I have embarked on what is probably my most challenging translation so far – of Leino’s 32 stanza “Hymyilevä Apollo” (“Smiling Apollo”). Its length is not its only challenge. It is one of Finland’s most cherished poems; its expression of universalist principles rooted in local identity easily runs the risk of sounding trite in translation; his metre – as so often – is fluid, and can sound clumsy in English. I’m trying to stick to the metre as closely as possible, but am departing from it slightly if to do so helps its English sound; and I am perhaps taking more liberties with accuracy than I often do.
Here’s a stanza from the middle of the poem that illustrates the challenge. I’ve kept to the metre (I think), except in the seventh line, where I’ve followed the pattern set by the preceding two. A semi-literal gloss runs something like this: Oh, happy the one who awaken/ those good forces would!/ Oh, people understand each other,/ so that you would not be hard!/ Why could we not all become one?/ And if one would break, the other would be there as support./ Oh, people respect one another!/ Thus great, great is our land. I hope the last line in English catches the most important thing, which is to state that what precedes it is the precondition for the land’s greatness.
Oi, onnellinen, joka herättää
niitä voimia hyviä voisi!
Oi, ihmiset toistanne ymmärtäkää,
niin ette niin kovat oisi!
Miks emme me kaikki yhtyä vois?
Ja yksi jos murtuis, muut tukena ois.
Oi, ihmiset toistanne suvaitkaa!
Niin suuri, suuri on maa.
Oh, happy fortune shines on one who would
such a power benevolent waken!
Oh, sensitive be to each other you should,
so hearts aren’t for rocks mistaken!
Why can’t we division’s barriers breach?
Each other support, the little ones teach.
Oh honour the other, hatred withstand!
Great thus, great thus is our land.