Eeva Kilpi, “I Finally Plucked Up My Courage”

Finland’s 100th Independence Day is almost over, but I wanted to say happy birthday to my favorite country by exercising a little of the independence it has afforded me by giving me a whole new language, a language I never imagined I’d be learning until nine years ago, and the miracle of meeting wise, tender, witty souls in the medium of that language.

I’m especially grateful to Finland and Finnish for acquainting me with the great Finnish writer Eeva Kilpi, whose novels, short stories, memoirs, essays, and poems should be translated into more languages. They are mostly as dissimilar as two writers could be, but occasionally she reminds me of the great Czeslaw Milosz. But mostly she reminds me of herself, which is always the real sign of a great writer.

This is just the next poem from her first collection, A Song about Love and Other Poems, published in 1972 (after she was already famous for her prose works), which I’m now translating all the way through.

It’s not patriotic at all, and has nothing to do with Independence Day, but it does have something to do with independence. LIF

Nyt minä lopulta rohkaisin mieleni,
soitin hänelle lennättimestä ja sanoin:
Tämä on Eeva Mikkelistä päivää.
Mitä sinulle kuuluu?
Minä lähden tältä kesältä torstaina.
Houkuttaisiko sinua sitä ennen
tulla vielä kerran käymään täällä?

Minulla on kiireitä, hän sanoi, ikävä kyllä,
eikö sinulle sopisi joskus myöhemmin syksyllä?

Riippuu pääskysistä, minä vastasin,
jos ne ehtivät lähteä ennen minua,
suljen ikkunan enkä enää tule.

Vai niin, hän sanoi. Mitenkähän se oikein on,
minulla hälyttää nyt valitettavasti toinen puhelin.
Mutta kun tulet kaupunkiin niin otetaan yhteyttä.

Suon kohdalla muistin miten se oli:
Laurilta laumaan, Pertulta pois.

Ja minä olin meinannut jo Maunona.


I finally plucked up my courage.
I called him from the telegraph and said,
This is Eeva, calling from Mikkeli, hello.
How are you?
I’m wrapping up the summer on Thursday.
Could you be tempted before then
to come here again for a visit?

Sadly, he said, I’m busy.
Would it work for you sometime later in the fall?

It depends on the swallows, I replied.
If they manage to leave before me,
I’ll close the window and not come back.

Is that so? he said. Whatever the matter is,
unfortunately, my other phone is buzzing now.
But when you come to the city, we’ll get in touch.

Under my breath I remembered how the saying went.
“The birds flock on Lauri’s, and fly away on Perttu’s.”

And I was going to be a Mauno.*

* In the Finnish Lutheran calendar, Lauri’s nameday is August 10, while Perttu’s nameday is August 24. Mauno’s nameday is August 19. The equivalents of these men’s first names in English are Lawrence, Bartholemew, and Magnus.

Originally published in Eeva Kilpi, Laulu rakkaudesta ja muita runoja (WSOY, 1972). Translated by Living in FIN. Photo courtesy of Irman Kuvia

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