Sunday, February 12, 2006

Wind from Airisto

There is only one Finnish poet that has had a significant, sustained emotional impact on me. It is curious how little interest I have had in the well known Finnish modernists, with their intricate, impressive language, their finely chiselled sentiments. It has felt somewhat unreal and remote. The same goes even more strongly for the classics with their fixed, often highly skillful forms, flexing the muscles of the dark, slow, deeply felt language. Naturally there are many poems, several poets that do strike a chord, that I do appreciate, admire and respect, but there is not that burning, personal feeling of relevance that I get with poets I have written about on this blog: Eliot, Yeats, Larkin, Stevens and Betjeman.

The exception is in many ways a bridge between the "classical", national romantic period and the post-war modern and postmodern schools: Martti Haavio, who used the pen-name P. Mustapää. His post-war collections work in so many levels - as a haunting, elegiac description of the nationalist disillusion after the lost war, as reaffirmation of the centrality of art and the classical heritage in the harsh modern conditions, and as great, individual, technically groundbreaking poetry. Haavio was a distinguished Finno-Ugric scholar, the professor of folk poetry at the Helsinki University (in our German type system a nationally very important and visible academic position). His politics have now disappeared as a living political tradition, but he belonged to the small but influential and spectacularly talented liberal-nationalist group of the intelligentsia, having common positions with both the moderate right and left (after the war this meant clear conservatism). Times changed but he kept faith to his early ideals as the Soviet Union was busily being appeased by the new political elites and the Finno-Ugric nationalities imprisoned and assimilated behind the iron curtain with his poetry rising to new, memorable levels of skill and depth of vision.


helsinkian said...

Do you think the fact you prefer Martti Haavio above others might have to do with Estonian influence in his work? Marie Under and Henrik Visnapuu were among the Estonian poets that influenced him. Even Haavio's pseudonym, Mustapää, has its origins in Tallinn. I was just thinking if many of the English and Irish ballads you seem to enjoy are in some sense more related to the Estonian than the Finnish style...

Martti Haavio's second wife Aale Tynni was Ingrian-born and also translated Yeats into Finnish. I was also wondering if she in her poetry might represent in Finnish literature some of the traits that you prefer in English literature. Have you read her work?

My personal favorite among Finnish authors is Aino Kallas. She didn't much care about how her work was received in Finland but she worked hard to gain recognition in England. Her period as the wife of the Estonian minister in London in the 1920s and 1930s is one of the most fascinating in the history of Finnish literature. She was doing her utmost to promote her own Finnish literature and the culture of Estonia in London's society. Her prose ballads are written in an archaic style and must have been really difficult to translate.

Aino Kallas kept a diary where she makes many fascinating observations about Britain, a country she felt for almost as strongly as for Finland and Estonia. The reflections she made during her lecture tour in the United States are also very interesting. Whereas her prose ballads and short stories are better known than her poems, she kept writing poetry until very late in life. Aino Kallas, who used to belong to the Noor-Eesti (Young Estonia) circle of writers, must be the most Estonian of all Finnish writers. Yet she's also very British. I think her Finnish is especially beautiful as it sometimes sounds close to Estonian.

stockholm slender said...

Well, certainly no-one else was writing poems about the "national flag" (blue-white-black) in the late 60's. Those memories of 1920's were a fresh wind in that stagnant air. I think it is one attractive indicator about his personality, not bending to the prevailing current. Certainly the attitude towards Estonia and other Stalin occupied countries is very telling. Aale Tynni is only a name for me, but of course Elsa Enäjärvi-Haavio was a well known anglophile also: "Vanha iloinen Englanti" is a lovely travel book about 1920's England, very anachronistic and charming now.