Youth revisited

Issue 4/1986 | Archives online, Authors, Extracts, Non-fiction

Extracts from a diary. Introduction by Kai Laitinen

10.4.46

I thought I might weep today, now that it’s evening and I’m alone. But after all, I’m not weary enough. Instead I’ll read some Rilke: The Book of Hours, Stunden-Buch. Whose pages I turned at seventeen and tried to see. Now it’s all simply backtracking. Rilke’s the weeping I was expecting. That soft bitter swirling I sink into without troubling myself whether it’s good for me or bad.

I’ve been three days without writing a poem and it’s beginning to nag me already. Earlier, I was three months and it bothered me less. But I shan’t weep. I’ll read Rilke. I’m that young monk who believes he’s capable of being some day so afraid his arteries will burst.

18.4.46

Maundy Thursday. We stayed in Helsinki for Easter. The day’s been weeping and the room’s been quiet and grey. But now the evening sky’s clear and slowly sucking all the light into itself. Soon I shall be going to St John’s Church to hear the St Matthew Passion.

During the last few days, it’s been difficult for me to get a grip on anything. Just think, on Friday Mikkonen rang and asked if I’d go to the Werner Söderström Book Fair in Tampere. And he said the competition results would be out tomorrow, Saturday, and the prize would almost certainly come to me. And the next day I did hear that I’d beaten those two hundred other authors and won the thirty thousand marks. God, it had happened. I’d suddenly taken a great step forward.

Sunday we were in Tampere. It was hard to take at first. I sat quietly in the bus corner, surrounded by unfamiliar people, celebrities, and I wasn’t a celebrity, just a painfully shy mortal child, suffering from complexes, all by herself. What use was it that Viljanen talked to me about Rilke and read the Stunden-Buch: it didn’t make him someone I knew. Everyone’s face was unfamiliar. And I didn’t know why I had come along.

In Tampere I began to see again. And the high point was in Tampere Cathedral. Not Simberg’s frescoes but the stained glass. Those dazzling coloured designs startled into life by the sun. I stood on my own for a long time, looking. And I saw. The others didn’t see, the celebrities. They’d been given to me.

The day was chock-a-block with novel­ ties and devastations. I’m not up to telling about them. Dinners and readings and autograph-hunters (even wanting mine!). We came back by night. I stood on Hattelmala ridge in the moonlight and it was one a.m. At five in the morning I was last out of the large empty bus at a corner in Eira.

And on Monday I signed my contract at Werner Söderström. I began to like Haavio. I got Stained Glass back for still another polishing. Marjanen congratulated me in the hall. He said he remembered me, though earlier he’d not been able to connect ‘the name and the person’.

I exist. I am Aila Meriluoto. The name and the person are one.

23.4.46

Easter’s over. The city was tranquil; all my friends were out of town, but it was pure respite. On Good Friday evening the city rested on its shores like a blonde woman, the sea was grey and the light­ houses beamed. It’s my most beautiful experience for some time.

I’ve been tormenting myself with a host of futilities: suspicions, fantasies, sillinesses. It’s so typical of me, after a great success, to reach around for everything I can find to torment myself. If only I could stop thinking about others; the idea of ‘others’ will finish me off one day. Since I was tiny I’ve gone on being insecure and shy with people. I know I’m able to be strong when I’m closeted with my God, when his vast hands stop up the chinks in my studio-workroom. Why then do I so rarely abandon myself to him, why do I fluff myself up against him when he draws near? Why, why am I so morbidly suspicious, paranoidly self-centred? When I’ve nothing else to excruciate myself with, I resort to thinking there are so many poets (so shouldn’t there be, should I be the only one – that would guarantee I’d keep on marking time), or that I only got third prize in the literary competition (but there were over fifty volumes and the jury must have lost all power of discrimination early on. Besides, Mikkonen said Werner Söderström had been astonished at the decision, after studying the entries) or that I was barely noticed at the ‘Young Poetry’ evening (though some did notice me, Sicra told me some strangers had said Stained Glass was the finest poetry of the evening). Quiet now, Aila Meriluoto.

Spring’s already on us. Soon it’ll be May. And then Summer. I’m not scared of summer in Pieksämäki now. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to the poems that are coming in stronger and stronger waves. I’m looking forward to the autumn that’ll put into my hands my first book, my Stained Glass. Why should I suffer? The time will come for that too.

2.2.47

I’ve just written a letter to VAK. There were days when I couldn’t think about anything but the letters I’d received, exquisite enthusiastic words, a photograph showing elegiacal eyes, finally a poem written, oh God, to me, and then I thought, I’m ugly: long in the face and tooth, quite different from what VAK expects. And then I thought: what does he want from me and what do I want from him? And then I’d like to have wept and run away and died. But now I’m calmer and colder. I think: nothing must come of this, since everything can’t.

And only when I’d grasped this deep down, when I’d crossed the summit and started to climb down, was I able to write ‘Mignon’s Song’, which is honester, more passionate and foolish than any poems I’ve written for a long time. It was good that I wrote it. I’m not going to get entangled any more.

Maila Talvio has invited me to Laaksola for next Thursday when the Students’ Union Literary Society is having a Koskenniemi evening. Not difficult to guess whose idea this is. There one sees VAK’s sophistication: a first meeting under the aegis of a famous cultural centre of long literary tradition. (Or is it, Sicra suggested, MT’s lust for power?) VAK is perfectly sophisticated in everything. His letters, is spite of their enthusiasm, are very cool. Myself, I’m a barbarian. I always have been. Always I’ve had more vehemence and passion than others. Always I can feel myself saying too much – once to Ora and K, now in my letters to VAK. Witch woman. And then in the end I just huddle up and suffer.

But not yet. Stained Glass has sold out in two months and a small reprint is on the way. I’m well aware that Koskenniemi’s review in Uusi Suomi has powerfully affected sales. Without that there’d be no new impression. That someone can do so much for someone else. Shall I be able to avoid hating him for it some day after all this?

21.2.47

My life is more of a huge chaos than ever. I’ve been ill with flu, though I did get dressed today and tottered about a bit. Fever made life seem an enormous maze with no exit. I was longing to die. Really die. Because life was

[Four pages have been torn out of the diary.]

to see me. In my fever I told him about VAK. Suddenly he came very close. And then I thought I’d somehow tied myself to him. It was a ghastly feeling. Panic. I wept that night. Everything looked horribly enlarged and out of proportion. Now life’s beginning to settle down to normal. Not completely as yet – the commotion’s been too great, and something broke. It may be that my life will never again be the same as it was before the storm, before that horrific conflict and battle and tension. My categoricalness has torn me to bits. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have suffered so excruciatingly. I’ve felt devious and dishonest, and yet I’ve been honest every instant, to the point of utter exhaustion. But honesty is perhaps the most conflict-ridden thing in the world.

Why shouldn’t this be love then? Love too is conflict-ridden, made up of thousands of constituents. Perhaps it includes a plaster bust on the nation’s sideboard, the only poetry book in a bourgeois bookcase in childhood. A young girl’s flattered mind: fancy – him! It’s a fact, why gloss over it because of some hypocritical timidity? No, I shan’t give this up – not this, and not that. I want to keep them for myself. The lot.

Though I don’t know anything at this stage. K. has rung every day and asked Sicra how I feel. He’s given me Sonette an Orpheus, The Sonnets to Orpheus. He’s the closest to me after all of these three men, he speaks a language we developed together, almost identical. Babel’s confusion does still exist, and along with that goes perhaps the greatest power given to man. Man’s loneliness.

The best of all would be to pitch all men to the devil: to Get Away. Get away into the wilderness, away from all this never-ending backwash and hullabaloo. The second impression has arrived. Since Tarkiainen’s lecture I’ve not had a moment’s peace. Telephone calls, requests for interviews and readings. No! It’s not for me. Peace, quiet, strength!

29.3.47

I’m leaving in just under two weeks for Switzerland. For three or four months. I don’t know what it’ll mean. I’m just full of joy and fear. Is that the wilderness I was longing for. Life is more extraordinary than longing. It overcomes longing. Now that too has been learned.

These three men in my life, is it because of them that the departure feels such a natural, organic development? K. said I was irresponsible. Perhaps I am. It may be because I managed to break out so late.

The pressure was too great and the outflow too gushing to be controlled. VAK says I’m amoral. He says it with admiration: I am, I hear, an Arcadian creature, not immoral but beyond conventional morality, untouched by it. But it touched me nevertheless, I rebel and feel shame and am sincere and in earnest every moment. I don’t admit I’m doing anything wrong. I don’t do anything wrong. I am life, and life doesn’t do anything wrong.

Koskenniemi’s love is, after all, like a minuet. For him it’s nothing new. Everything’s been experienced dozens of times – it’s elegant, a light touch: clichés – nothing but cliches. He says beautiful things I listen to greedily and know are chic lies, deliberately casual. Naturally, VAK is earnest, he glows – like a poet, but like an old poet whose lyre is already sounding a little hollow. And he doesn’t know that. But I have such a sharp ear, always. Even in love, he follows literary models: Runeberg, Goethe. He’s no longer able to live his own life, his own love. My God, how much younger and fiercer and prouder I am. And I try to convince myself (and him too a little) that I love this man old enough to be my father who has, as he puts it himself, become twenty-years-old three times over. And he smiles at my categoricalness because for him it’s a foreign language. And I suffer and go silent and feel scorn because of all that lightness of touch, which is a foreign language to me. And in spite of that we’re bound together with irrational bonds. , Perhaps this is pathological, decadent. Perhaps that’s its power. Just that.

– – –

All this I’m going to leave behind. I don’t fully grasp yet how good it is. I only know that it is good. Only I musn’t, after I’ve left, drop back into my inferiority complex, my feeling of insignificance, which by now I’ve emerged from a little. There’ll be masses of new people to write poems about, new people I shall have to expose myself to for them to create conceptions about me. Probably I shall again try to be as inconspicuous as possible so as not to lose anything of myself. I’m a miser who wants to keep tight hold and doesn’t know one must give in order to receive.

Translated by Herbert Lomas

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