Monday, September 11, 2017

the brothers seven

Leevi Lehto's self-Englished collection Lake Onega and other poems has been unavailable for a few years, following the demise of Salt as a poetry publisher. I'm pleased to say that it's now back in print, what's more with two new atttractions:  my 2009 ramble through the contents of the original edition, and more substantially, a new and thrilling Englishing of the poem "Rounds From A Racheting Rocket". 

This is an extract of "Rounds from a Racheting Rocket", amounting to about half the poem:

sprung up a beautiful green-refreshing tree
but t' others push'd on to Turkkila
on our ardurous trek. We come to the bloody carcass
like a wat 's though the Feller's
legs was only three
& fled the snowy track beneath
& rac'd that murderous stone... the black stocks, which
he back up from underneath the many-headed pack,
         and flows
seeks to cham us up in its teeth the rounds
from a racheting rocket
an antrickal wall.
                                Once the battle was broach'd the snow
pierc'd the beautiful beast's brow, and so fell
to inspect the baited pit. E'en from
who but minutes afore expected to die, singing
asleep deep neath the snowy spruce & would lash out
the outside wall, lower'd it carefully into the pit, and then,
builded a fire on one bank, lapp'd the eggs,
however, and Timo still tarry'd a rungate
but Tuomas skirred in like a granite cliff, and where
the caribou set a screaming pace cross the hard-cut snow, but
drowning... in death-throes...

Lehto's original Finnish poem was a collage from Aleksis Kivi's remarkable Seitsemän veljestä  (Seven Brothers), the first Finnish novel (maybe not quite the first, but it's the one everyone knows). When it was published in 1870, Kivi was already well on the way to drinking himself to death. Leevi's English version of the poem makes use of Douglas Robinson's new translation of Kivi's masterpiece into quasi-Shakespearian English (The Brothers Seven, 2017).

Wikipedia is quite helpful on the storyline and on the different personalities of the seven brothers. Of the two mentioned here, Timo is "simple and earnest"; his elder brother Tuomas is "strong as a bull". You'll meet the others in the extract below. Juhani is the bossy eldest brother; Simeoni has a distinct penchant for alcohol.

Robinson's translation was preceded by his book on translation theory, Aleksis Kivi And/As World Literature.

Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of major and minor literature, Robinson argues that translators have mainly “majoritized” Kivi—translated him respectfully—and so created images of literary tourism that ill suit recognition as world literature. Far better, he insists, is the impulse to minoritize—to find and celebrate the minor writer in Kivi, who “sends the major language racing.”

Jacket of an early edition of Seitsemän veljestä 

Unfortunately I can't find any extracts of Robinson's translation on-line, but I did find the following extract from Richard Impola's 2005 translation:

Evening fell, a melancholy September evening; Eero brought the beer from Routio and Timo sent word that the bath was ready; and the men's sullen temper revived a little.They set out to their bath, and Timo threw water on the heated stove until the blackened stones heaped over it cracked with a noise like rifle-fire and a cloud of hot steam was wafted round the bath-house. Each plied now with all his strength the supple bunches of leafy birch-twigs, so grateful to the skin; they bathed and washed their wounds, and the furious beating of the twigs was heard afar outside the building.

Juhani: Our wounds are getting a real Turkish polka. Hot steam in the sauna, that's the best medicine for soul and body. But my eye stings like Satan. Well, itch away and sting, all the hotter will I make it for thee. How is thy muzzle, Aapo?

Aapo: It's beginning to melt.

Juhani: Wipe away at it and beat it like a Russian hammers his nag, and it'll soon be softer. But more steam, Timo, seeing it is thy job tonight to wait on us. That's it, my boy! Let it come. Oh, but it's hot there, it's hot there! That's the way, my broth of a brother!

Lauri: It fair bites at my finger-nails.

Juhani: Let our nails get a basting, too.

Aapo: Stop throwing water now, boy; or we'll soon have to climb down from here, every man of us.

Eero: Go on praising him and we shall soon be roasted to cinders.

Juhani: That's enough, Timo. Don't throw any more. For Hell's sake stop throwing water on that stove! Art ye coming down from the platform, Simeoni?

Simeoni: I'm coming, wretch that I am. And ah, if ye only knew why!

Juhani: Tell us.

Simeoni: Man, remember the furnace of the lost and pray night and day.

Juhani: Stuff! Let the body have it if it wants; for the hotter the sauna the greater its healing-power. That ye knowest.

Simeoni: Whose hot water is this in the bucket near the stove?

Juhani: It's mine, as the smith said of his house. Don't touch it.

Simeoni: I'm going to take a drop of it, anyway.

Juhani: Don't do it, brother mine, or there'll be trouble. Why didst thou not warm some for thyself?

Tuomas: Why be so snappy without cause? Take a little from my tub, Simeoni.

Timo: Or from mine, under the platform steps there.

Juhani: Have some of mine then, too, but see thou leavest me at least half.

Lauri: Eero! thou imp, take care I don't throw thee off the platform.

Aapo: What trick are you two up to in the corner?

Juhani: What's the sqabbling about? Eh?

Lauri: Blowing on a fellow's back.

Aapo: Softly, Eero!

Juhani: Hey, troublemonger.

Simeoni: Eero, Eero, can't even the stewing heat of the bath remind thee of the fires of Hell? Remember Juho Hemmola, remember him!
Juhani: He saw when he was stretched on a sickbed the fiery lake, from which he was saved that time, and all because, as it was then said to him, he had always thought of Hell when he was on the sauna platform. But can that be daylight shining through your corner?

Lauri: Bright daylight.

Juhani: Oh the beast! The sauna sings its last note. So let the first aim of my mastership be a new sauna.

Aapo: A new one's needed, it's true.

Juhani: Ay, no gainsaying that. A farm without a sauna is no good either from the standpoint of baths or the babies a wife or the farm-hands' women might have. Ay, a smoking sauna, a barking hound, a crowing cock and a mewing kitty, these are the signs of a good farm. Ay, there's plenty to do for the one who takes over our home. A little more steam, Timo.

Timo: It shall be given thee.

Simeoni: Don't let us forget that it is Saturday night.

Juhani: And let us take care our skins aren't soon hanging from the rafters, like the former maidservant's.

Simeoni: That was the maid who never had time to take her bath with the others, but dillied and dallied in the sauna long after all the others had gone to bed. Then one Saturday night she stayed longer than usual. And what did they find when they went to look for her? Only a skin hanging from the rafters. But it was a master-hand had done the flaying, for the hair, eyes, ears and even the nails had been left in the skin.

Juhani: Let this be a warning...He-he, how skittishly this back of mine takes its steam! As though thou hadst not tasted a birchtwig since New Year's Day.

Lauri: But who had skinned her?

Timo: Who, thou askest. Who else but the...

Juhani: Old 'Un himself.

Timo: Ay, he who goes around like a roaring lion. A horrible story!

Juhani: Timo-lad, stick that shirt of mine from the rafters there into this fist.

Timo: What, this one?

Juhani: Ho! 'Tis Eero's little rag he offers to a full-grown man. Ah thee! That middle one there.

Timo: What, this one?

Juhani: That's a man's shirt. Ta, brother. A horrible story, say I too, to go back to what we were speaking of. Let it be a reminder to us that "the eve is the height of a feast-day." Now let's wash ourselves as clean as though we had just come from the midwife's nimble paws; and then shirt under arm to the house, so that our over-heated bodies can get a skinful of cool air on the way. But I do believe this beloved eye of mine is getting better. Naked and hot, they went from the sauna to the livingroom, their bodies glowing like the sunlit stem of a birch-tree. Arrived within, they sat down to rest a while, sweating copiously. Then little by little they dressed themselves. And now Juhani began concocting an ointment for the whole wounded brotherhood.

(Source: from which I also took the image)

The brothers seven, from an open-air production at Savonlinna in 2013

[Image source:]

The whole of Kivi's novel can be read online:

in Finnish:

and in this 1929 English translation by Alex Matson:

I've read the first chapter and it's a lot of fun.

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