Happy elegy

Issue 3/2000 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

‘It hurts me to look / When nothing comes back to me.’ So goes the first poem in Kirsti Simonsuuri’s Rakkaus tuli kun lähdin maan ääriin (‘Love came when I left for the ends of the earth’). The persona asks us to look at a cloud lingering in the blond sky, ‘head wrapped in white’ and fading away. The lines forecast the thematic atmosphere of the whole: a happy elegy on the transitoriness of passing moments, people, places, times and love. In the cosmos of the poems everything flows, and the flow is never the same. But it is just this that creates the durable, the movement of continual metamorphosis.

The volume consists of three parts, named for seasons: ‘Semeion, for spring’, ‘Metaxy, for summer’ (the group translated in this issue) and ‘Dynamis, for autumn’. Its finely tuned images, almost imperceptibly changing into others, are drawn from the familiar, diligently-pursued topoi of lyrical poetry – the sea, clouds, rock, earth, the sun and the moon – and thus grow from the same root as Maa, ei mikään meri (‘Ocean and no land’, 1987). Her volume Onni ja barbaria (‘Happiness and barbarism’, 1995) was, on the contrary, determinedly present in our time and the actuality of Europe. History, mankind’s political and cultural barbarism now take the background, and the tones are more personal.

Kirsti Simonsuuri (born 1945) is a poet, novelist, essayist, researcher and translator. In the 1990S she spent several years in Athens as the director of the Finnish Institute there; her translations include some of the Greek classics. Her first collection of poems, Murattikaide (‘Ivy balustrade’) was published in 1980.

In this new collection, Simonsuuri’s style has become more refined and spare, perhaps more polished. Consciousness moves from an unseen to a seen world and back again with reduced transitions: ‘Thought trembles like a hair I On my skin suddenly I And sinks into my salty armpit I Into the primal Cambrian sea.’ Light and darkness. happiness and pain, as well as the other things conceived as opposites merge into one, proceed side by side or fuse into each other, linking Simonsuuri with Mirkka Rekola, the classic poet of the modernist generation of the 1950s. ‘Metaxi, for summer’ is the ‘happiest’ of the sequence. Its persona swims or dallies on the shore and confesses to the sea. reddening in the setting sun, her love – she fuses and unites with it as if it were her lover. Sometimes the sea is replaced by ‘you I seek at the world’s end’. a human object of longing and desire; sometimes it’s the sun, the power of life one must eventually part with.

The effect of the poems is like that of breathing – it’s there even though you may not be concentrating on it. Perhaps, too, the effect wells up from the conflict and ambivalence concealed between the spoken and the unspoken. Almost every poem speaks of love, happiness and joy, but the rhythm, the sounds and the melodic curves reveal melancholy and pain.

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