A window left open

If some of these poems feel like song lyrics, that’s because they are. Pentti Saarikoski’s best-loved work was set to music for the sixties folk group, Muksut. You can watch their original videos in the national treasure trove that is YLE, the Finnish BBC. His handwritten draft of one of them, Minä soitan sinulle illalla was the cover of one a Muksut album. This poem is just right for this season in Finland, when the snow’s still here, but in other places, spring has moved right on. Especially this year, when you can’t just hop over to see a host of golden daffodils somewhere else.

A good half-century later, A Window Left Open brings Saarikoski to a whole new generation in English. Fleur and Emily Jeremiah, the mother-and-daughter translator team, are the perfect pair to tackle it (another translation of theirs has just been longlisted for this year’s Dublin Literary Award). They’ve chosen a path for us through his work, from his fascination with antiquity (Saarikoski translated Sappho and The Oddessey) to the turbulent politics of the sixties and seventies, when neighbouring Russia cast a very long shadow.

I started this collection directly after finishing Johanna Holmström’s excellent biography of Finnish feminist writer Märta Tikkanen, who was married to another alcoholic male literary star of the same generation, so I felt far from ready to read this. I was still bristling slightly when I’d finished the introduction, but mellowed as I went on. Saarikoski himself didn’t feel he measured up to his own work.

This dual-language edition is the second from Norvik Press, and I hope there’ll be many more. I wouldn’t have wanted to read the translation alone; seeing it alongside the original, I enjoyed quibbling over choices and wondering about alternatives. Emily herself has said that one of the smallest words in Finnish, “hän”, is one of the hardest to translate, as in English you often have to choose a gendered pronoun, “he” or “she”. Even if you don’t know more Finnish than that, tracing matching patterns and similar sounds, or puzzling out which word or phrase could belong with which, is enormous fun. Looking at the two panes of the window on each language opens up a space between them, to let the images fly out.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in books, Dublin Literary Award, poetry
4 comments on “A window left open

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

advent Alice in Wonderland American And Other Stories Antonia Lloyd-Jones Arabic Argentina Beowulf Berlin Best Translated Book Award Bible books Brazil Brazilian Portuguese British British Library Buddhism Catalan Children's Books China Chinese Christmas Christmas Carols Contemporary Czesław Miłosz Danish Dari David Hackston Dublin Literary Award English Estonian Fantasy Farsi Fiction Finland Finland 100 Finlandia Prize Finnish Flemish Free Word Centre French George Szirtes German Greek Hebrew Herbert Lomas Herta Müller history Hungarian Iceland Idioms Illustration India international International Translation Day Irish Gaelic Italian J. R. R. Tolkien Japanese Jenny Erpenbeck Johanna Sinisalo Korean Language language learning Languages Latin Literature Lola Rogers Lord of the Rings Mabinogion Man Booker International Prize Maori Maria Turtschaninoff Moomins New Year Nobel Prize Nobel Prize for Literature Norwegian Old English Olga Tokarczuk Owen Witesman Oxford English Dictionary Penguin PEN Translation Prize Persian Philip Boehm Phoneme Media Poetry Poetry Translation Centre Polish Portuguese Pushkin Press Queer Romanian Rosa Liksom Russian Salla Simukka Second World War Short Stories Sofi Oksanen Spanish Stanisław Barańczak Suomi100 Susan Bernofsky Svetlana Alexievich Swedish Switzerland Thomas Teal Tibetan Tove Jansson transation Translation translator Translators Without Borders Valentine's Day Wales Warsaw Welsh Wisława Szymborska Witold Szabłowski Women in Translation Month words Words without Borders writing YA

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow found in translation on WordPress.com
%d bloggers like this: