Author: Helvi Juvonen

Words like songs

17 May 2010 | Fiction, poetry

The Finnish poet Helvi Juvonen (1919–1959) often studies small things: moles, lichen, bees and dwarf trees; she ‘doesn’t often dare to look at the clouds’. But small is beautiful; her nature poems and fairy-tales mix humility and the celebration of life. Commentary by Emily Jeremiah

Cup lichen

Luke 17:21

The lichen raised its fragile cup,
and rain filled it, and in the drop
the sky glittered, holding back the wind.

The lichen raised its fragile cup:
Now let’s toast the richness of our lives.

From Pohjajäätä [‘Ground-ice’], 1952) More…

Mole’s hole

Issue 1/1992 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Extracts from Pikku karhun talviunet (‘The little bear’s winter dreams’, published posthumously in 1974, edited by Mirkka Rekola), prose fragments and fairy-tales. (See commentary by Soila Lehtonen)

Vauveli-Vau had grown up. She went round to Mole Hill and went into Mole’s Hole, so she could work in peace. As there are a lot of Mole’s Holes in the earth, no one had any idea where Vauveli-Vau had gone. They weren’t all that keen to know, as there’s always rather a lot to do in Mole’s Hole: pine cones and branches to be collected, trips to be made to the spring in the forest, an eye kept on Dottypot in the fire-embers, and at night you have to get up to see which bird it is that’s singing in the old rotten tree. But still more laboursome are the thick books in foreign languages and the pile of blank paper.

Quite a few days and nights had gone by before Vauveli-Vau was used to being in Mole’s Hole. During those days a lot of remarkable things occurred. A slug flourished his horns and muttered: ‘Who on earth would want to lie about in his cottage in fine weather like this?’ More…

Images of isolation

Issue 1/1992 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

Poems by Helvi Juvonen, commentary by Soila Lehtonen

Little is known of the circumstances of Helvi Juvonen’s life. Her fame rests on five collections of poetry – mixing humility and celebration with an uncompromising rigour – published in the ten years before her death at the age of 40 (a sixth appeared posthumously). Her existence, in the drab surroundings of post-war Helsinki, was modest: after studies at Helsinki University, and posts as a bank clerk and proof-reader, she lived by writing and translation, including some brilliant renderings into Finnish of the poems of the 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson.

Helvi Juvonen’s universe is crowded with ostensibly insignificant phenomena: her eye discerns a mole, lichen, dwarf-trees, a shrew; she studies tones of stone and moss; she ‘doesn’t often dare to look at the clouds’.


Rocks, forgotten within themselves,
have grown dear to me.
The trees’ singing, so useless,
is my friend.

Silver lichen,
brother in beggary,
please don’t hate my shadow
on the streaked rock. More…