Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Poetry in Translation

Poetry translates very poorly, which is sad, because I have a great urge to share with you my Finnish favorites, especially Eino Leino's Nocturne.

But it's hellish to translate. I haven't given up yet, though I decided to begin with another poem by Leino, his Jumalien Keinu, or the Swing of Gods. Leino wrote it in 1902. He was a great poet, an alcoholic and pretty much a mess otherwise, too, and all this matters in understanding the poem.

Here it is in Finnish:

Jumalien keinu

Kenen korkeat jumalat keinuunsa ottavat kerta,
eivät ne häntä yhdessä kohden pidä,
he heittävät häntä
välillä taivaan ja maan -
siksi kuin järjen valon häneltä ne vievät.

Ja kuka maailmoiden mahdin kuuluttaja on,
hän tänään pilvien ääriä kulkee,
ja huomenna makaa
maassa niin syvällä
kuin koski, mi vuorten
kuilussa kuohuu.

Kuka keinussa jumalien keinuu,
ei hällä elon aika pitkä ole.
Syyn, syyttömyyden
hän huiput nähköön -
sitten tulkohon tumma yö.

And this is my attempt at a translation:

The Swing Of Gods

Whom the High Gods harness to their swing,
he will not be held in one harbor safe.
He will be tossed
between heaven and earth -
until the very light of reason is extinguished.

And whoever wishes to sing of the might of the worlds
may today dance on the edge of the clouds
yet tomorrow sink deep
into the earth, as deep
as the foaming rapids
in mountain caverns.

Who dares to swing in the swing of the gods
will not survive for long in this life.
Let utmost guilt
and utmost innocence dawn -
then let come the darkening night.

I had to choose between "he" and "she" for the purposes of translation and the sound of the poem demanded the first option. The original poem doesn't imply a gender for the person, so "she" would be equally valid.

Sigh. It's impossible to get what fascinates me about this poem. Maybe if you read it aloud in Finnish?