Europe 1915 (Europa 1915), Eino Leino

Rickard, J (27 January 2014), Russian artillery retreating, Vistula Front, 1915 ,

Written after the victory of the Tsar’s army on the Vistula, this poem is an expression both of Leino’s abhorrence of war and his despair that the powerful nations of the world so often use weaker ones as the arena of their conflicts – themes that continue to resonate a hundred years later, and two centuries after Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.

As ever, transposing Leino’s fluid metre into English is challenging, and I tweaked it a little in one or two places. An added complication in this case is that there is a limit to what one can do with “Napoleon” or “Kitchener” or “Waterloo” – though the observant will note that Leino was happy to alter the British general’s name for the sake of his metre…

’Twas Napoleon a century ago,
and Metternich’s Grand Alliance,
and Wellington, hero of Waterloo,
and Moscow’s blood-stained defiance –
they perished before in the muddy gore,
they haunt us these ages’ vibrations,
as memories of grief and of freedom’s war,
as guardians of peace of the nations.

They crumpled, those bravest of warrior men,
the soldiers of old were defeated,
but burdensome heavens above them then
lifted – Europe’s peace was completed.
Though Bonaparte’s men sank in icy drifts
and “Vive l’Empereur!” they shouted,
the people kept faith with freedom’s gifts –
gifts by century’s onslaught not routed.

Again the murderous cannons they bawl –
lands are pillaged, the peoples they scatter,
and Joffre, Zhilinsky and Kitchener – all
famous names, historical chatter –
and millions are suffering, facing death:
at issue, the freedom of nations.
What will happen to us? For the prophets’ breath
is stifled by ages’ predations.

Silent Europe it waits as macabre dance
allows cudgel alone a pulpit,
the flow to Vistula ran from France –
a century’s refrain the culprit,
the armies they cause the lands to quake,
war it afflicts above sea and under,
and steeple-high they new battles make,
and heavens succumb to sunder.

But freedom of nations cannot be quenched!
Whether outcome is triumph or sorrow,
from the vault of heaven the ages entrenched
echo blame that will linger tomorrow:
Flanders serves as Germany’s battleground,
Serbia fell to Austrian power –
it’s shameful how mighty the weaker they pound,
but fall in the end will their tower.


Sata vuotta sitten: Napoleon
ja Metternich, Pyhä liitto,
ei unhotu Waterloo, Wellington,
ei Moskovan surmaniitto,
ne painuivat maahan ja hurmeeseen,
ne nousevat aikojen takaa
kuin muistelot murheiden, vapauden,
kuin kansojen vartio vakaa.

Ne sortui ne soturit urheat,
se kaatui se vanha kaarti,
mut raukesi pilvetkin raskahat,
jotka Europan taivaan saarti,
jos hukkuikin hankihin Grande armée,
jos Vive l’Empereur ei soinut,
jäi kansoille usko vapauteen,
jota murtaa ei vuossata voinut.

Taas surmaa pauhaavat tykkien suut,
rajat maiden ja kansojen siirtyy,
nyt Kitchner, Shilinski, Joffre ja muut
nimet Klion kirjahan piirtyy,
taas kärsivät, kuolevat miljoonat,
taas vaarass’ on kansojen vapaus.
Mitä eessä on? Vaiensi profeetat
tää aikojen ankarin tapaus.

Koko Europa vaieten vartoo niin,
vain miekoilla on puhevuoro,
soi Ranskan virroilta Weikseliin
nyt vuossadan jättikuoro,
maat järkkyvät alla armeijain,
sota soi meren yllä ja alla,
ja päällä kirkkojen korkeain
käy taistelo taivahalla.

Mut kansain on vapaus loukkaamaton!
Miten vaihtuukin tappio, voitto,
ijät kaiket taivahan kaarista on
tuo kaikuva syyttävä soitto:
Itävalta hyökkäsi Serbiaan,
meni Saksa Belgian sotaan,
on häpeä iskeä heikompaan,
ken kaatuukin miekan otaan.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

One thought on “Europe 1915 (Europa 1915), Eino Leino

  1. Reblogged this on Maceochi's Language Learning and commented:
    Leino’s biting, grandiose and sensitive lines cry out on behalf of small nations and the ideal of Europe. His poem was a centennial commemoration, so it is very fitting that Rupert Moreton has chosen to translate it this year, 100 years after its composition.


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