Kirsi Kunnas, a distinguished Finnish poet and a translator, mostly known in her home country as a unique writer of children's poetry, published her own Collected Poems – poems for adults, this time – in the late 1990's. In the end of the book there is a sequence of her translations as well. Kunnas has chosen some samples poetry translations (trasnlations of Federico Garcia Lorca, Juan Ramon Jimenez, Viiu Härm, Ellen Niit, Paul-Eerik Rummo). But the first poem in this sequence is Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins.
First it is printed in English in this book, and then – peculiarly enough – two translations follow. The first translation is dated 1949, and the second translation, is from 1992. What is the story behind this? And how has the translation changed during 43 years?
I decide to phone Kirsi Kunnas. She sounded delighted on the phone and immediately began to recite Hopkins in English, by heart. She tells me that it took her 6 months to 'get inside' this poem. It also took some time to be able to choose which poems she wanted to, and could translate. She ended up translating Pied Beauty and Spring. The poems were published in a Finnish literary journal Näköala in 1949.
“I tried to find the long stroke of the internal rhymes & words, Hopkins'ss language is like playing violin or painting with long strokes. Hopkins has a strange skill.”
“Which one do you think is better?” Kirsi Kunnas asked me on the phone. “Be honest!” she adds. “I must say”, I answered, “that the second one is better, in my opinion. It is more precise, you need less words, but Hopkins'ss idea comes out in a clearer way”, I explain to her, shyly, as she is a highly respected elderly colleague, soon approaching 90 years of age.
“Yes! And somehow, when I was doing the second translation, I felt that Finnish language had got shorter, altogether,” Kirsi Kunnas explains. Very true, I think – and perhaps this applies also English language, if you think how language has changed during the last, say, 70 years?
“And, perhaps I had learnt something in the time being, my skills and my technique had improved a little,” says Kirsi Kunnas modestly.
A lot in deed had happened in her career between these two translations. The 1949 translation was the very beginning of her career as a translator, and she was only 25 years old then. The later translation includes the required life experience, and the perception needed with Hopkins's poetry & poetics.
In 1950's Kunnas translated the English Nursery Rhymes into Finnish, or rather re-wrote or re-created them in our language. This was a revolutionary book in Finland and these nonsense poems started a whole new era in children's poetry, thanks to Kirsi Kunnas's liberated and wild and free and imaginary translation. After this book she began to write her own nonsense poems for children, and she found and used playfulness and puns and joy of words which to this extent had earlier been unknown in Finnish children's literature. Aside she also continued publishing her more serious poetry for adults.
To the anthology called “Postil for laymen” (edited by Hannu Tarmio), where her second translation of Pied beauty was first published in 1992, she also wrote a mini essay where she explains the poem as she sees it.
In the poem Pied beauty, Kirsi Kunnas was fascinated by the likeness of a painting. It is like a pointillist or an impressionist painting of a landscape. Or an abstract composition with complementary colours. It is a poem about seeing.
Kirsi Kunnas finds it captivating that although Hopkins never saw his landscape from an aircraft, (aero)plane, as we modern people can see it when we fly, but he nevertheless was able to see and imagine the world from the bird's perspective, the earth like a patchwork quilt, or as a cartogram. The earth lies flat below the speaker of the poem. The basis of his seeing was his concept of God. God's continuing creation in life and in nature, the beauty which in its opposite ends varies itself like slow in fast, sour in sweet, darkness in light.
In Hopkins's ”painting” we also see the human being and his or her work – it can also be seen as Pied Beauty.
'But how about now?', asks Kirsi Kunnas. Now when we see spots of ugliness in the destroyed and abused nature, when we in our global consciousness know all about destroyed forests, polluted rivers and unprotected sea, and the cities covered in smog?
Can we still choose to believe in the ethos of the poet – that in darkness we can see glimpses of light, that the darkness which we see in the negative, once developed into a picture, will include light?
And I must add that some of Hopkins's poems have been translated into Finnish also by Aale Tynni and Risto Ahti. But my presentation concentrated on Pied Beauty (“Täplikäs kauneus” in Finnish.
And who knows, there might be more translations in the future, after Johanna Venho and I return home from Ireland!
(Pied Beauty was the Hopkins poem selected for the 2010 Multilingual Translation Workshop)
Wisdon of Cardinal Newman || The Wreck of the Deutchland || Epiphanies and Ecstasy in Hopkins Poetry || African Writers and Influence of Hopkins || Hopkins Musical Notation || Translating Pied Beauty into Finnish || Language