Issue 4/1986 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Introduction by Kai Laitinen

Evening Mood

It’s widening:
an evening like a sigh –
languidly spreading across the land.
The tree’s unclothing
its branches of their colours, darkening.
As if something somewhere
were ringing and ringing –
a song straying like an orphan.
The words seem
something I’ve heard:
‘only a shadow –
only a shadow of a dream’

It’s slipping away. It’s dwindling.
Everything – everything – I’ve been given
I’ll give away.

Suffering’s Spring

Suffering is still in the bud. Like Spring
It’s waiting, a closed bud.
And look: my hands, they’re two buds –
these fists, clenched with fear and chafing –
suffering’s ripening in them and waiting.

And when the time comes, they’ll soften,
open, blossom springlike in their birth.
And they are long and shining
and humble and quiet as earth.
And look: how plenteous it is, suffering’s spring.


I’ve gone into a silence,
and I’m growing silenter still.
The summers flash across my land
and the winters cover the fell.
And only when it’s ripened
will the tree release its fruit.
So small is what I’m saying,
what’s happening is so great.

I’m big within with a brilliance –
the forests are brilliant, the hills,
but as soon as I’m extinguished,
the land will go out as well.
They can’t understand, the others,
what I’ve been able to see,
deaf they are, and I’m dumb too –
and that’s good enough for me.

Oh, I’ve gone into a silence,
and I’m growing silenter still.
I’m big within with my secret.
I’m silent and I smile.

From Lasimaalaus (1946)


All day long there’d been but one
decree in her: to work.
And with her humble, sturdy arms
she’d obeyed, as a tree’s branches
submit with deep arcs all day
to a surging gale.

But as the day drew on
the labour dropped from her, like a wind,
and she stretched straight, a young tree,
towards the night,
and stood there, hushed,
with deeply tranquil branches

and only watched, from far off,
the master yelling and yelling to go on;
and gradually raising her hand
she let the sickle go.
And look: it hung there,
without life, in the air,
proving: there is one thing
that is – motionlessness.

From Sairas tyttö tanssii


Under my hand
the sea of breathing swells.
A warm, restful land.
Deep winds the blood
and high: the ramifying veins
are filled with the huge wind’s sigh.
I listen, I admit: it is.

I don’t speak about this.

Burner of Villages

Behind us there’s nothing, nothing at all;
Remember: behind us there’s nothing.
There’s only now,
the now of the footstep, recurring and recurring;
on our hot faces
the wind’s cool now.
Now ends at the eyes,
outside the village now ends at the eyes
I can’t see in the darkness.

Light is coming.
Remember: behind us there’s nothing.
Remember: now is nothing.
The future’s in two eyes,
everything’s in two eyes, that I already see,
they’re coming towards me, in them
the whole burning village
is coming towards me.


I made just one shirt. Haven’t the skill really.
My fingers are thick, the needle’s terribly thin
and the thread gets tangled up and grey,
I don’t know why.
The holes in the braid are different sizes
and different lengths apart, messy,
I don’t know why.
But from far off it does look handsome.

He’s sleeping there now, his body blue
and all crunched up.
The shirt is clean: it was washed first.
It looks extremely handsome, quite good enough for God:
he does look from very far off.


So this is why everything was shaped,
the pelvis’s fine, shy curve
and the soul’s fragile rosy line.
Not so that, somewhere, there’d smile
immaterially, translucently, in passing
some god. No. For this:
to be a gate, for a stranger to come in,
that first stranger, the fundamental stranger.
And out of which will go, into the world,
other strangers, casual,
without a glance, setting their courses
towards their fates, driving away.
Expediency, ah – ah flesh –
not inviolate, slowly mouldering,
ah violated soul, rending from itself,
continually, a new soul,
and recovering only to rend itself again.
Cicatriced soul, where love, even,
is a utility, inescapable, for a purpose.

Life makes use of. Like this, briskly,
with a sneer at best, makes use of, tosses away.
And if some corner of the cloth remains inviolate,
it’s no longer any use. A corner of a soul – yes.
Not tragic. Just useless now.

From Pahat unet (1958)


A love: merely a sea
surging through the limbs, a sea of blood
with skin-hairs swaying like water-plants;
under the abundance a hard dry pain, submerged:
today under our boat –
a noon shadow?
a deep-down black palm supporting us:
ebony, plated with waves,
beautiful, from here, already.

From Portaat (1961)

The Women

When, as he came, we shed our robes
in the road dust before the master’s feet
we thought it was a new gesture.
The wind swept up the robes and fluttered them in a high curve
Much more subdued had been the movement
when we undressed and hung in the wardobe
our little potentialities, hand-embroidered,
hung them in a single confining fate,
generation after generation,
woman’s fate: to be undressed,
first by order and soon by custom:
an inherited rite, an ordinance.

But when he’d gone
and our robes were just rumpled bundles on the ground
trampled by hooves,
and the wind let the dust settle again,
we acknowledged: everything was exactly the same.
It was only ourselves who’d undressed ourselves
of the half-finished fabrics,
all the tangled threads in the soul – before the man
yet again
at his ass’s feet.

Surplus Woman

No thanks, not for me, any of that
wary workaday death,
mousy-faced fidelity (to cheese and the cat)
around the pantry.
The stench of my used sheets
I’ll keep to myself,
and not aspire to sniff any others.
I’ll gladly pay my own bill when it’s due –
for this metre or two of silky sea
billowing around and embracing me,
for these well-aired sheets of clover, for a love
that won’t cleave to its own.
I’ll pay with a black night whose fabric
won’t fade when the neighbour’s door
opens a crack,
I’ll pay with an unappeased hunger
no smell of cheese can diminish,
I’ll give my empty hand in the vacuum of space:
a definitive death.

From Asumattomiin (1963)


As I wake in the morning, you’re still in my life.
It’s not the moment of truth
but of grief,
which is made from the same velvet as love:
gorgeous, dark and difficult to maintain.
I strip it off me, put on my pinafore
and clear up the end of the day alone.

From Elämästä (1972)

Daddy (in heaven)
here I am looking at your land from the upstairs window.
The trees on the shore were sold
when the sauna roof needed mending;
now the lake’s visible along the whole shoreline;
it’s small.
Small as forty years ago
when that well-off family came to look over the old cottage
(to buy it if it suited them)
and we children stood scared in the ryefield
face to face with the rich children who were looking away:
no trees anywhere, waste land, windswept –
‘Oh no, dad, don’t buy this one’.
The children withdrew; here and there, of course something grew,
trees were planted, inside the cottage
the log walls were insulated.

Trees mature, get sold off,
the sky of heaven changes.
Shall I give this to my children: a polluting lake,
rotting timber, burning brushwood.
Someone will give them the sky of heaven.

It’s the same sky I always see in my dreams.
It’s full of omens: a crisis is about to occur.
We stood by the window (now it’s a door)
with a storm coming in from the lake. Nothing between it and us.
The bike was waiting (father had made the saddle himself,
but not for me – for Sirkka, who was growing);
we let the storm come and pass,
and only then did we leave;
when it was drizzling, when something was swimming
in the grey, when there were glow-worms –
though that was probably another going-away.
But the sky – it was always fateful
above the changing doors, the waves, the critical decisions
(and what colours, straight out of dreams – father father father).

From Varokaa putoavia enkeleitä (1977)


Some day inescapably
we’ll land up in the country of white light.
It’ll grab us by the scruff, and wrench our face straight into the sun,
all the furrows facing the light, unreservedly. Classical tragedy is without pity:
it allows no cloud, no stroking shadow:
casts us, as if in bronze,
in perpetual old age.

From Talvikaupunki (1980)

Translated by Herbert Lomas

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  1. Ursula Viita-Leskelä

    Comment by Aila Meriluoto´s daughter: there is a misunderstanding in the translation of the poem Daddy (in heaven): the poor children are not Aila and her sister, they are the daughters of the well-off family (A.M.´s family who bought the cottage in the end). The poet is looking out of the window of the cottage and thinking of her father and her children.

  2. Leena Fowler

    I have been looking for the translation into English of the poem “Kuningatar” (The Queen). It is equally regrettable that her whole collection of poetry is still waiting for translation at least into English, not to mention other languages. Incredible loss both to Finland and to the international lovers of truly top class poetry,

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