Lapland Landscape with Marsh Cotton, Muonio, Lapland, 2010
In Lapland, all that grows blooms swiftly
earth, grass, barley, and stunted birch
These matters I have often pondered
as I look upon lives of this folk.
Why doth all that is fair with us wither
and that which is glorious die?
Why have we so many madmen?
Why so few who play on a lyre?
Why do our men everywhere fall
like hay – men of hope and men true,
of aspiration, of heart, men all moulder
or break in the midst of their labor?
Elsewhere the gray-haired burn fiery
In the aged shines spirit as the sun.
Here infants are born as dotards
and youths are set for the grave.
And I? Why do these thoughts I ponder?
'Tis of early old age a sign.
Why not obey my blood's order?
Why sigh over fates of men?
There is an answer: Lapland's summer.
Before it the mind grows gray.
So brief is birdsong and pleasure,
and blooming of flowers and joy.
O! birds, white guests of Lapland's summer,
Great aspirations, I bid ye welcome!
O! remain here, make here your nest,
ere ye return to the southern lands!
O! learn your wisdom from swans!
In autumn depart, to return in spring.
Our shores are calm and peaceful
and the flanks of the fells our refuge.
Rustling fly through the air, O swans!
Great acts create, light up the lands!
But when winter you here see departed,
I beg ye, I ask ye: return!
–Eino Leino, 1902. Translated by Petteri Sulonen.
Eino Leino (1878–1926) is one of Finland's greatest authors and poets. He was a man of many faces: a fierce nationalist, journalist, novelist, lyricist, playwright, and bohemian. Perhaps his most enduring work, Helkavirsiä (Whitsongs, Keith Bosley transl.), is a collection of epic verse set in an imaginary, romanticized past, written in strictly traditional Kalevalan form.
Eino Leino was also known for his hard living and the speed and agility of his writing. It is said that he could write anything, if he felt like it. One poem attributed to him has entered Finnish student folklore; it is said to have been composed on a napkin during one of his sodden nights out on the town. It consists entirely of very naughty spoonerisms, and is utterly untranslatable.
A bronze statue of him, by his friend Lauri Leppänen, stands in Esplanadi park in Helsinki, near his old haunts. Close by is a bar named after him. It is likely that both honors would have tickled his fancy.
photograph by petteri sulonen