All the grace

21 February 2013 | Fiction, poetry

Poems from Huhtikuu (‘April’, 1932), Sateen jälkeen (‘After the rain’, 1935), Hunnutettu (‘Veiled’, 1936), Kaukainen maa (‘Distant land’, posthumous, 1937; all published by WSOY). Introduction by Vesa Haapala


The wonderful pale clouds
cross the sky like wings.
Quiet and enchanting
the open water sings.

The sand has grown weary
of the waves’ caressing play.
Now come in perfect quiet,
now come here, right away…



Tired and grey the earth is now.
Wet snow is falling all around.
And over the deserted sea
the wind sings inconsolably.
It’s April. The hardest time for earth.
Now spring cries in her agony of birth.

Oh yes, I know, struggling victoriously
again she lifts her magic sceptre high.
And through her tears comes April’s smile,
– the day advances, bright now the soil,
and over it grow grass and leaves
the breathing of a wonderful breeze.
Oh yes, I know, the spring can spurn
No one who for it learned to yearn.

And yet: that life so fearful,
that life so new and fragile,
that life that in the trees, the soil,
now throbs towards the light,
to which the sea-wind’s breath
is like a message boding death,
that gentle life, now shivering
now trembling and quivering,
– oh, will its waiting run
until the earth wakes in the sun?

Oh, does it know, coldest of all,
what will redeem, as I know well?
Oh, does it know, pale and anguished:
spring’s love can’t be extinguished.
Spring can’t leave one person yearning
on the earth, in all its turning!
Not one who longs enough, and oh,
I know it – how would I not know!



I had been to the cinema then,
and the night was a rainy one.
I walked with wet shoes
across the misty street.

On that rainy night
Christ came to meet me.
And the raindrops fell
on him sadly.

What pallor in his face,
what night in his eyes!
Past the bleary neon light
he walked into the dark.

On that rainy night
the whole city was ill.
No one knew: Christ
had come to meet me.



The rainy evening
breathed its cold dankness
through the dark window.

Face pressed against the wet pane
I thought of you, great spirit,
burning flame in the rainy street.

In the dark you sensed the rise of a new sun,
from afar you felt the rumble of its legions.
The cold drops gave way in surprise
before your mighty blaze.

At the damp window I knew
I do not have your power.
Flare up in my soul, O God,
so I am not extinguished on the rainy road.


From Huhtikuu, ‘April’)


Often in your arms I heard the flow
into my being of the deepest peace.
But often, captive there with no release,
I’d beat my wings in you, I also know.

No, love never ever can be free.
It is the treasure of the bound alone.
But through the prison trellis love has grown
the prisoner’s eye meets with infinity,

the hidden is opened by love’s binding part,
and the narrow cell arches to a universe.
That heart that is the limit of my steps
expands and grows into the world’s own heart.



The sky has darkened to a fragile blue,
and shadows wander blue across the snow,
but in the snowy street still brightly glow
its dreams and lanterns, ever shining through.
Light of step, I walk on homeward now,
as the first star in the dusk thrills on and on.
From my bosom all the pain has vanished, gone,
and I am blessed, not knowing why or how.
Only the snow’s peace, sky’s limpidity,
only star upon gentle star up there so high,
only the knowledge that in my warm room
a rose is smiling singly in the gloom,
a rose is smiling with its petals’ fire.
Blue night, a rose! What more could I desire?



On wings inaudible and delicate
happiness flew to my heart like a bird,
so that the pain from which I crept away
is now nothing but a lifeless word.
For you I yearned, now breathing close,
your pulse throbs in my every vein.
For a moment shining like a morning dream
I, timid, am invulnerable again.



Quietly I walked amidst the garden’s charms.
Already flowers were slumbering in rows.
Cutting them, it seemed pain in me rose,
but I enclosed them sweetly in my arms.

When at last on the sweet peas I cast my gaze
I stopped, and saw the evening darken blue.
And moment by moment, with a wondrous hue ,
it deepened, lightened, deepened in the haze.

But still below, aflame with inward light,
amidst the forest burned the pallid lake,
as if a pane of glass stretched out to take
the final rays, preserving them in night.

And on the sky, whose spell embraced me still,
a group of clouds divine extended far
like a white veil shining in the twilight hour.
And then the first star began to twinkle, thrill.

Yet more pale stars broke out in heaven’s deep,
as if I had a dark blue road to pass,
and stepped with bare feet on cold grass.
Already in my arms the flowers were asleep,

in sweet slumber land and forest slept,
but with new stars the sky lived yet.
When the ray of light began to beat
through the cloudy veil, and dimness crept,

with all my senses by the night refined
I felt at last you must be at the door,
at the road’s turn you, with eyes so kind,

whom I had waited many summers for.


(From Sateen jälkeen, ‘After the rain’, 1934)


In memoriam

It opened to the sun, dear, fragrant bush.
It burst with roses, more lovely than the others.
Rose upon rose, like the warmth and charm of summer, exuding love.

Then came the thunderbolt, down to the earth it struck.
Not an ancient tree, not a rotten stump
did that heavenly weapon touch, it did not break the sick flower’s head.

Only the summer’s fieriest roses it struck.
Fragrant even in their agony they died with smiling lips.
There remained a slender shoot, sucking strength from the ashes: a budding rose.

*Saima’s sister (1911–1936) who died after giving birth to her first child, little Outi

(From Hunnutettu, ‘Veiled’, 1936)


Beside my lamp the warmth is pouring,
the gold of moments flows free.
Not yet has darkness, devouring,
taken you from me.

You open a fairytale garden.
There the two of us are.
For a moment fiery roses
around our heads now flower.

Listen: lashing the window
the snowy lines whir and dart.
From the open sea they come raging,
the winds of winter’s heart.

Into the night and darkness
the man must turn and go.
For one last moment light flashes
across the road of snow.

Beside my lamp I linger
and then I know nothing more:
in the storm I see a boy wander
near chasms that have no floor.



There is a land to where
the traces of dreams disappear.
With each road my steps explore,
closer that land they make.
What here I lost, there I will find,
what here stammers, there is defined
in the land where illusions break.

There hope is realised, and fear in vain,
the darkest enigma bright and plain,
and deepest agony consoles the most.
See, those tears
within whose spheres
my bosom’s bitterness and sorrows move
are a mountain spring where strength I drink.
And if I bring
the crumbs of inexpensive love,
in my hands a jeweled treasure lies,
that gleams and shines.

And the dead
now radiant in shadow go.
– Oh longed-for one, I see you by my side,
I seize your hand, that has grown cold,
I see the smile I lowered to a certain grave.
There in my arms a dear child I hold
whose little face
is here denied.

There is a land to where
all paths vanish, then cease.
Those there do not see the reflection
that lights us on darkened ways.
Into the eyes of Being they gaze.

It is the land of Peace.



The first day of spring still lingers,
rippling on the garden’s ground.
A tiny winter bird chirrups,
its tireless voice new-found.

On the silver-bright bark of the branches
the twilight deepens a shade.
The quiet air is weightless.
All the treasures my sparse life weighed,

all the grace my heart ever owned
seem to be present here,
in the light that hides its smiling,
as the sun-veiled dusk draws near.

(This is the last entry in Saima Harmaja’s diary; she died on 21 April.)

Translated by David McDuff



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