Mirjam Tuominen

Poems from “Under the earth sank” (1954) by Mirjam Tuominen (1913-1967)


Down in straight lines the birds
silent O silent
down down
into an earth that opens like a sea
into a sea you plunge.
Up up.

It closes.


Make me pure
teach me silence
make me whole
teach me new words
words that are not words
words that are like silence
whole pure
not self-abandonment
not accusation
not defence
not thesis
not antithesis
but synthesis.

May life and death
hold each other in balance.


The night is near.
The dark is rising.
It has already risen high.
Death is near.

Place counterweight against counterweight
on the scales of life.
The scales of death are full
so steeply is the balance tipped.
Place counterweight against counterweight.
The one so light the other so heavy.
Counterweight against counterweight is needed now.

How easy to be caught in a crevice
to incline sheerly to fall.
To close one’s eyes to sleep only sleep
in this embrace as light as air as space
and for always forever.
Forever: O death
dark truth-sayer
gentle exposer of lies
filth evil.
Take me! Hide me!
Let me sleep!
Infinitely O infinitely
you allow your own to sleep.
Sleep sleep sleep
while the truth works
on their closed eyelids
and resting hands
resting like cut flower-stems.

I had already forgotten
that it would be so easy.
It had already had time to become
new unfamiliar.
It frightened me.
I understood now
that it could be shocking
this violent way
of keeping not only life company
but also, devotedly, death
the reverse side of the medallion
the up- and downturned scale
the one that catches darkness
as wide as oceans and earth
and the heavenly vault
that is stretched over oceans and earth.
And the stars’ blindly gazing eyes
and the bloodthirsty moon’s
indifferent wishing towards new fullness, new wholeness.
Life and death inseparably united.
Murder and birth
Birth constant birth
and birth too is death
death and life inseparably united
but not mingled together
that is the cycle
that is the moon’s blind will
and the blind will of man
and the blind will of all things.

Long enough death’s kingdom held you
Long alas long enough
you sojourned there.
It set you free.
It gave you life
when everything collapsed.

Break the magic circle!
Mingle no more together
with life!

Will there not still come days and nights
when the snow falls soft?
Encircle engird fence round!

Can an accuser lower himself
to a marriage with his accused?
What content of joy
could be extracted from such a marriage?
The prosecuter accuses
the accused defends herself.
The accuser pronounces or defers the sentence
the accused lives in taut expectation.
Is that love?
I ask I ask I ask.

One day the bow will be stretched too taut
One day it will have to snap.

From you alone.

Fresh snow will come
fresh white soft snow
stillness goodness work
Work illness poverty
that is the trinity:
Stillness kindness work
which alone and solely signify
work illness poverty
Live for that
that was what met you
when it was happening.

The magic circle is broken
the accused is free
executioner and victim are a construction.
Whoever lets himself be accused
becomes an accused
whoever lets himself be victimized
becomes a victim
whoever lets himself be crucified
becomes a cripple.
And whoever spreads fear
yes, he spreads fear.
not to let oneself be accused
not to let oneself be victimized
not to let oneself be crucified crippled
not to spread fear.
The one who wants to prevent fear
exists in fear
and perhaps attains reconciliation.
The one who wants kindness
is neither executioner nor victim
but simple
The one who is appointed executioner
becomes an executioner
if he allows himself to be appointed executioner
the one who is appointed accuser
becomes an accuser
if he lets himself be appointed accuser

But it is not the accusation
(which is perhaps false)
not the defence
(which is always pointless and unnecessary
if the accusation was false)
not the sentence
only the deed that convinces.
Some must die.
On their closed eyelids
their resting hands
resting like cut flowerstems
on the ash the dust of what they were
the truth works
implacably incorruptibly.
Not self-surrender
only unavoidable death
or continued life without self-surrender
is the deed that convinces
sooner or later
later or sooner.

So build life’s ship
build it strong
build it with good will
honest desires uprightness
build it
on solid foundations
on death’s foundations:
your foundations
on life’s:
also yours.


Beyond the seven mountains
the seven valleys
the seven rapid torrents
the seventy-seven nights
the seventy-seven days
the seven hundred-and-seventy-seven days-and-nights
the seven thousand and seventy-seven paradise years
inferno years purgatory years
shut up in the mountain
beyond the valleys
beyond the rapids
beyond the nights the days
the days-and-nights
the paradise years
inferno years purgatory years
inside shut in
outside shut out
I cry: ‘Awake!
Come back!
Why did you abandon me?
A whole is more than a half.
A half cannot live as a whole.
Awake awake awake!
Go back the long way
the hard way
over the seven mountains
through the seven long valleys
Soar float plunge
over through
the violent currents
the dangerous whirlpools!
I look like a human being
and am a semblance
a hollow shell
without you.
You say that you are dead.
I say that you are asleep.
I call you back
I cry out for you
I beg I appeal:
The darkness takes me
fear screams
shrilly with a bird’s voice.
Fear O fear fear
nothing but fear
you gave me life.
Give me back
set me free
the chains rattle.
I weep
there is blood where I walk.
Fences grilles barriers
the birds are eating from my eyes
those cruel birds with strong beaks
and averted gaze
O birds birds birds
harbingers chosen ones shimmering white deep-black
not those cruel ones, not the eagles
but you
mortal harbingers
you that travel with messages from death
take me on your wings
fetch me back
birds birds birds
sorrow-swan black swan lonely swan
I call upon you I cry out I beg
wild swan
you that do not exist
I who do not exist
gentle swan:
Fetch me back
give me back
my living entrails
out there outside
inside shut in!
Give me
grant me
fetch me!
Sorrow-swan black swan
harbinger from death’s kingdom
together we must plunge
soar float
the veils of the water are soft
the sky without weight.
It is easy to soar
hard to walk.
Breathe breathe breathe
like the bird
when it floats.
I want to travel the long way
return again


Let go of my hand you idle grasp!
Here no human hand can help
Neither father nor mother.
Neither brother nor sister.
Neither husband nor wife.
Neither doctor’s advice
nor doctor’s knife.
A child has known what you know.
Do not fear
the fall, the deep one!
only takes the one who is afraid.
Be silent!
Go forward!


Wild thickets thorn hedges
bar your way

But the insight
at the bottom of all our souls
the same: and only.

Our only common inheritance
our only common ground
and bottom in depth of the most extreme necessity.

Amidst thorns and wounds
all at once
fragrant wide-open exhaling.


I sit abyss at your brink.
Only those who have themselves been seized by vertigo
know what fear is.
The child does not break faith.
Nor the one by childlike insight led.
Green-gleaming valley at your brink.

I sit abyss at your brink.
Does not the conscious rise up.
Does not the unconscious sink down.
Peaceful beautiful face
you help me.
Deepening valley at your brink.


You climbed down from your mighty rock.
Looked at me looked at the rock.
‘What a beautiful rock,’ you said my child.
‘What can a rock like that have in it?
Surely it must be something beautiful?’

A rock is a being enchanted
by the earth, child.
It cannot fall deeper
than that earth receives.
But if the earth stops.
If it disintegrates
or fire surges out of its entrails
or a strong quaking a violent shaking
pass through it
then the rock will hurtle falling
down down down
until new earth comes to meet it.

‘And what if it hits against something harder than itself?’
Then the rock will split into many small fragments
which all of them each and every one
are the rock and only the rock
that contain nothing but rock.

‘And what if no new earth comes?’
Then the rock will fall eternally forever.


A world a ball of fire
torn loose from its orbit
hurtles through space
hurtles without peace
falls without blessedness
finds no coolness.
Hurtling hurtling falling
fires through space.

Earth into earthlessness casts out what earth will not

Without peace or rest
restless without peace
peaceless in the land of a thousand lakes
torn in the barbed-wire land of many limits.
A mother-tongue a weight
towers of brick hurtle smother fall
mountains of rock transform rock.
A land where the fathers lived
but they rushed past
abandoned for centuries: stranger
in the prehistoric land.

But what concern is peace of yours
what concern joy blessedness?
Blessedness was never a concern of yours
you want to go to Inferno
to the people there
you rush you fly
their locks burn in fire
and yet are not consumed
in Inferno the people are pure
pure though without peace
the fire inextinguishable equal.

What is life to you
what is death to you
what is anything to you
what is fever to you
what is tiredness to you?

You are dead.
What is the child to you
what is even the child to you?
Feverish illusions
the veils of tiredness
they are something to you
they are still something to you.


child’s way of seeing




In Inferno the people are pure
like the fire
burning inextinguishable
and alike


There is a cry in the forest:
I want to go home
the keys have fallen
the paths have disappeared
I cannot get there
I am badly frightened
I have frightened myself very very badly
they have frightened
I have frightened
I want to go home to the dolls there at home
home to the stove the fire the hearth.


The swallows fly
in towards bluer sky
down beneath darkening clouds.

In the midst of the state of mighty never
in the interior of the mine
one can see what was not seen
hear what was not heard
feel what was not felt:
buried alive.


Burn witches
witches bewitched ones burn
bewitched in witchery by witchery
witches burn
you guilt’s enchanted
burn to death in fire
you who never were
it was in the land of somewhere
you who always were
it was in the land of elswhere
burn burn to death
that which ever was
it was in the land of nowhere
self that seldom was
it was here in this land
all of you burn burn to death!


All your words came to me with another meaning
a sealed meaning.
Beyond your words I sensed your faces.
The faces you bear are not your real ones.
You were disguised masked veiled.
Your unveiled faces are more beautiful
you were all prisoners in the veiled.
You hinted you insinuated you concealed
but all this did not reach its goal
it was stabs in blind scratches in the skin
the real was always much further away
it sometimes reaches us like an echo
it is the game that perpetually must fly.
Who says that Narcissus has been enchanted by his own
Whoever it is has never looked into the water.
Few have looked into the water.
Whoever has seen his own face in the mirror of the water
has seen all the others’.
Whoever leans over the water
and perceives his image
will not return, he will vanish.
Your unveiled faces come to me
they are beautiful
unalterable because true
they reach their goal
the truth is always beautiful
redeeming freeing giving.
I am divided from you by a singing stream
you will never reach me again.

From far away sometimes an echo reaches me.


You were the slave of your false fancies.
In this paradox such an irony:
your life
the child’s struggle to become a man
the man’s struggle to renounce being a man
the youth’s struggle to remain a youth
to die old
who was more powerful:
the sultan or sickness?
Scheherezade or imagination?
And who was the one
who the other:
one gaze was turned away
another turned towards.
The loving was cruel
the cruel was loving.
Thus is a life motivated
thus is born an idea with variations
without end
Am I different?
Were the others different?
Was anyone different?
The same thing manifests itself differently.
Everywhere prisoners
Everywhere a virgin concealed
(out of the sea she rose
into the sea she fell
ebb and flow)
captured by dragons and djinns
pursued even into the secret castle’s
most secret interior.
Where now is Françoise the French the fresh
holding the pillar upright?

The Duchess’s feet are shod in those brilliant red shoes
when anyone dies
the Duke hurries off to another masked ball
and the haste of the disputatious doctors is stilled.
(Just observe
the nervousness
among the individual animals
the individual plants!)
During solemn speeches
with measured gestures
they give themselves time
prepare the poisoned brew
the brew that initiates
into the last redeeming transformation.
In this paradox
who was more powerful?
The one already condemned to death has fled
a strange object lies there.
The books stand on the shelves.

The sensitive is fleeting and profound
it couples badly
slyly or briefly with the sensual real
it contracts to the touch
grows speechless blind
loses its grip
finds no refuge
couples with a mobile clear vision untouched
turned away
(sultan: you were never any concern of mine!)
turned towards
the intellectual
finds connection.


Behind the forehead is the realm of the dreams.
But your forehead bears the seal of peace.

Monologues wonder softly
if life is more than death
if death is more than life
if the two might not be reconciled
they quarrel in the realm of the brain
tear apart the realm of the heart.
You sob are bitter
joke jeer
degrade all that is holy.
Give me back my reason
O lord our king!
Behind the forehead is the realm of dreams
Dreams dream that dreams
dream that dreams that dreams.
Dreaming you dream
to an end
know no way out
no end.
Where is the road
the path
the pass
out of the dreams?
for dreams only dream
more dreams to dream
dreaming they dream themselves out
know no end
where is the road
the path
the pass?
here there are only dreams
O lord our existence!
You are just an imagining
yet so despotic
where is the dreams’ way out?
when will the dreams come to an end?
O sovereign over life!
O queen death!
Let me out!

The queen is near.
The king by her side.
How were the dreams woven behind your forehead?
Here is the father.
Here is the mother.
There is the child.
The king is near.
The queen at his side.
You do not see them.
Ophelia is married
has children.
Ophelia is already a matron.
You see none of them
You know none of them.
You hear none of them.
You want none of them.
You want to go behind the realm of the forehead.
You want your inner realm.

Behind the forehead is the realm of the dreams.
But your forehead bears the seal of peace.
Where you lean your forehead
in the moon’s reversed sign
O Prince of Denmark!
in the moon’s transforming radiance
in the pellucid night
there the realm of peace is mirrored.


You discovered the meaning of reason
of logic
of consistency
of anti-mysticism
of irreligiosity.

You rushed to the church
you called to the Virgin Mary for protection.
You were logical
you perceived
the consistent.


Out of simplicity
into multiplicity
composed of simplicity
through simplicity
deduced from simplicity
leading to multiple
again leading onward
to new multiplicity
simple deductions
all the way to the most
simple thing of all
the simplest simplicity
the whole.


How long after all can a story exist
a poem
and be treated as real?
Unreal real
real unreal.
Do not come too close to me!
I am dance I am song.
Do not make me real!
Reality kills.
The spirit of the dance cannot be captured in a number.
The immaterial cannot become material.
The finely-drawn cannot be made crude.
That which is without artifice cannot be made artificial.
The swift cannot be transformed into the sluggish.
Do not treat me as real!
A paradox cannot be resolved into simpler factors.
A paradox is a paradox
an explanation challenge exhortation
a flame
clear in itself
declaration of love
with no other answer than love
is a synthesis.
In the synthesis the spirit of mobility is
the spirit of the dance.
The synthesis lifts its wings
is mobile in a different way from heavy analysis
it rises above its captured mobility
and is mobile in the mobile in mobility mobile
in every nerve intermediary nerve inner nerve outer nerve
in every nerve-fine nerve’s nervous nerve’s
nerve of nerve-fineness nerve-resilience
nerve of nervous nervosity that is nerve
that lives nervily nervously nerve-finely
strong-nervedly resilient-nervedly nerve-susceptibly
nerve-sensitively in nerve’s nerve-receptivity
in every nerve’s nerve that again is nerve
that lives nervily nervously intensely nervily
most nervily in stillest movement
in the unseen play of muscles compelled
muscularly muscular sinewily energetically resiliently
controlledly muscularly museanly musically
sounding silence’s movements of stillness.
That is dance. Now I dance it.

I the spirit of winged dance
rise fall fall rise
fly in Indian dance.


You who do not want to believe
you have never looked into your brains
I have looked into my brain
I have looked into a shaft
I have burrowed in a mine.
Forty years I burrowed
Moses in the desert in a mine
half a human lifetime
until I got there
A trauma lifted
a pressure vanished
I was inside the vein
brilliant gold flowed out.
Half a human lifetime
in order to get there.
I am in the subconscious.
Another half
in order to will the pure.
My patience is long
as the prophet’s in the desert.
A cry comes from mountain peaks:
‘I am a stranger
in a land that is not my own.’
I am making it my own.
I will only be content
with the best
the best in man.
Sediment is not water.
I will only be content with water
clear fresh from the primordial source.

Death analyses so inexorably in syntheses that vary the varying theme varied
monotonously monotone the varying in the infinite’s nuances develops grows the
theme that which was fettered in order to fetter all over again more and more
fetter more clearly more inexorably fetter the already fettered until caught
in the captivity of the final synthesis it lifts its wings and flies through
the transparent thinness out into the great nothing. Nothingness is all.


people of the exception:
in the depths of the people except
let go under
I do not belong to you.
Human beings human beings only
everywhere human beings not exceptions:
I the daughter of men
am going to the very bottom
lower than God’s chosen people
through torment shame
annealed in the fire of the camps gassed gassed to death
I love the human being
in the mine in the shaft
black sweaty sooty
laughing childishly
with hungering thought
playing eyes living.
Do not turn arithmetic into figures
arithmetic is not figures
the arithmetic sings in Greece
sounds in Hellas
do not turn geometry into figures
a vibrating field it shines
listen in through hearing’s shell
no longer incomprehensible you will get
silence out:
swift fire of the pulse-beats how it oscillates
quiet incalculably not perceptibly not in second
far from minute


In vineyards I tread grapes
meet there in the past in Hellas
the human being sun-drenched happy called the Messiah
invisible lonely
to be nameless is to be lonely
to be lonely is to be without form.
Raise raise up!
the position of the people of the exception
there are no exceptions
I deny
I am burning
burning to death
all are equal
suffering makes equal
I give you of my brain
make use make use of that knowledge!
Man cannot be cured
logic does not count in figures
cannot be exterminated you will exterminate man’s soul!
Man cannot be turned into a number
arithmetic is something different from numbers.
geometry is something different from shapes.
Only listen:
lives in the logic of the universe
in the love of the universe
must lead to love
to the effacement of the exception.
Raise raise up!
All proud ones are chosen ones
in love humbled transforming logical


Palms of hands spread out with no skin
soft kneecaps’ command
will not let go of crooked legs
soles of feet yearn for skin
toothless mouth
endless weeping
from wells of sorrow
newborn child.


I write it shows in the eyes of the dog
it creeps in the paw of the cat
it shimmers in the solitary fly’s pair of wings
it leaps in foaling withers
it flies in the flight of birds
it flies
it sinks
in the earth down under roots
it smiles in the infant’s eyes
it grows in the eyes of children
it wonders in young eyes
it yearns in human eyes.

– translation © 2011 David McDuff