Paavo Haavikko: Trees, Their Legacy Of Green

Poems from Puut, kaikki heidän vihreytensä (1966)
Translated by Richard Sieburth

Translator’s Note: These translations first appeared in New Directions 37 (1978), and to my great embarrassment, James Laughlin indicated that they had been translated from the Finnish (of which I know not a single word – except “pastrami”). In fact, they are translations of Manfred Peter Hein’s 1966 German translations for Suhrkamp. Reading them for the first time in nearly 30 years, I must say they still work (for me) in English. – January 2007

 

You can be sure
it was her
& nobody else
you met, in person:
the World,
not as one says some vague
allegorical entity
involved in ancient rites,

which is why you caught almost nothing when
she mentioned her name:
she talks fast, slurring
everything at once.

*

Trees, nights getting longer
bit
by bit, barely noticeable.

And the dark
does not stop the trees
from rustling.
Still, it is sad. Like someone
talking to a child, trying
to hide something
it already knows.

*

There are many wise men yet on the other hand
not a single case of madness among trees.
After writing the hardest thing
is reading.

*

Faulkner, Early in the Morning

The old man is tired of talking

incessantly about himself.
Who has answered all the letters
saying nothing.
No Chekov.
Who forgot his name.
When a man dies, he once again goes
to his car, to his wife, to work.
The motor won’t start, the wife won’t
wake up, it’s much too early.

He is dead.

*

Many books remain unread when
it is not clear
where so and so sleeps, where he gets his money,
with whom he sleeps,

how he gets away with life, the only

adventure
I indulge in,

Life & Works & Love, abstractions –
read no further
where they end.

*

We
must go on living, even where
nations have been
laid to rest, or rather, next to these
in fields reserved for suicides & braggarts
with dogs for neighbors
in plots so nourished by presumption
that the trees,

rowan, birch, linden & fir
flourish,
one must live here as life has here been lived
for four thousand years,
four hundred of which in this region,
with lower lip hanging,
meditatively.

*

September, and when the grass makes a racket
and the shadows crash
down from the trees.
The world, a war memorial
erected
and seeded, green.
Which more and more people want to see.
So that it becomes unbearable to hear them tell

how they were there
and saw it all.

*

My grandfather, the Kaiser, was, as you know,
crazy,
wrote poems in the company
of others.
You want war,

you can have it.
You march stiffly
into battle,
hysteric, chronic
visitors.
Why talk. I quote the poem:

The for is so thick the water
disappears from the bridge.

Flowers break into frenzy
when they die
for no reason.

*

Lacking all else, take a pair of
stones to bed,
washed white by the sea,
they breathe, sea-smell within them,

take a pair of white stones
when your bed is too broad alone.

You want your own life. Good. To be
your own man.
Careful. Worms wait precisely for this.
To live as long
as you are young.
Wrong. A thousand blind eyes bite the image apart.

A child’s fear within you, fear
breathing the dark
when the games break up.

*

I see what is outside, the stove fire
burn in the window
behind the rain, the smoke, the green alder,

I reflect, my life, already back of
so many wars:
The door opening behind us, the frame in which
you see me
how I come
& go, before I
turn away & proceed,
the house, the love & the

happy days
hereafter
come apart.

*

I like slow things, the way they happen
again & again.
Like, say, water as it warms & reaches

boil.
Which takes time.

The balance is not in the stillness
but the way
the water pours from you
as you move from the sea.

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