Caravans of winds

Issue 2/1988 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems from three collections. Introduction by Kaija Valkonen

The river of death froze

It froze, the river of death,
	froze too the boat of death in the nights of the Winter War, 
			in the Winter War's nights.
The men shed blood,
				shed blood ,
		and it froze, the river of death.
In the nights of the Winter War, it froze, the river of death.

Day of mourning

For one day I’ve the right to mourn,
for one day I’ll shut the windows of the sky,
I’ll dismiss the blue,
I’ll raise a black sun to mark my mourning.
For one day I’ll wilt the flowers,
for one day I’ll silence the birds.

I’ve the right to mourn one day, I’ve the right to mourn.

He was hit in battle,
body full of wounds,
he was hit in battle,
blood flowed from huge wounds.

The seas of his eyes are deserted,
sand his hair,
I’ve the right to mourn the man whose hair was sun,
full of wounds he died.

For one day I shall sit idle,
the windows of the sky closed ,
not one horse has been saddled.

War invalid


Like a sower sowing,
the wind whips black buds,
black seeds on the bird cherry’s crown.
The wind’s in a white coat,
the pastures, the arable lands, the roads
are growing a white coat,
the wooden hands of frost, wooden gloves.

It’s more burdensome for age,
mourning is colder,
footsteps freeze.

I cut a slice of moonbread.

The grass, the trees are performing funeral duties,
the clouds’ work is mourning,
steeds on the horizon in black trappings.


		Death's come to live in me, 
my breast is his house.
		It's a burden to go on day after day.
Death is inhabiting me,
		peering out of my sockets,
		smiling with my teeth,
you can see he's stuck his scythe in my heart,
		Death's left his scythe in me, forgotten,
			like a peasant's in a farmyard rowan.

Finnish laurel

Since the country found a greater fidelity and love 
			than any woman ever,
the country has claimed for ever the head's hot dreams 
				the glory and the labour.

The laurels of death are greening,
and at the grave no cheap word is spoken.

Our long-fallen young men
		are soil on battlefronts in lost regions,
a tree grows on their brow like everlasting early summer night,
			the Finnish laurel: bird cherry and snow.

For the horses who fell in war

The frozen windows sent out rays, 
					white and blue,
there were flowers in the grass,
in the yard snow.
Little horse you fell in war like the men,
your mane froze to the ground like their hair,
your side was torn open, your foal-carrying belly ripped
					into a bloody hole,
the den of life in you was shattered
and your foal smashed unborn.
Your hooves remembered the village roads you'd walked 
			hauling bales of hay, and loads of corn,
your big eyes held pictures of the brook, 
				you died like the men.
Now there's snow in your mane, 
it's heavy, wind-blown like ash,
					black snow.

Death of the Rhine


When you died all Europe's waters came to your house, 
brooks girdled with green grasses
			ran up with sun in their arms,
springs came carrying their pale green crowns,
springs in which the sky stopped to look at itself.

Europe's waters stood round your deathbed 
				with their transparent eyes,
they stood silently round your deathbed.


All you waters, Helicon, Narcissus 
			and Acheron,
swan-mirrors, listen to me:
Now take your flutes, your dripping harps, every one of you! 
One of your sisters is dead,
the river with the human voice, 
she rose, a bright virgin once,
and showed her face to the passer-by, 
reflecting nothing but clouds and sky. 
Dead, dead her voice,
the sweet, sweet song reverberates no more –
and not a single passer-by can see the virgin figure of her water 
or the clouds and sky on her face,
no smile of moon, no curl of sun,
no rain bow she sometimes carried like a harp.
All you springs, all you waters, 
mere swan-mirrors,
mild spring of Narcissus, 
deep source of Helicon songs
deep source of verse in the Greek earth, 
that source of words
					I never heard,
I, a barbarian, never dipped my head in it
							or the barbarous lyre I brought there.

Listen, everyone, be quiet:
a white-water river
with golden hair,
a river with a human voice like an echo –
that river is dead,
your sister, the river, is dead, is dead.

Yet still with a human voice, like Echo, the dead virgin, 
					the river is singing,
but she who rose from the river in human form
					carrying a rainbow as her lyre
					is dead, is dead.
Listen, you swan-mirroring rivers,
one of your sisters is dead.


The poet is carrying water from Acheron,
Helicon is flowing with Acheron.
All you waters,
mere swan-mirrors, listen to me:
Your sister is dead.

Weep now, all you swans, weep all you waters,
the river that only mirrored swans is dead,
your sister, who had human form,
whose lyre captured your song, she is dead.

The cuckoo house’s golden window

On the horizon there's a golden ash, 
							giving this pale light.
The moon is a lighted window,
the great house's only lighted window.
Over my June yard drifts the cuckoo house's golden window.
A lovely violet-coloured creature goes down the road in the evening.


The gipsies of sunset are driving through the sky,
			their caravans loaded with white-green roses,
					the women with shining hair.
Their thin mares' manes are covered with silver, with mist, 
the men's hair is green with dew,
every rag of clothes flames a golden mist,
their caravans are carrying the blaze from all their campfires
			on the heath, by the river,
		a blue, red cache of flames,
and they're bringing a girl carrying her green bridal veil
in their incandescent caravans, a girl with blazing hair,
in their purple, green, golden
			flaming caravans they're driving their freight
				of campfires and clouds.
They're dancing her green skirt into golden rain, 
her blood-red hem into the stars,
her hairpin into the sun,
her skin dark as a violin,
her eyes shot with sea-drowned gold,
							yellow gipsy tears,
they're lighting a campfire in the clouds,
turning the sky into a campfire for all the tribe,
for the tinkers' tiny horses, the humble tent-carriers
					and the gallant princely foals
			without a single whiplash scar,
they're turning the whole sky into a campfire
	for their camps of reel and gold tents,
		for their great brown horses that come carrying kings,
			green-crowned, in crowns of fire and gold.
On the clouds' eternal highways they wander in caravans of wind, 
	dress every morning in red, and every evening
		in sea-colours and wind-colours.

They spread out their skirt-flowers in the rose bushes,
they undo their blue-black cloud-plaits,
they hang out their rose-skirts in the bushes,
their eyebeams, hanging out their golden hems on a tree,
their mouth, their heart: spots of blood in the bushes.

From Sukupolveni unta (‘Dreams of my generation’, 1987)

I die every year in November

Every year I die in November.
Blue, yellow, everything goes grey, the fire goes cold,
bread turns to poison in the mouth;
every pod is empty
every nest is empty,
corpses of leaves and grass lie in the road.
I die in November,
						every year I die in November.

The tame give birth in the month of departure too:
the cow calves,
the mare foals,
even though hoar-frost grows like wool in the sheepfold
the ewe lambs.

The woman parturates even though snow grows like a wolf-pelt.
The tame give birth in the month of departure too.

No bear or wolf bears cubs,
no squirrel or hare has little ones,
no daughter of the lilac sways
of foam-child of the bird cherry,
no bird has chicks.
No crane builds nest in November,
no jay lays in November,
no snake wakes or wild flower germinates.
No whistle blows for root or twig or sprig,
no tune is born but a black sigh,
the swelling ice’s lunatic yell…
the poet dies in November, like the troll in his fur stole,
the wild die from their agony.

The tame calve, they lamb,
the mare foals boldly,
the moon distends, and the woman’s waist expands,
the skirt of the moon grows wider,
as in November it will always do.

I rot with the leaves, I rot with the grass,
my head’s an empty pod
worry alone is growing
like the hoar-frost,
I die like wormwood or a nettle stem in November.
No poem is born, there’s merely a wild howling,
like the hollow call of the freezing soil
with its whistle-root in its mouth.
Like the snake or the nettle I die in November.

From Pilveen sidottu (‘Tied to a cloud’, 1961)

Drunken Clover

Clover, little chap in a shabby jacket,
smells of honey:
pub-crawling proletarian
with his eternal wino smell.
Clover, you little honey-lugged devil,
you’ve been drinking too much
at the bar of ‘The Earth and Sun’.

He just sleeps in his drunken humour
like a man in a coat of honey.

The poet dreaming in the rosebushes

The hare wanders in the flower bed with a rose in his head,
like the March Poet with a silly dream in his head,
in his room, in the flower bed,
the bunny wanders with a rose in his head.

From Voikukkapyhimykset (‘Buttercup saints’, 1947)

Translated by Herbert Lomas


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