When I Tell You About the Emperor, by Paavo Haavikko

I was saddened to hear that the masterful Finnish poet Paavo Haavikko recently died after a long illness.

Here is one of my favorites of his poems, and an English translation. Its from his 1953 collection Tuuliöinä (On Windy Nights):

Kun nyt kerron keisarista näet hänet, keisarin, kesken kaiken,
kun nyt kerron keisarista, näet: talvi on, keisari yksinäinen,
keisari on kuva joka käy selväksi hämärässä,
keisari on kuva,
hämärä on tulemassa,
on ryteikkö rinteillä kuin kotkanpesä, oksien tiuha kuivuus,
ja keisari on yksin ja hän on kirkas,
hän on huvilinnassa joka on kylmä talvella,
hän on se jonka näet pimeässä selvimmin, ja ajatus,
lintu, huuhkain, sokko ajatuksesi sentään näkee myös pimeässä
keisarin.

Olen johtanut sinut harhaan ja seisot talvisen vuoren äärellä
ja koet tähystää oksien halki keisaria jota ei olekaan,

kun suljet silmäsi näet keisarin taas huvilinnassaan
ja hänen kuvansa on kirkas,

olen johtanut sinut harhaan, avaa nyt silmäsi äläkä kuuntele minua,

keisarkunnan voima on sinun sydämessäsi, siellä se on vahva,
keisarkunta syntyy ja kaetuu silmää räpyttämällä,

se kuolee kun silmät avautuvat.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

When I tell you about the emperor now, you see him – the emperor – in the middle of everything,
when I tell you about the emperor now, you see: it’s winter, the emperor is lonely,
the emperor is a picture that becomes clear in the darkness,
the emperor is a picture,
the darkness is on its way here,
there’s a tangled thicket on the hillside like an eagle’s nest, the dryness of the dense branches,
and the emperor is alone and he’s vivid,
he’s in a pleasure palace, which is cold in the winter,
he’s the one you see more clearly in the dark, and thought –
a bird, owl-like, your blindman thought – nevertheless also sees, in the dark,
the emperor.

I’ve led you astray and you stand at the wintry mountain
and try to observe, through the branches, the emperor, who isn’t there,

when you close your eyes you see the emperor again in his pleasure palace
and his image is vivid,

I’ve led you astray, open your eyes now and don’t listen to me,

the power of the empire is in your heart, it’s strong there,
the empire is born and falls in the blink of an eye,

it dies when eyes open.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

translated by Lola Rogers

More poetry

~ by lolarusa on October 13, 2008.

4 Responses to “When I Tell You About the Emperor, by Paavo Haavikko”

  1. That poem would have been hot political stuff if published 20 years later, i.e. 1973.

  2. Yes, and it could also apply to many other political situations, as well.

  3. Hey there,
    I would like to use this translation in a presentation on Haavikko in my poetry translation class. Who should I name as the translator?

  4. Hello Emma, Thanks for asking. The translator is me, Lola Rogers. Where are you studying poetry translation?

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