mockery and scourges?

 Fate has punished you, its naughty child.
 Like diapers, torture corrected your ennui.
whipped you with remorse, disappointment wild,
for kicks are not  much use against the goad..

You faced hunger – is it satisfied now, say?
Your bread is a stone, mocking laughter and curse.
In the pain of thirst you begged: ‘Water, pray!”
a salty tear ran down, made the thirst worse.

Caught by moments of the freezing autumn night,
grasping your hand, you, sufferer, I see.
Deep pity and understanding I observe, a light
in your eye – yes, I know you: you are me.


    Hän, kahlittu mies, eräs muinoin vapaa,  
    luo puoleeni katseensa kärsimystäyden.  
    Hänet kolkkoa louhikkopolkua käyden   
    unen usvassa tummassa sieluni tapaa.    

    Veriviiruja ruoskat on syöneet selkään,
    pää hervonnut vasten on kaakinpuuta.   
    Hientahmaista otsaa, tuskaista suuta    
    ja katsetta kangistunutta pelkään.

    Sinut, runnellun, tunnenko? Sinäkö, ylväs?
    Ken on ruoskinut sinua, herkistä herkin?
    Kuka löi sinun otsaasi orjan merkin? 
    Kotikontusi, onko se kaakinpylväs? 

    Sua kohtalo kuritti, kehnoa lastaan.
    Elonikävän korvensi kidutus vaipoin,
    katumuksin raateli, pettymysraipoin.
    Näet turha on potkia tutkainta vastaan.

    Nälän nääntävän sait -- joko sammui se, sano?
    Kivi kannikkas on, ivanauru ja pilkka.
    Janon tuskassa rukoilit: "Vettä suo tilkka!" --
    pisar suolainen vuos, sitä tuimempi jano.

    Syysyön sydänhetkinä hyydyttävinä
    sinut, kärsijä, nään, sua tarttuen käteen.
    Syvän säälin ja ymmärtämyksen säteen
    saan silmästäs -- tunnenhan sun: olet minä.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff


by Kaarlo Sarkia


You are fragrant soil expiring
in the spring sun’s brilliant hue.
A bud that opens, aspiring
to evening, night wind, and dew.

A blossoming tree by the lake-shore,
lily on the film of the lake.
A wave ave carrying the spindrift
glittering waters make.

Your steps are the swaying of corn ears..
Your laughter is skylarks in spring.
The petals of the white lily
can be seen in your eyes’ opening.


Your cool skin, your resilient hair,
who feels them with hands and lips?
Who encloses your supple limbs there,
your shy body roughly grips?

That smile, which trembles in sunlight,
who turns it to laughing surprise?
Who is lighting a fire, strange and fervid,
in the innocence of your eyes?



    Olet tuoksuva multa, mi raukee
    kevätauringon kirkkauteen.
    Olet silmu, mi iltaan aukee,
    yön tuuleen, kasteeseen.

    Olet kukkiva puu liki rantaa.
    Olet lumme kalvolla veen.
    Olet laine, mi vaahtoa kantaa
    yli selkien kimmelteen.

    Ovat askeles keinunta viljan.
    Kevätkiuruina naurus soi.
    Terälehdet valkean liljan
    sinun silmistäs nähdä voi.


    Ihos viileän, hiukses kimmoisat
    käsin, huulin ken tuntea saakaan?
    Ken on sulkeva jäsenes notkeat,
    ujon vartalos syliinsä raakaan?

    Hymyn tuon, joka päivässä väräjää,
    ken on vaihtava nauruun uuteen?
    Tulen oudon ja kuuman ken sytyttää
    sinun silmies viattomuuteen?

 translated from Finnish by David McDuff

Friday 18 August 2017

Flowering Cactus

by Kaarlo Sarkia

Like a burning vision you open your fresh flower
in the air of my room's grey and sultry light.
And as in a flame, in a sudden burst of abundant
life and colour you wake from your night.

Very poor, very prickly and curled
on the narrow sill all your days you sleep..
But under your dusty, thick and rough skin
you’re alive  after all, your bosom swelling with sap.

Ugly, fettered plant, you nearly burst now,
you can’t stand your shrunken being much more!
You will flame forth from your prison’s dark,
fling colossal dreams into the spring air.

    Kuin polttavan unelman tuoreen kukkasi avaat
    minun huoneeni ilmassa harmajan painostavassa,
    ja kuin liekissä, äkkiä esiin puhkeavassa,
    värin, elämän runsauteen sinä yöstäsi havaat.

    Ylen köyhänä, käpristyneenä ja okain kovin
    ikäs kaiken sa nukuit ahtaalla ikkunalla.
    Mut tomuisen, paksun ja karhean kuoresi alla
    elit sittenkin, täysin ja mahlasta paisuvin povin.

    Ruma, kahlittu kasvi, jo rajoissas nyt pakahtunet,
    sinä oloas kutistunutta nyt enää et kestä!
    Sinä leimahdat esiin vankilas pimeydestä
    kevätilmaan singoten sisimpäs valtavat unet.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff

Monday 14 August 2017


Not strictly a Nordic item, though it has many Finnish echoes and connections*: the Edinburgh Research Archive (ERA) has made available a complete downloadable scan of my 1971 doctoral dissertation on the poetry and poetics of Innokenty Annensky.

It’s interesting to see this work again after such a long time.  My writing style has changed somewhat in the interim, but I can still recognise the author as myself. The dissertation is detailed and academically disciplined – there's also some application of the structuralist principles current in literary criticism at that time – but I wasn’t afraid to let my emotions speak now and then. The introduction was written last of all, in 1970, after my return from a second study period in Moscow, and some of the gloom that surrounded politics and literature in the Soviet Union at that time can be detected in the text.

*See, for example, the Imatra page on the Мир Иннокентия Анненского website.

Sunday 13 August 2017


by Kaarlo Sarkia

The street’s whirl and rush have faded. Space,
a deep, singing brightness has overwhelmed me.
From the stone’s breast, beauty of roses grows apace.
I have left my affliction somewhere far behind me.

Something immortal touched earth in its fall.
The singing of space has captivated my senses.
Who was it? What did I long for? I forgot it all.
Past me down the street your foot now dances.


Kadun humu ja kiire on haihtunut. Avaruus,
syvä, laulava kirkkaus läikähti ylitseni.
Kiven rinnasta versoo ruusujen ihanuus.
Olen jonnekin kauaksi jättänyt kurjuuteni.

Jokin kuolematon lie hipaissut multaa maan.
Avaruuksien laulu on vallannut aistimeni.
Kuka lien? Mitä kaipasin? Unohdin kokonaan.
Sinun jalkas on tanssinut kadulla ohitseni.

translated from Finnish by David McDuff

Kaarlo Sarkia

I've been looking again at my Kaarlo Sarkia translations. They are not very many as yet, but I want to do some more, as Sarkia's poems demand to be read and heard beyond their native Finnish. There is a certain sense of connection when translating them, as Sarkia was himself a translator of verse -- particularly French and Italian poetry -- and here and there in his poems there are echoes of sources like Leconte de Lisle, Baudelaire and D'Annunzio. These echoes sometimes make the task of translation a little easier, though the spare yet sensuous forms of the poems - this is authentic 1930s Finnish design - are hard to render in English.

Wednesday 9 August 2017

Encountering myself - and FILI (FLIC)

My profile and interview are up - in Finnish - on the FILI 40th Anniversary website, with among other things my own account of my somewhat tortuous path as a translator:

Tieni kääntäjäksi:
Olen laajentanut kielivalikoimaani venäjästä saksaan ja pohjoismaisiin kieliin. Suomenruotsalaisen kirjallisuuden pariin päädyin tietysti ruotsin kautta, mutta sitä kautta kiinnostuin myös suomenkielisestä kirjallisuudesta. Se tuntui luonnolliselta kehitykseltä.

It's nice to be included along with Danish translator Siri Nordborg Møller and so many other translators of Finnish and Finland-Swedish literature. And it comes as a pleasant surprise that there are so many of us all round the world!

My first visit to Finland under FILI's auspices (though not my first visit) was in 1983 -- back then they were called FLIC. Now, after so many years, I almost feel like one of the family.

Tuesday 8 August 2017

Taste and Smell

In collaboration with Pia Tafdrup I have now made complete English translations of the first two books of her  "Senses" series - The Taste of Steel (Smagen af stål) and The Smell of Snow (Lugten af sne). The project is currently at the "reading through" stage, and at some point in the not too distant future we will need to assess the situation regarding publishing. Bloodaxe Books have earlier published five collections of Pia's work, including two volumes that each contain two books - Tarkovsky's Horses and Other Poems (containing The Whales in Paris and Tarkovsky's Horses), and Salamander Sun and Other Poems (containing The Migrant Bird's Compass and Salamander Sun), forming a quartet, all in my translation. We are now hoping that Bloodaxe will continue with the "taste" and "smell" volumes of the "Senses" series.

Monday 7 August 2017

Ecbatana Redux


by Sophus Claussen

I remember that spring, when my heart in its time
conceived the dream and searched for a rhyme,
whose glory should sink, I know not from where,
as when the sun set in Ecbátana.

A mocker advised me, with scholarly drama,
that the stress on the word was “Ecbatána”,
The sad, silly fool, he wasn’t aware
that the heart is in love with Ecbátana.

The city with terraces thousandfold sprawling,
with passages secret, walls dizzy falling
in Persia down there where the roses are,
buried in memories – Ecbátana!

That far-off spring, when my heart in its time
dreamed of impossible roses and rhyme,
has died, though the air was also light there,
like the sun that died behind Ecbátana.

But in Paris one spring the dream came to rise,
and the world became deep and Assyrian and wise,
as if still antiquity bled as of yore…
I lived for a day in Ecbátana.

My soul floated on like a syrinx of sounds
till the sun’s fall colored the parks' tree-crowns,
and the heart fell asleep in its highness, as there
in a sunset over Ecbátana.

But the people’s customs? The proud man’s feat?
What new and strange things would be left to share?
A terror, a madness, a cuneiform script
On your queenly body – Ecbátana.

But the rose, the most precious that world’s dreams know,
all life’s voluptuousness – who knew what they were?
Just a sign, a flower that was given for show
at a royal feast in Ecbátana.

I grew patient and proud. And then in my sleep
I dreamt of a fortune unemptied and deep.
Let the Flood’s waters carry me hence, afar
– I lived for a day in Ecbátana.

translated from Danish by David McDuff

See also:

My Translations

I've made a list of my published Nordic book-length translations. At present it looks like this:

from Finland-Swedish and Swedish

Edith Södergran: Complete Poems (Bloodaxe Books, UK)
Ice Around Our Lips - 10 Finland-Swedish Poets (Bloodaxe)
Bo Carpelan: Axel (Carcanet Press, UK)
Tua Forsström: Snow Leopard (Bloodaxe)
Tua Forsström: I Studied Once At A Wonderful Faculty (Bloodaxe) [with S. Katchadourian]
Tua Forsström: One Evening in October I Rowed Out on the Lake (Bloodaxe)
Gösta Ågren: A Valley In The Midst of Violence (Bloodaxe) (awarded TLS/George Bernard Shaw Translation Prize, 1994)
Gösta Ågren: Standing Here (ebook), The Cities (ebook), Coming Here (ebook)
Bo Carpelan: Homecoming (Carcanet)
Karin Boye: Complete Poems (Bloodaxe)
Mirjam Tuominen: Selected Writings (Bloodaxe)
Bo Carpelan: Urwind (Carcanet)
Bo Carpelan: The Year's Circle (Marjukka Vainio)
Tove Jansson: The Moomins And The Great Flood (Schildts)
Tove Jansson: The Moomins And The Great Flood (Sortof Books, UK)
Various authors: Dolce far niente in Arabia [G.A. Wallin and His Travels in the 1840s] (Museum Tusculanum Press/Society of Swedish Literature in Finland)

 from Finnish

Marianne Aav (ed.) Marimekko - Fabrics, Fashion, Architecture (Yale University Press)
Anni Sumari (ed.) How To Address the Fog (Carcanet, UK) - with Donald Adamson and Robin Fulton
Rosa Liksom:  Dark Paradise (Dalkey Archive Press, USA)
Tuomas Kyrö: The Beggar and the Hare (Short Books)
Tuula Karjalainen: Tove Jansson: Work and Love (Particular Books)

from Norwegian

Contemporary Norwegian Prose Writers (Oslo University Press, Norway)
Gunnar Staalesen: At Night All Wolves Are Grey (Quartet, UK)
Geir Kjetsaa: Fyodor Dostoyevsky - A Writer's Life (Viking USA and Macmillan UK) - translated with Siri Hustvedt
Øysteinn Lønn: Tom Reber's Last Retreat (Marion Boyars)

from Icelandic

Ólafur Gunnarsson: Gaga (Penumbra Press, Toronto, Canada), Trolls’ Cathedral (Shad Thames Books/Mare's Nest, UK), and Million-Percent Men (FORLAGIÐ JPV útgáfa, Iceland)
Brushstrokes of Blue [with Bernard Scudder]: The Young Poets of Iceland, anthology, ed. P. Valsson (Shad Thames Books/Greyhound Press, UK)
Einar Kárason: Devil's Island (Canongate, UK)
Bjarni Bjarnason: The Return of the Divine Mary (Red Hand Books, UK)
Bjarni Bjarnason: The Reputation (Red Hand Books, UK)

from Danish

Pia Tafdrup: Queen's Gate (Bloodaxe Books, UK)
Pia Tafdrup: Tarkovsky’s Horses and Other Poems (Bloodaxe Books, UK)
Pia Tafdrup: Salamander Sun (Bloodaxe)

Sunday 6 August 2017

Coming Here

My translation of Hid (1992), the third part of the autobiographical trilogy, is now also available in the Kindle Store.

Saturday 5 August 2017

The Cities

I've uploaded a new Kindle edition of my translation of the second part of Gösta Ågren's autobiographical trilogy - Städren, The Cities.

Friday 4 August 2017

Standing Here

Gösta Ågren
My translation of  the first part of Gösta Ågren's autobiographical trilogy, Jär, is now available as a Kindle e-book, Standing Here, published on Amazon's KDP. 

My short introductory essay on the trilogy, published in Books from Finland magazine in 1992, can be read here