Issue 2/1984 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Interview by Philip Binham


I hear a happy tale, it makes me sad:
no-one will remember me for long.
I will send a letter with nothing inside, the emptiness will reek
as the pines do, of fruit-peel and of smoke,
a scent only.
Here I have stayed a week, seven riverside days.
The river treads the mill, ah, treads the mill,
the river’s wide, this is a placid reach, the sky is near:
smoke, like the shadow of a birdflock passing, nothing else.

And now it is September:
there are more pine trees here, and more darkness too.

I hear the rain wake, but it is tears I long for, I would hear
the tears burst forth, and I myself would weep, I would not be alone.
Sleep withers, fivefold candles gleam, I see through the dark,
the cranes are leaving, their cries pierce the night,
they fly, grey birds over night waters
like the gaze of an eye,
oh, my love,
you are leaning out over the brink and seeing nothing,
you cannot see that the birds have gone. The clouds, the rains
                                               roll out of the darkness,
the cranes, those gazing cranes, are listening through the rain, are flying
eastward, they hear the weeping, kingly birds
well acquainted with sorrow.

Trees in a dream breathe little if at all,
they don’t exist, birds breathe no song, your sleep is total,
nothing exists in sleep, only the moon is full.
Why do you ask the way to him who exists in your sleep?
I have not seen your lover in sleep, I’ve seen no bird no tree no lover
all this is strange to me
in sleep nothing exists, only the moon is full,
the moon your silver mother
sleep on
and the moon’s path will cross the sky of your sleep
be at rest
no-one will come, oh, no-one else, only the moon
crossing your dream sky on its way to earth’s.

From Synnyinmaa (‘Native land’, 1955)

Translated by David Barrett

Wine, writing


Very warily, tasting, slowly the old wine
for the last time
tastes a young woman.
What a long journey, its life it has
made this far,
and now it has arrived, as arrived
as possible,
now it is at one with her blood glowing
which is at one with her flesh.
Choose the herbs yourself.


A herd of trees wanders slowly
                                    towards evening and death.
                    So when they are dead trees
they will have arrived, at last.
This wise, cunning, treacherous and stupid
                                    man dies.
                    Why should I grieve
that he has the same name as I.
The dead are dead; but only the living
                                    know it;
                    and the living guard the secret.
It is quiet in the world.


Enjoying sea-produce
they are lovely dishes
shaped like sea-shells.
It occurs to me that perhaps
here, that perhaps, and that perhaps only, and merely
you can say anything
do anything
but that perhaps otherwise the sea doesn’t care much,
not the ship, not the sea,
it strikes the ship broadside, broadside,
it beats your head
against the side,
I don’t know
doesn’t stop, leave off, cease,
it’s merciless, the sea,
like yourself,
so it calls it endless love,
it wants its orgasm,
and gets it.


Wine does not get drunk, by drinking, autumn does not
                                    grieve because of autumn,
the flowering of trees nor the youth of man
no, not until the time they are not,
flowers, youth.

As the bud is closed so is the flower open,
                                    is the fruit in flower,
                  is the fruit given to the seed
                  too good an image of the world,
                  which being blind it has not yet seen,
the fruit falls,
                  mortal lusts for mortal,
                                    the apple for its biter,

and as goods change to money, to something of small size,
                  a tree changes to seed, to something of small import,
it takes a step back,
                  its seed is a seed dropped from some bough
of its dreadful powerful father,
                  its generation following is its generation gone,

                  that time is the place, that region is autumn,

wine does not get drunk, by drinking, autumn does not
                                    grieve because of autumn.
From Viiniä, kirjoitusta (‘Wine, writing, 1976)

Translated by Keith Bosley

The trees, all their green

The trees, all their green.
I wanted to hand the grass to you
                                                   on my palm
                  because it was spring.
I was not in time.
And in the rooms on the shady side where they sleep
                 are the toys,
the horse, the dog, the clay whistles, the Russian granny
                 walking towards a bear,
and all the old junk that collects in the country house
                 when peacetime goes on,

and the books, Ars amandi, The Tale of Genji, Chekhov.

The hay blooms. The rose blooms,
                 it is the season,
the rose's season when the rose opens,
                 and sometimes
it happens that the rose decays, dries up in the bud
                 like a certain type of girl, woman,
like symbolism wooed by irony, and,

and of this decade the rose’s fragrance lingers.

We are to act out the weather, the air, the wind, the storm,
                                                                    the rain,
                                                   the lightning, and the season,
like one who full of free will
                 is fully dependent on everything.
I look out, the stove fire is in the window glass, it burns
                 against rain, smoke, green alders.
I reflect how beyond many wars my world already is:
the doorway beyond is the frame in which you see me
                                  going, before I turn and go,
and that the house, the house, love and glad days
                 do not always coincide like this.
Now that one night the boughs come quite close to the window
                 and outside it is windy and stormy,
now that
                 I say, groping for words, that
these are things I have not invented,
                                  that I am one of them.

A short year

He who writes us, now does four plays
                                  a year.
But in summer blossoms fall most, and autumn
is a rich old man who does not see his assets running out,
              empty rooms left cold.
In spring screaming birds fly
and though at the windows the shutters are closed,
                                  that does not stop them
                                                  piercing the mind.
Screaming birds, a black-throated wild duck.
And love that goes very easily, is dream.
Winter, this play is to be acted in the dark
                                  which changes the voices,
its light in the candles on both sides of the
is for you. We walk with eyes open, seeing nothing,
           with fingers outstretched.
I like slow things, and about them how they recur.
How water begins to heat up and bubble.
                                                  It took its time.
Great poise is not motionless, it moves.
One has to stumble a bit so it becomes visible
           on rising from water, dripping water.
When we make dummies in case of murderers by night
                  in the middle of the room,
I prop it up with cushions so that it is not comfortable
           but would like to change position.
It does not.
After trees and shrubs
          face and figure, skin and hair
                     are the most expressive.
I light the candles on both sides of the winter
I see you counting on your fingers, with fingers raised,
                     for months.
I know what you are counting
          You would talk about it soon.
The fingers which make you into a door are now
          at such abstract work.
A short year, so short that a year later
          you have on your lap a three-month-old child,
or like a man's life, a year, and already other snows
          have fallen without his having made footprints in them.
Death comes to a man suddenly. A woman has her death
          bit by bit, has children,
and her luck is to die before them.
          When she weeps for a child, voice and flesh are one.
My grandfather the emperor was, as you know, mad,
          wrote poems in the presence of others.
You want war,
          it is available.
                                  You walk with a stiff gait
as soldiers always do, hysterics before an attack.
Hysteria is the sickness which is never cured.
The hysteric is a winner, he never gives in.
          There is no point in my speaking. I read the poem:
The fog is so dense that the water cannot be seen from the
The flowers start to rage
                              when they are
          to die meaninglessly.
The trees are, the nights little by little a little longer,
          so little one does not sense it.
Nor indeed does the darkness prevent the murmur that
                                              continues in the trees.
Yet, it is sad as a child
          spoken to calmly, from whom something is being kept,
but who already knows.
In this cruel world it is useless even to ask
          not to be born again
From Puut, kaikki heidän vihreytensä (‘The trees, all their green’, 1966)

Translated by Keith Bosley

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