Poems from This Journey [Tämä matka] (1956)
by Eeva-Liisa Manner
Like Odysseus, the Inquisitive, I have felt this journey
to be dangerous, and have rejoiced in it.
I am empty now,
my empty boat is tired of the adventure.
Take these cocooned words and put them away
In them are tree and butterfly and lizard and dragonfly
and snail and gastropod and spiral staircase
and snake because it too is necessary.
In them are plesiosaur and the swan’s stretched neck and song
and rain forest and the scales and the cry of the cross bill.
In them are the fleeing hoof and the memory of the injured horse,
and the memory of how human beings, snares must be avoided.
In them are slow snowy death and swift hieroglyphs
and the slender writing of toes in sedimented salt.
and the plates of the mussel shell and the spirals that ring
and the secret of the counterpoint invented by the nummulites,
– oh, how they ring –
In them are brain-coral and coral and the brain
in which all the mysterious numbers do their patient work,
practise mathematics and change
and ceremonial magic;
the numbers which are beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful thing there is,
but bring misfortune, seldom fortune
even to those who know the formulae of alchemy.
Take them and sow them in the wind
Take them and sow them in the current
Take them and sow them under the snow to overwinter
Take and deliver me from evil.
THE SOLITARY ONES
Leaves float, hours, seasons
from room to room.
Snow blows, and in the openings curtains.
Desolation leans against the walls, spreads the house,
shadows lean and creak.
Snow, like a low creature, moves,
nests in corners.
Sparse squares and eyes freeze.
If a bird strays inside, it falls.
This hand that freezes does not warm it.
only old voices stray
from wall to wall,
nest in my hair,
in the thin snow of my mind, beneath which
closed away are depth,
darkness smothered, and mice eager to live
I made lenses so that they would see.
I ground the surface all night,
and offered to God
fragments of my mind.
Silence. And I saw:
they all refracted wrongly.
Am I now worthy
when I bring pain, loneliness,
How the houses have grown in this city,
the chasms deepened, the water become blacker,
soon it will creep on to the streets, the balustrades are fragile,
the water table is rising, the basements are already full,
fear is rising, fear is hidden
in oppressive tact,
in open crimes.
Soon boats will be needed, do you hear the roar,
take the boats, hats are no help any more,
or, if you plunge in bravely,
take word to him, the Mover,
that the distress is very great.
How loneliness spreads from me
the bushes die away,
the trees fly and the pine martens, the pine martens.
The night’s coldness slowly pushes further
than the edge of the ice sheet
and covers the small corpses.
The trees outside support emptiness,
like a stone moves from tree to tree.
YOU PICKED UP THE PLANET
To Erik Lindegren
You picked up the planet like an egg
and set it spinning
in slow motion on the floor of the world.
The stars arranged themselves upon request
around the red magnet
and formed singing mosaics, like swallows or notes of music.
Oh, this soaring Braille, grammar of space
that makes the birds happy,
those passionate instruments
above sedimented mountains and broken church towers.
Oh, sloughed-off faces of the indifferent ones
and the grudge of those who can no longer read
(except for cruel bibles, between whose pages doves and corpses have been dried).
Oh, woe to us here in the lonely place on the moon’s side
hair and eyes in the wind, in our hands
uncertainty and the boomerangs of echoes.
Oh, these vaults of language, transforming the skies
into which the letters rise like flags of distress.
I look for the question to which this mutabor is the answer.
to pluck the letters’ mutilated feet,
their gouged-out eyes,
in them is the wounded shining secret,
in which I lost my wings
before the development of discriminating fingers.
I thought, but was not.
I said that creatures are machines.
I had lost everything but reason.
Give greetings to all those
whose knowledge is secret,
like Paracelsus, Swedenborg and Elberfeld’s mathematical horses,
which take roots and raise them to powers,
count flowing numbers with their wise hooves, not their heads,
because hooves and trained legs and erudite body
often know more than tardy brains.
Tell them that philosophy is solitude
and solitude coldness and a dead body
that copulates with reason, and the child
is a discourse on method* and an imaginary quantity.
swift horses run over dying France
with their hooves they drum the hidden knowledge
into Cartesius’ temporal bone.
Today I am one with them.
A Sequence About The Sea And Creatures
To move across shifting borders,
black waters, imagined stairs,
to penetrate crumbling gorges, slow lines of mountains,
landslides, snowy clouds, to find the chosen stones
and arrive at a region
of double footprints, animal habitation.
To see the refracted light of the hereafter and earthly cares,
to eat the bitter fruit under the breadfruit tree
and to grow hungry;
to rise and go, to wear out corded shoes,
to seek a river and come to a shore made by people,
wash hands and hair and drink the low tide
and dream heavy dreams about the last judgement:
to be allowed to start again from a muddy puddle
full of small primitive evil, like Dytiscus or
To go, to go without taking hold of anything
through dirt and snow, alternating heat
and harsh past and ice age,
that which was, and that which is to come;
to sleep in the snow and make a melt-hole with one’s body
in the great common ice-field,
to learn the skill of hands, slow hope,
to build a house from sticks and let the rains come,
to find a worn path and kicked stones,
the mute density of stone; also people,
and to hate one’s neighbour as oneself;
to eat pine cones and the food of birds,
to share one’s meals with the animals
and learn their parables and language and rapid footprints.
To learn their parables, and confuse them with bodily things,
to learn the secrets, and forget them again,
to lose knowledge
on the journey through time and layered records,
obscure stone books and missing dynasties.
To become empty and give up superstition, belief
that is wisdom, inherited from the animals,
from all anguished hearts
and from bound plants before turning into animals.
To become empty and to give up –
how heavy is the journey without a burden,
the loneliness without the company of the beasts,
the difference that the wolves flee and fear.
To arrive at last
without words, tent or the sympathy of the animals
at the sea-shore, to see with one’s body all this:
The congealing light and the long, stern waves,
the hard space, that circles, howls,
and the slowly freezing winds;
to send, out of habit,
an empty boat, a cry in the wind
knowing that only fragments will get there,
Not a breath.
Only the polished stones
along the edge of the glacier.
Corpses of boats, sails of animals,
trilobites, weather-driven bones,
small preserved death.
writing in chalk,
flowers that are animals, stars that are animals,
animals that are boats, corals that are brains,
printed anxiously in the chalk,
for lingering memoranda:
How close are the periods,
Silurian, Triassic, Jurassic, the dead Cambrian,
how far this moment, the present,
that avoids the immanent and reaches down
for Mesozoic dreams,
if they are dreams –
The shells are abandoned, and the houses tumbled down.
The stones are lonely,
the prehistoric birds
have been resurrected,
the frightened birds drag themselves
along the shell of the sky
and cry with petrified voices of prophecy.
The birds of the earth
freeze slowly, patiently
in the windy branches,
their beaks bony flutes without sound.
The only memories
of ordered notes
are slender shells,
scallops with broken hinges –
the small doors are open and lead to empty
rooms without microscopic music,
the empty murmuring chambers
no longer eat, make no pilgrimages.
is the crawling slime and spirit.
III (LATE BOOKS)
Turn the stone page and there
are the deep frozen complex buds,
the chapters of eyes.
The thousand-eyed tree, the reason for the flower and for the plant’s body,
the reason for spreading and soughing and filling the land with abundance
that rots or is perhaps reaped
Turn the pages, in them is the reason for the trembling runner,
the reason for the trotting cloven hooves, the horns, the idea
of the horn-eye,
the reason to flee like a mountain goat, to fly with the wind,
to hear with one’s whole body the rustling danger,
to smell it on the wind and taste it
in inhabited puddles.
To see the dense stones and the danger pulsing in them,
which is set, and strikes home,
for behind come the artful creatures, that
have freed their hands and risen on two feet,
they are five-toed creatures, they
have large, heavy skulls and heavy brains,
and elongated limbs like those of the gorilla,
they are the industrious creatures, and thrifty,
at their waists they gather little heads
that rattle pleasantly in the wind
and bring good fortune, not bad fortune
as long as they go on rattling, bony trinkets,
they are the assiduous creatures, they have capable fingers
that can count to five and tauten a string,
not for music but for murder,
they adorn themselves with the numbers of killing and good luck
and sharpen stones into precise arrowheads,
in which is the throbbing reason for destruction
released from the stone
to sleep in the stone.
IV (GAMES OF THE MOON)
The moon is consumed and renews himself
and hoists slow sails,
glides, lending light and wind,
sheds his strength, pulls the oceans;
the earth yields like a woman, and gives birth much.
Plants grow, and nails and hair,
dogs howl on the hills, the dead in their graves,
and there is much murder with various weapons,
words and oozing knives.
They are consumed like the moon,
and are no longer renewed,
but in the moonlight
it is easy to die and to rise,
to cast off in a vessel, if the moon is a boat,
to cast spells, if a drum is the moon,
for the forms of the moon are highly inconstant,
he is a windy moon and voices and a moon of drums,
he is a seed and an eye and a Moon-that-makes-wane,
the setting memory of space.
V (O DARKNESS)
If they wanted freedom
the earth’s, the sea’s creators, the slow birthgivers,
then why did they draw not birds
but fish, bladderwrack, sea-sponges, the undersides of feet,
rat, musquash, for which traps are set,
and pedestrians with choking lungs
and brains, that branch like coral
and know no more.
O darkness, which swallows everything; animals’ cries for help
that are dragged slowly through creation;
what God created this deformed Grace? was it God?
what God created these deformed people? was it Satan?
people, greedy for Grace, cruel to animals,
great in Reason, small in Mind.
Pray for the animals, you who pray,
who beg for Grace, Success and Peace,
into them, too, has flowed the immanent Spirit,
they too are souls, more whole than you,
and clear, brave, beautiful;
and if we begin from the beginning, who knows,
we shall be able to share these sufferings, too,
simpler, harsher, more infinite than ours.
The journey from Satan to God
has grown shorter,
the peaks worn down
and the chasms
full of rubble.
Only the heat quivers
and envelops everything
like a torrid repugnance.
The brain suffers,
like an oyster perhaps.
We make our way along the edge of the void.
Legions of ants
attack and are defeated.
St Scarabeus rolls
for the greater glory of God.
We see all this,
we make our way,
and the other.
VII (PROPHETIC WORDS LIKEWISE)
We are sailing. Already the Hellespont
The sun is spreading into the sea
like a blood-sacrifice.
Magic and smoky
receive their due honour, future knowledge.
The polytheistic temples
Only the hills, the loins
dream of peace,
The gastropods have united with the stone.
The lazy bodies of crocodiles
are nailed to the rock
by hot jaws and impatient tails.
The greedy throats
catch only swallows, music.
Chalk is already flowing in their claws.
They turn to stone.
Prophetic words likewise.
But when night comes,
Poseidon spurs the monsters
and drives them on their journey.
Nothing is dead.
The stone flows,
the atoms are visited by wind and storms.
The reins are freed, and movement, and power.
The nursing bird spreads her wings
and covers crawling souls
sucking mouths and fumbling brains.
The word is in preparation.
go on procreating with difficulty
embarrassed, pondering what will come.
GAMES FOR SOLITARY PEOPLE
The roads are long and hot.
The sky is white. The crows fly
and blaspheme, a hoarse, screaming cloud.
Windows are eyes. My shadow is a stump.
Where should I go, my cottage
is full of strange stories, phrases like snares,
heavy words that burn like tin
and prophesy, throw shadows on the walls.
I am heavy, from my wound grows a tree
with motheaten leaves.
Through it a white-glowing sky is visible,
my understanding does not reach that far.
To speak of sorrow demands tact,
but what if you have lost everything but sorrow.
Speak with your mouth, your eyes, your hands, your gloves,
you speak into cold,
or are laughed at like a marionette
which yet reflects only the Player’s emotions.
grief is here.
Better to urge silence
on your hands that speak a foreign language,
and build from solitude and fallen words
a light windy house:
the small invisible creatures help you.
The creatures are your friends, did you not know it.
Let the coins roll along the road, cheerfully,
and the creature will come to eat from your hand which is free
of worry and fumbling and the intrusive smell of human beings.
I am tired of being strong
and always holding my breath
like a starling in a cage.
I want to open the cage and let dreams come
and let the bird walk about in the eaves
and drink rainwater
Thus the rain
slowly loosens the contours
and makes everything seem softer;
loosens the lines of the cage
and the lines that mean the black bird and destiny;
loosens a light fugue from the eaves,
the sought-for notes
for the bird to drink.
The rain opens the ears for the sleeper
the rain opens the shadows for the wanderer
the rain opens the hearing, the walking inwards.
The rain opens slow lamps and blurred thoughts
brittle glass shells, blown clocks
stopped lamps in which are rainy songs
dilp pilp dop.
The rain opens the eaves to laughter, to music,
road-gutters, figures to lively preludes
of shadow and wind, to walk lightly
with a windy shadow, walk with the wind,
The rain opens an umbrella like a swaying flower, like
of a wing and in the forgotten rhythm of the course
a paper boat, the sails of the jellyfish,
the eager ships.
I make of my life a poem, of a poem a life,
a poem is a way of living and the only way of dying
with ecstatic indifference:
to slide into infinity, to float
on the surface of God for a light chosen moment,
on the surface of God’s cold eyes
that do not weep, do not wake, do not form opinions,
look without attachment and accept everything,
cultivate order and precise moments,
protect scorpions, snakes, squids
(which human beings hate, confusing with their desires
to confess one faith: Curiosity,
to wander the rooms of fish, scorpion and goat,
to borrow from the bird desire and distance
and float downwards
like a wind-wrapped wing,
swift freedom, bird-shaped.
All day I have sat under an old friendly tree
and looked at my dreams and conversed with the dead.
Rains come and go, I sit and sit,
my hands are inactive, my eyes know much,
I eat grain like the birds, my stomach grows,
what could I do but think with crossed legs.
But the dreams are long, the dead long-lived,
they have many spirits, I feed them with my grain,
I envy the diligent birds and am bitter to myself,
tired and full of trouble.
I have grown old: I am content
with polished rice and the sympathy of the creatures.
The unschooled dog listens devoutly, tirelessly,
it is patient and knows much
of the matters of forest and wind and eternity.
And the rice is nutritious and the nuts are plump
and cocooned like the grubs of the mulberry tree;
fried, they taste like hearts,
and sizzle hot and nicely on the tongue.
I eat them with my fingers, I have seen much vanity,
I am plump and content and ripe for obedience,
for long-lasting destiny
here, in this cottage, in this paper-thin house,
which seems to be asleep,
but on windy nights lifts away,
sails through space like a weightless ship from star to star,
its pilot courage, its lamp the moon;
and its chart the signs of the creatures:
slow time moves it without whim, wind,
allowing each a destiny and a room that falls,
when the signs are favourable, turns away,
time that detains.
When my head cracks like a flowerpot,
when my bones crack, my face falls away
I will breathe through the earth what is left in me,
I will breathe through the earth all love
and wrap it around my friends both here and there,
not forgetting the creatures;
in it I will wrap books, pens and clocks,
every familiar object,
mirror, ink-bottle, lampshade,
German dictionary, dog’s collar
– let them go sparkling on from hand to hand –
bees’ nests and diligent mathematics,
trees’ annual rings and calendar lore,
snail’s philosophical house and lazy grass snake,
hedgehog’s milk charm and swallow’s German tongue,
overgrown path and porch’s rotted planks
that rain has loved and snow and wind.
In it I will wrap the dates of the calendar,
let them be strewn on paths and in windy colours;
in it I will wrap a child’s solitary shoes,
small lost footsteps:
perhaps they will
sometimes when it is very difficult,
sense the lingering secret shelter
and go on.
The garden grows sparser day by day,
soon one will see through it like a torn curtain.
The sky blows through it, and rain, a sea of cloud, is being shed.
The trees are taking off their clothes.
The leaves are falling, rotting.
The grey hairs of the grass are falling, the grubs
are nesting in the deathbed of the fallen land.
the sky’s dog runs above everything,
the morning is white and weightless and cold,
frost lies like salt after evaporation.
The lizard climbs out of the well and lifts an eyelid
from above a jewel-black eye.
The skin does not throb, the heart stops
in the throat, the diminished fingers stop,
stiffen, the creature is cold,
dead as copper.
The well is uninhabited,
the path is empty,
the house does not remember,
the windows are covered.
Mice and funghi move deeper
into the empty core, where seconds live
in the tree’s recess.
The year is ripening.
It is autumn,
two days’ scraping cycle
before the winter month.
They all fell from my arms,
garden, courtyard, house, voices, rooms,
child: with a sparrow and a fish in its hand,
fell to the earth
which brought forth the stones.
I am an empty room,
around me the points of the compass
and snow-enshrouded trees
cold, cold, empty.
But in my hand
rises everything I loved,
courtyard, roses, flowerpot house,
house like a capsule, quiet seeds,
death and movement in their tissue,
a small well, a small dog, an invisible collar.
A small room, small windows, small lively lace-up shoes
for the heart and running.
The shoes run from chamber
to chamber, and in the blood
the child’s fingers are building
a stone jetty for oarsmen of stone.
Dreams like stones
in the depths,
numbered, dedicated to death.
And through the windows, ears
the tuned birds float
laughter in their beaks,
drops of mozart
– translation © 2011 David McDuff and Hildi Hawkins