Two Poems

Issue 1/1977 | Archives online, Authors, Fiction, poetry

Eeva-Liisa Manner

Eeva-Liisa Manner, 1963. Photo: E. Lahtinen

Eeva-Liisa Manner (born 1921) has enjoyed a high reputation as a poet since the 50s. With Tämä matka (‘This journey’, Tammi 1956) she established herself as one of the leading poets of the period.

So far she has published 10 collections of poems. In addition, she has excelled as a playwright, novelist and
translator. Her three plays Uuden vuoden yö (‘New Year’s Eve ‘, Tammi 1965), Toukokuun lumi (‘Snow in May’, Tammi 1967) and Poltettu oranssi (‘A shade of burnt orange’, Tammi 1968) have acquired a permanent place in the repertory of many Finnish theatre companies. Her poetic drama Eros ja Psykhe (‘Eros and Psyche’, Tammi, 1959) has been published in German and a Swedish version of her novel Varokaa voittajat (‘Victors, beware’ Tammi 1972; Mainakes hundar, Schildt) was published in 1974. She was awarded the State Prize for Literature five times between 1952 and 1967, and has received two major prizes for her translations (the Mikael Agricola Prize in 1967 and the State Prize for Translators in 1975). Her poems reflect a deep feeling for music and a special interest in mythology. The influence of oriental philosophy is also clearly discernible. The strong intellectual content of her poetry and its disciplined technique have won her a circle of devoted readers, while her prose writings and her translations of Hermann Hesse and Oscar Parland have reached an even wider public. In a lighter vein, she has ventured into the field of detective novels. Her most recent work is one of humorous and satirical verse: the two poems below are from Kamala kissa (‘An awful cat’, Tammi 1976). While devotees of Old Possum will have no difficulty in recognizing the characters, those familiar with the present cultural scene in Finland may detect nuances never dreamed of by Eliot.

The poems have been ‘remodified’ into English by Herbert Lomas.

Jack, the Terror of the Thames

Jack was a yobbo who lived in an alley,
And his clobbering of rats could hardly be called pally.
He was one of pollution’s blackest of gems
And proud of his cognomen – the Terror of the Thames.

Big-shouldered he was, a good fifteen-pounder
And rejoiced in a furcoat that made him look rounder.
He’d an ear like an aerial, precise and pricked funny,
And only one eye, as hard as money.

He slouched round the dustbins, plundering grub,
And his nights were spent scowling, drunk in the pub.
But he fell for a Siamese, and his rapscallion’s
Heart grew as sweet as a stallion’s.

This blue-eyed girlie was called Tail Hi Lo.
He loved her Indonesian quarter-tone soprano
And sang of his love in a deep growly bass.
His masculine charms were too much for the lass.

That was his undoing. For one of these duets
Drew an audience of jealous, felicidal old sweats.
A killer called Mack and one of his cronies
Knifed Jack full of holes, like another Adonis,
And pulled out his liver, his lights and his gonads.

That was the end of the girl’s enchanted singing,
The end of the ecstasy Jack had been bringing.
It’s true that the world round they celebrated his funeral
And filled up their bellies with many a spoonful
As they sang to the tropics their untuneful pleniluneral.

For he’d sons in all lands, and especially Bangkok,
As the name might suggest, without wishing to shock.
The Bangkok seas began to taste queer
As they spewed up their doses of Siamese beer –
Appropriate enough, since Jack’s blood had been due a year
Earlier by contract to a Siamese brewery.

Puss in Boots

He’s trod the boards as King Oedipus,
But nowadays we just call him Puss.
He toils away under the theatre stairs,
Lurking and working for other players,
Though once he was showered with theatrical honours
And spent his evenings with prima donnas.
If you’re keen to listen and not a yawner,
Take him to the place around the corner;
Over tea, scones and honey you’ll hear who he was:
Romeo, Othello and the Wizard of Oz.
“But what got them going and reduced them to hoots
Was my major role as Puss in Boots.”

“I’d a great success as King Oedipus,
But just entre nous you can call me Puss.”
He bows and offers you a mouse-stained paw
And settles down for a fascinating jaw.
“I did my Lear in the open air –
Look at me now: mousing under the stair.
And is my fool dead? Undo this button.
Never, never. She’s dead as mutton.
I’ve trod the boards from pillar to post,
Played both Hamlet and the ghost.
But I made them wild as a tank of newts
With my unique version of Puss in Boots.”

Offer him still another cup
With a drop of cream, and he’ll keep you up
With the tales of his travels from Doncaster
To wildest Wales and Manchester.
“The mayor himself was one of the audience
When I did my Wigan Pier performance.
I’d got a voice. I never paused.
You should have seen the stir my profile caused!
Everyone wanted to get acquainted,
And in Aberdeen the women fainted.
But I made them jump right out of their suits,
When I trod the boards as Puss in Boots.

What is there now? No opera, no schmalzes,
Nobody plays the Viennese waltzes.
Christ, how boring this modern art is!
They mutter and scratch and bore off your tits.
Meddling in politics, spouting philosophy,
Swearing and cursing and offering theosophy,
Bungling, boozing, groaning despair,
Swigging at whisky and steaming hot air.
I ask you, do audiences want all this shit?
But they don’t know where else they can go for it.
But you should have seen them taste of the fruits,
Those nights when I did my great Puss in Boots!”

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