Issue 4/1978 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from Kuolleet vedet (‘Dead waters’). Introduction by Aarne Kinnunen


A faraway tucked-away room
Leathery harness odour
An obscure carriage house
A mighty delay

And out through a narrow gate slipped childhood
And a pony cart was coming to get us 
                     swishing on the sand

White gloves on the coachman
and ornamented with a whip, the lash sounding
We were driving through spotted leaves
Lustre, dolour, lustre,
remembrance, snow

And suddenly the driver was gone
and nothing but hands were gripping the horse
and they were leading me I don’t know where.


It looked as if there was a letter thrown on the porch, but it was only the glow of the moon.
I picked up the phosphorescence from the floor. How light it was, that moon’s letter,
and everything bent, like iron, over there.

3 Marie Therese Paradies (18)

for Professor Anton Mesmer

When I was blind I could walk and play the piano. 
Now Anton's cured me, I can't any more.
I go walking alongside the wall, my hands reach out longingly 
                     but the keys won't accept them.
And I'm afraid of light.
The candleflame hit me like lightning,
the sword of knowledge, the whitest and blackest of all.
I was upset when I could see the trees on the Danube in the distance 
and couldn't touch them.
I hadn't yet discovered perspective – 
delusion among other delusions – 
my eye was medieval, an unsophisticated camera.

Eminent, learned professors, please,
Don’t wake up love, it’s unnecessary and vicious.
Don’t heal the blind
if it strips them by sight of the truer gift –
to hear the night more keenly.
Images are only radiation: it’s
the dark that draws a thicker curtain over mind.

4 Notte, serene ombre

We were going down the Spanish Steps and I
was talking some rubbish about a bird playing a lute and I quivered your wits. Any clown
would have understood me.

And suddenly: in the north, and the evening’s
not riffling the leaves of an album, since here there aren’t any trees.
Wings are riffling the air, oars riffling water, that’s going stinky.
Pigeons are walking cockily
with lutes under their wings, do you see now?
Poor pigeons: nothing but music and lice.

Night, bright shadow, the wind’s swing,
and nothing else.
For although we’re tête-à-tête
in the interminableness that the hours go round
as the skew roman numerals go round a campanile clock,
we’re divided by a deep sleep,
a vapour of slovenly logic, a wool of distant meadows,

and all around – dead waters.


One day I passed out of my body
           and went into the other room to look at the clock.
It was going like a mechanical heart.
Back there my body was still breathing and the heart was still pulsing
like a clock that  would tick for a certain time.

I went back into my body and gave my mind to the experience.
This heart too’s getting tired, all clocks get tired,
now it’s throbbing still in my wrist,
knocking on my ribs, that ark-shaped coffin.

I want to be away, on another journey, into other boats whose
curved ribs I haven’t carved myself
in life’s bowl of blood.


As an experiment I set my own will against the will of matter.
I concentrated. I stared at a lamp. I battled all night long.
I tortured some fragile threads. Finally the light began to tremble.
Then it went out. I was in the dark. I’d won.

Translated by Herbert Lomas

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