On Lassi Nummi

Issue 1/1979 | Archives online, Authors

Lassi Nummi

Lassi Nummi, 1957. Photo: Kuvasiskot / CC-BY-4.0

Lassi Nummi has never been afraid to say that a poem has a right to be poetry. Throughout his thirty-year career in letters he has consistently backed the special task of poetry, its right to independent life. And the other side of this is the unconstrained poem’s tutelage of whatever it is in man that is striving upwards out of the half-light into consciousness.

Nummi lets his poems ring. He is not afraid even of the pastoral, and he risks the ancient methods of the lyric. He thinks a flower garden is acceptable as a garden of flowers, and it is not proper to disparage it as a failed cornfield. With equal consistency Nummi has promoted literature as a social institution – as one of its most prominent representatives himself: a critic and chronicler with a compound eye on events in the visual arts, literature and music. Music is a special component of his own poetry, of course.

For all these reasons Nummi is unafraid to come forward as a cultivated poet, even a ceremonial one, giving central value to his experiences in tradition, travel and meditation. Icelandic landscapes may be used to notate his grief.

He takes images as the need arises from the Kalevala, China, Rome or the Balkans. Yet Nummi has always, too, aspired to openness in his poetry­ speaking candidly, nakedly and personally. He wants the reader to catch both his voice and his meaning – ‘full to its needle ends of death, life, and is there still another name for it …?’

‘What if I moved a bit? What if I went away?’ It is a question about both birth and death. Lähdössä tänään (‘Leaving today’) uncovers the poet’s most elusive fears, which often lie hidden behind the leaves. The volume’s most evident subject is death, but the fear departure arouses resembles the trauma of birth. ‘We carry our own faces, each one of us, in the continual crush of this crowd.’ The poet’s happiness can breathe: the inspissate world is nevertheless porous, the air can get through. Yet the agony is ‘I’ve always carried the thought of suffocating.’ Even more painful than the actual image of death is ‘the image of a bottomless dream, a light looming out from the darkness, an endless path.’ Departure towards the looming light – motion – is agonizing, even though the journey would be a happy one.

A poem by Lassi Nummi is ‘leaving today’, a happening uniting birth and death. The trauma does not explode as a cry, but the tension finds utterance as image and music. The reader experiences the shaking.

Lassi Nummi published his first collection of poems in 1949. These were followed by seven volumes of verse, a novel and short stories. 1978 saw an edition of his collected poems (Runot 1947-1977, Otava). Since 1973 Nummi has been a member of the Finnish Churches’ Bible Translation Committee.

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