Search results for "david barrett"

Plain sailing

31 March 1996 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

An extract from Alastalon salissa (‘In Alastalo’s parlour’, 1933). Introduction by Kai Laitinen

A letter from the translator:

Dear Editors,

Reluctantly (I really have tried) I have been driven to conclude that Alastalon salissa is untranslatable, except perhaps by a fanatical Volter Kilpi enthusiast who is prepared to devote a lifetime to it. To mention only one of the difficulties, there is no English equivalent to the style of the Finnish ‘proverbs’ (real or imaginary) with which the main character Alastalo’s thoughts are so thickly larded. Add to this the richness and, yes, eccen­tricity, of Kilpi’s vocabulary, and the unfamiliarity of much of the subject-matter, centred as it is on the interests of a sea­ going community that hardly exists any longer, even on the islands, and you have a text that is full of pitfalls for the translator. As for the humour, I’m sorry to say that it depends so much on the idiom and presentation that it doesn’t come over at all. If I did any more, I’m afraid it would just have to be a laborious paraphrase, and I don’t think I’m capable of making it effective, or even readable, in English.

Apart from that, although I’m very grateful for your explanations of the many unfamiliar words and phrases, I’m very unwilling to commit myself to the translation of any of them on the basis of a mere ‘gloss’ (technical word): I need to know the associations, and possible sound-echoes, of every one of them before I can be sure of getting it right. And getting it right affects the rhythm of every sentence: it’s not just a matter of filling in blanks with ‘equivalents’ provided by someone else.

I’ve no objection to your using my version of the opening pages. If you decide to follow it with some kind of comment, do borrow, if you need to, from my remarks above, giving the translator’s point of view. Sorry to have failed you so badly.

Yours, David Barrett More…

‘Joy and peace prevail…’

25 December 2010 | Fiction, Prose

Dear readers,

to celebrate the change of the year we publish an extract from Aleksis Kivi’s 1870 classic novel, Seitsemän veljestä (Seven Brothers), translated by David Barrett, and a bit of a classic of our own too: it’s a nostalgic glimpse of a Finnish Christmas spent in a humble cottage inhabited, in addition to the eponymous seven brothers, a horse, cat, cockerel and two dogs (at least). Enjoy!

Soila Lehtonen & Hildi Hawkins & Leena Lahti

On a festive night

It is Christmas Eve. The weather has been mild, grey clouds fill the sky, hills and valleys are covered with the snow that has only recently begun to fall. The forest gives out a gentle murmur, the grouse goes to roost in the catkined birch, a flock of waxwings descends on the reddening rowan, while the magpie, daughter of the pine-wood, carries twigs for her future nest. More…

Encounters with a language

12 December 2014 | Articles, Non-fiction

Mistranslation: illustration by Sminthopsis84/Wikimedia

Mother tongue: not Finnish. How do people become interested enough in the Finnish language in order to become translators? In the olden days some might have been greatly inspired by the music Sibelius (as were the eminent British translators of Finnish, David Barrett or Herbert Lomas, for example, back in the 1950s and 1960s). We asked contemporary translators to reminisce on how they in turn have become infatuated enough with Finnish to start studying and translating this small, somewhat eccentric northern language. Three translators into English, one into French, German and Latvian tell us why

More…

New from the archive

26 March 2015 | This 'n' that

Kullervo's curse

Kullervo’s curse. Painting by Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1899)

Finland’s national epic adapted for the stage by Finland’s national writer: best known as the author of the first significant novel in Finnish, Seitsemän veljestä (Seven Brothers, 1870), Aleksis Kivi (1834-1972) also turned one of the Kalevala’s grimmest stories, that of Kullervo – a tale of incest, revenge and death– into a five-act tragedy.

The translation is by one of Books from Finland’s most long-standing collaborators, David Barrett (1914-1998), a true linguistic genius with a speciality in Georgian as well as Finnish in addition to classical Greek; as well as his work with texts in Finnish and Georgian, he made extensive translations of Aristophanes for Penguin Classics. Barrett felt, as he argues here in his introduction, ‘that Kullervo, if suitably translated, might succeed where Seven Brothers had failed, in bringing Kivi’s genius to the notice of the English-speaking world’.

Was he right? It is up to you, dear readers, to judge.

For a very different, demythologized, view of the Kullervo story, we also publish a manuscript by the modernist poet Paavo Haavikko (1931-2008) from his television adaptation Rauta-aika (‘Age of iron’, 1982).

The Kalevala is in development as a film by the Finnish entertainment company Rovio, of Angry Birds game, and the Finnish-born video game company Supercell. It remains to be seen how the Kalevala take to the big screen.

*

The digitisation of Books from Finland continues, with a total of 372 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.

Human Freedom

30 June 1986 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Mika Waltari. Photo: SKS Archives

Mika Waltari. Photo: SKS Archives

Extract from lhmisen vapaus (‘Human Freedom’, 1950)

‘Where are we?’ Yvonne asked. ‘This isn’t the right street either. Somewhere between Alma and Georges V, they said. But there’s no sign of an aquarium.’

‘Talking of aquariums’, I suggested, ‘there’s a dog shop near here where they wash dogs in the back room. If you like, I’ll take you to see how they wash a dog. It’s a very soothing experience.’

‘You’re crazy’, said Yvonne.

My feelings were hurt. ‘I may sleep badly’, I admitted, ‘but I love you. I walk up and down the embankments all night. My heart aches, my brain is on fire. Then comes blissful intoxication, and for a little while I can be happy. And all you can do is to keep nagging, Gertrude.’

She wrinkled her brow, but I went on impatiently, ‘Look, Rose dear, just at present I have the whole world throbbing in my temples and in my finger-tips. Age-old poems are bubbling up within me. I am grieving for lost youth. I am boggling at the future. For just this one moment it is given to me to see life with the living eyes of a real human being. Why won’t you let me be happy?’

‘I have walked two hundred kilometres’, said a low, timid voice at my elbow. I stopped. Yvonne had stuck her arm through mine. She, too, stopped. We both looked down and saw a little man. He doffed a ragged cap and bowed. Flushed scars glowed through a grey stubble of beard. He was wearing a much-patched battle-dress from which the badges had long since disappeared. His face was wrinkled, but the little eyes were animated and sorrowful. More…

Aphorisms

31 December 1986 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Aphorisms from Pahojen henkien historia (‘A history of evil spirits’, 1986). Markku Envall’s essay on aphorism

Do not set out in the wrong mood, at the wrong moment, for the wrong place.

Learn to distinguish these from one another, for it is an impossible task.

Do not admit to changes in yourself, say rather that your associates vary.

And that your relationships are changeable. But do not say this of yourself.

Not knowing a person should not be regarded as sufficient reason for not making his acquaintance. More…

Sensitivity session

30 June 1978 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

An extract from the novel Ja pesäpuu itki (‘And the nesting-tree wept’). Introduction by Pekka Tarkka

Taito Suutarinen knew quite a bit about Freud. Where Mannerheim’s statue now stands, Taito felt that there ought instead to be an equestrian statue of Sigmund Freud. It would be like truth revealed.

Freud, urging on his trusty stallion Libido, would be clad from head to foot in sexual symbols – hat, trousers, shoes: one hand thrust deep into his pocket, the other grasping a walking-stick. The stick would point eloquently in the direction of the railway tracks, where the red trains slid into the arching womb of the station.

Taito had also attended a couple of seven-day sensitivity training courses, where people expressed their feelings openly, directly and spontaneously. By the end of the first course Taito was so direct and spontaneous that he couldn’t get on with anybody. By the end of the second he was so open that everyone was embarrassed. Every member of the group had cried at least once, except the group leader. Never before had Taito witnessed such power. He could not wait to found a group of his own. Taito’s group met in a basement room, where they reclined on mattresses to assist the liberation process. Everyone was free to have problems, quite openly. You were not regarded as ill: on the contrary, if you realized your problem you were more healthy than a person who still thought he mattered. Moreover, as Taito, fixing you with his piercing gaze, was always careful to emphasize, every problem was ultimately a sexual problem. Taito would spontaneously scratch his crotch as he spoke, making it clear that he himself had virtually no problems left. More…

The power game

30 June 1984 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Puhua, vastata, opettaa (‘Speak, answer, teach’, 1972) could be called a collection of aphorisms or poems; the pieces resemble prose in having a connected plot, but they certainly are not narrative prose. Ikuisen rauhan aika (‘A time of eternal peace’, 1981) continues this approach. The title alludes ironically to Kant’s Zum Ewigen Frieden, mentioned in the text; ‘eternal peace’ is funereal for Haavikko.

In his ‘aphorisms’ Haavikko is discovering new methods of discourse for his abiding preoccupation: the power game. All organizations, he thinks, observe the rules of this sport – states, armies, businesses, churches. Any powerful institution wages war in its own way, applying the ruthless military code to autonomous survival, control, aggrandizement, and still more power. No morality – the question is: who wins? ‘I often entertain myself by translating historical events into the jargon of business management, or business promotion into war.’

‘What is a goal for the organization is a crime for the individual.’ Is Haavikko an abysmal pessimist, a cynic? He would himself consider that cynicism is something else: a would-be credulous idealism, plucking out its own eyes, promoting evil through ignorance. As for reality, ‘the world – the world’s a chair that’s pulled from under you. No floor’, says Mr Östanskog in the eponymous play. Reading out the rules of a mindless and cruel sport, without frills, softening qualifications, or groundless hopes, Haavikko is in the tradition of those moralists of the Middle Ages, who wrote tracts denouncing the perversity and madness of ‘the world’ – which is ‘full of work-of-art-resembling works of art, in various colours, book-resembling texts, people-resembling people’.

Kai Laitinen

Speak, answer, teach

When people begin to desire equal rights, fair shares, the right to decide for them­selves, to choose

one cannot tell them: You are asking for goods that cannot be made.

One cannot say that when they are manufactured they vanish, and when they are increased they decrease all the time. More…

The lake

30 June 1988 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Järvi (‘The lake’), a short story, 1915. Introductions by Kai Laitinen and Pekka Tarkka

I travel the world, not out of any desire for adventure, but because that is the way things have happened. The best of my wanderings are in obscure, tucked-away regions, where life is humdrum and pitched in a low key. There I have no need to stave off nostalgia for the past by leading a hectic life: my days go by in stolid succession from season to season, I am an ordinary unimportant individual among all the rest. For long stretches of time my life does not strike me as being either dull or bright; I derive a certain satisfaction from its very emptiness. It is as though I were, by degrees and to the best of my ability, paying off a kind of debt. More…

In the early hours

31 March 1976 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

An extract from Dyre Prins (‘Sweet Prince’, 1975). Introduction by Ingmar Svedberg

Donald Blaadh, a retired businessman, has been called to visit an influential acquaintance in the middle of the night.

He was sitting in the library, listening to Shostakovich, the Leningrad Symphony. The slow crescendo. The insistent march rhythm. Dogged endurance. Indomitability. He switched it off when I came in.

“I can’t sleep,” he said.

“Neither can I.”

He ignored the ironic undertone. “Shostakovich sharpens the decision­making faculties, the way chess sharpens the wits,” he said. “A sort of exercise routine … but I forgot, you don’t play chess.”

“No, but I do play the gramophone.”

“To-day I’m going to start you off with a quiz: whose immortal words were these, ‘Minerva’s owl never takes to the air till twilight is falling’?”

“I don’t know.” More…

A Wedding Dance

31 March 1977 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

An extract from the novel Kivenpyörittäjän kylä (‘The stoneroller’s village’). Introduction by Hannes Sihvo

Pölönen got up and went over to his accordion, which he had dumped beside the juke-box. He walked with his stocky trunk thrust forward, his hands dangling; the wallet he had crammed into his hip-pocket, constrained to follow the curve of his fat buttock, made an unsightly bulge suggestive of some kind of excrescence. With a vigorous shoulder movement he hoisted the instrument into position. At once the neck of the bottle in his inside pocket came into view, emitting spurts of foam, and it was some time before he noticed it and managed to nudge it back so that it would lean the other way. Scarlet in the face and streaming with sweat, glaring angrily and doing his utmost to avoid looking in the direction of the assembled company, Pölönen drew some air into the bellows and tried out various notes and chords, fingering the keyboard with an airy nonchalance intended to suggest that he was a complete master of his instrument. All eyes were turned upon this podgy, fair-haired man, with the suit that was far too tight across the shoulders and under the armpits, the very small and rather crumpled tie, the tapering trouser legs with shiny bulges at the knees. The warming-up process continued for what seemed an unconscionably long time, and a certain amount of shuffling and coughing began to be audible; old Nestori Pölönen gazed stiffly down at his shoes, and Saara’s movements, as she busied herself behind the coffee-table, became more and more fidgety. More…

The Onlookers

30 September 1978 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Naisten vuonna (‘In women’s year’, 1975). Introduction by Pekka Tarkka

The two elks came out on to the road through a gap between timber sheds. They began to cross the road, and the larger one was very nearly run into by a car. Cars stopped and horns tooted, till the elks turned and made off towards the harbour. Several cars swung round and drove along the cinder track in pursuit of the animals.

The elks headed across the rubble towards the power station; after circling some stacks of railway sleepers, they ended up on the flank of a coal­heap sixty feet high. The cars pulled up and their occupants poured out, shouting that the elks wouldn’t go that way, it was a dead end. The elder of the two elks had indeed sensed this, and they moved off to the right, skirting the coal-heap and emerging among the timber-stacks. By this time the first cyclists and pedestrians had arrived on the scene.

“They’ll break their legs,” said a pedestrian to a motorist. “There’s all kinds of junk lying about.” More…

A spot of transmigration

13 January 2011 | Fiction, Prose

A short story, ‘Sielunvaellusta’, from the collection Rasvamaksa (‘Fatty liver’, WSOY, 1973)

‘Where will you be spending Eternity?’ a roadside poster demanded as Leevi Sytky sped by in his car.

‘Hadn’t really thought about it,’ Leevi muttered , as if in reply, and lit a cigarette.

But at the next level crossing, a kilometre or so further on, he was run down by a train, whose approach he had failed to notice. His attention had been distracted by the sight of a young woman who was picking black currants by the side of the track, and who happened to be bending forward in his direction. Intent on obtaining a better view of her ample bosom by peering over the top of her blouse, Leevi neglected to look both ways, and death ensued. Damned annoying, to say the least.

In due course he secured an interview with God, who turned out to be a biggish chap, about a hundred metres tall, wearing thigh-boots and sitting behind a large desk.

‘Well, and how’s Leevi Sytky getting along?’ God asked, lighting his pipe.

‘Mustn’t grumble,’ said Leevi politely.

‘And how are you thinking of spending Eternity?’ God inquired, sucking at his pipe and puffing out his cheeks. More…

Extending the Bounds of Reality

31 March 1976 | Archives online, Authors

Christer Kihlman

Christer Kihlman. Photo: Magnus Weckström

In any account of Finnish literature written in Swedish during the 60s, the name of Christer Kihlman stands out clearly. For long influential in his native Finland, it is only more recently that he has become well known in Sweden.

Apart from his verse, all his works have been translated into Finnish and several of his novels have also appeared in other Scandinavian languages. Of late he has been writing for the theatre. Christer Kihlman has received important Finnish and Swedish literary prizes and in 1975 was appointed a professor of the arts. Kihlman was born in 1930.

Christer Kihlman’s writing bears many traces of the left-wing radicalism that has characterized much of the literature of the 60s and 70s. He has contributed actively to the discussion of cultural and political issues, both in his novels and in the articles he has written on a wide variety of problems. He has endeavoured to eliminate the conflict that normally arises between an author’s political activity and his creative work, though this has been by no means a painless process. “Our field of activity is society as a whole. The written word, our principal tool, gives us only a limited opportunity to leave a tangible mark on social development, but we should not allow this to deter us from trying: the results of our efforts, after all, can never be determined in advance. Our aim is, and should be, the same as everyone else’s should be: an ever-broadening, ever­developing democracy. To be an author is, as I experience it, to live one’s life as a social being in a social context, in the full consciousness of what this social context implies and what it demands in terms of intellectual awareness and moral preparedness.” More…

A day in the life of a bookseller

12 August 2010 | Reviews

A happy day in Joel Lehtonen's life in 1933. Photo: Otava/H. Iffland

The bookseller Aapeli [Abel] Muttinen, a central figure in Joel Lehtonen’s ‘Putkinotko’ books, is one of those fictional characters for whom Finnish readers have cherished a particular affection, not least because of his keen enjoyment of the pleasures they themselves so regularly share when they escape to their lakeside cottages for the summer.

But although Aapeli Muttinen is Finnish through and through, he is not without counterparts in the literature of other nations. One of his close relatives is the laziest man in all literature, Goncharov’s Oblomov; others, perhaps more surprisingly, can be found in the works of Anatole France – booksellers like Blaizot and Paillot, both gentle dilettanti with a streak of individualism and a penchant for good living. Like them, Muttinen is tolerably well-read: at the beginning of the short story  ‘A happy day’ we find him musing about Horace, and at least one of Horace’s odes must have appealed to him strongly: ‘Happiest is he who, like his sires of old, / Tills his own ground, and lives his life in peace, / Far from the tumult of the noisy world.’
More…