Saturday, January 1, 2011

Lapland's Summer

Today I'm turning the page over to my normally invisible technical collaborator on this blog, Petteri Sulonen, who after much urging on my part has agreed to post his translation of a fine poem by the Finnish poet Eino Leino, well known in his homeland but very difficult to find for those of us who are only fluent in  English. This translation does not retain the rhyme of the original Finnish, but it can  still be felt in the strong cadence.

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, HelkavirsiƤ (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 LeppƤnen, 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


  1. Oh thank you for translating and posting this here. So beautiful, and full of the nostalgia and deep ponderings of "early old age". I so loved it, and the photograph is wonderful too. A Lapland summer - lovely escape to contemplate on a freezing winter day:)

  2. I like the idea of learning wisdom from swans.

    This reminds me quite a lot of the American poet, Whitman.

  3. One line really jumped out at me and lingers:

    "Why not obey my blood's order?" - and so often we just don't...

    Thank you, Petteri, for translating this magnificent poem. And thank you, hedgewitch, for sharing it.

  4. The Lapland summer is so appealing to all others yet may not be to man. Is it true? A very good poem. Thanks for sharing.

    Every best wishes for 2011!

  5. "It consists entirely of very naughty spoonerisms". What a fantastic idea. The man must have been brilliant.

    Gorgeous poem too. Very much like Whitman, as Fireblossom says.

  6. So grateful tonight that my eyes landed on this link in your sidebar. How meaningful this is for me, whose paternal grandparents immigrated from Finland...the grandfather's blood pulsing Lapland DNA. Their son, my birth father, was named Eino. I have come to grips with how I feel about him in the following posts at my blog (and enter them not so much with a hope that they are read as a feeling they should in some way be attached to this poem). Thank you for this beautiful poem and interpretation. It helps me to better understand pieces of me...

    Post with my poem for Eino

    Post describing my All American Dad

    Post about our communion with A Heaven in the Eye


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats