Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bombast and the sublime

From http://www.booksfromfinland.fi
Torsten Pettersson
Skapa den sol som inte finns. Hundra år av finsk lyrik i tolkning av Torsten Pettersson
[Create the sun that is not there. A hundred years of Finnish poetry in Swedish translations by Torsten Pettersson]
Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2012. 299 p.
ISBN 978-951-52-3034-8
€25, paperback
In the 1960s my mother sometimes used to amuse herself and us children by reciting, in Finnish, in our bilingual family, selected lines of verse from the half-forgotten poetry canon of her school years.
Eino Leino (died 1926) and the great tubercular geniuses Saima Harmaja, Uuno Kailas, Katri Vala and Kaarlo Sarkia (all dead by 1945) were familiar names to me as a child. Early on, I realised that their poetry was both profoundly serious and also slightly silly, just because of its high-flown seriousness.

Torsten Pettersson, a Finland-Swedish author who is also active as a literature professor in Uppsala, Sweden, has now taken upon himself a task at which few would have been able to succeed: the revivification of this largely dead, or at least convincingly dead-looking, Finnish poetic tradition in Swedish, Finland’s second official language [spoken by some five per cent of the country’s population as their mother tongue]. Pettersson’s extremely idiosyncratic selection Skapa den sol som inte finns presents a hundred and forty-four poems published between 1866 and 1969, written by eighteen poets born between 1834 and 1913.

With regard to the source language – i.e. that he understands what he is translating – I trust Pettersson completely. With regard to the target language, I often wish that he would let go a bit more and venture into even more reworking of details in order to render the whole thing more convincing, and above all make it resonate, seduce or entice, like real poetry.

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