The height of the night

15 October 2009 | Letter from the Editors

pallokarttaThe autumnal equinox is past; and as we tilt towards the winter solstice, here in these northerly latitudes, the darkness expands palpably from day to day, giving more space for introspection – high on the list of Finnish national pastimes – and for reading.

We want to make our website primarily a place for reading – not, in other words, for clicking, going on to the next thing. To think to the end what cannot be thought to the end elsewhere, as the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam said of his experience of staying in what was, at the turn of the 20th century, still Finnish Karelia. So you will not find our texts littered with links; for the most part, links appear at the end of a piece, not in it.

But we love the freedoms of our new medium. This month we’re introducing a new feature, the three little boxes that appear at the top of this page. We’ll use them for all kinds of little snippets: news we want to pass on, funny stories we’ve heard, links worth following, what’s coming up here on our website.

Since we last wrote, summer holidays have come and gone, Books from Finland has moved offices, just across the street (chairs and desks, books, computers, files and 42 years’ worth of archives!), children have gone back to school, the busy life of autumn has started. But through it all, there’s always the book in your handbag or your briefcase, Books from Finland, perhaps, for sneak peeks on the computer through the working day or after it is done, or on your mobile phone. That is the power, and sometimes the solace, of literature; and the fact, here at Books from Finland, that our business is words means that the whole world can be our subject.

New novels, stories, poems and reviews are on the way to this website, so stay tuned! And as Helsinki is frosty already, here’s an autumn offering, by one of our favourite poets, Ilpo Tiihonen, a master of rhyme (as is his translator, Herbert Lomas).

The Editors

Under Arcturus

Even in autumn, at the very beginning,
the omens were all bad:
‘Oh who can make a start with death,
after the ice we’ve had?’

But though the witches warned and spat,
they tackled their first snow-weather,
and hand in hand and side by side,
huddled close together.

Leaves had wafted, light and yellow,
in the damned dirt to lure us,
but the spruce trees stood, with spruce you see
the height ot the night, the way to Arcturus.

They felt the point of the diamond mirage
that blinds the eyes with its glow,
but even so, in this frosty garden,
in their fevers, they stared at the snow.

As if they were toasting November, and their lips
scorned death, in revolt,
they pressed their kiss on the mouth of dawn
and time was given a jolt.

From Tähtipumppu (‘Starcombo’, WSOY, 1992)

Translated by Herbert Lomas (published also in Black and Red. Ilpo Tiihonen: Selected Poems; Making Waves, 1993)
More poems here