“O Lake Saimaa, you beautiful maiden” (“О красавица Сайма”), Osip Mandelstam

"Hietasaari, Lake Saimaa" by Timo Saarinen - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hietasaari,_Lake_Saimaa.JPG#/media/File:Hietasaari,_Lake_Saimaa.JPG
“Hietasaari, Lake Saimaa” by Timo Saarinen – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hietasaari,_Lake_Saimaa.JPG#/media/File:Hietasaari,_Lake_Saimaa.JPG

The young Mandelstam, who was baptised a Lutheran, spent some time in Finland. Here’s an early poem (written in 1908), inspired by Lake Saimaa, Finland’s largest lake. It has been translated into Finnish by Marja-Leena Mikkola (see here).

O Lake Saimaa, you beautiful maiden, my boat you were swaying,
Swayed the lively and spirited skiff that like arrow was sharpened,
Heard a lullaby’s bliss did my soul in the watery spraying,
Saw away in the distance, like sisters, deserted escarpments.
Kalevala’s primordial refrains they were everywhere playing:
Hewn in iron and in boulder, a song of titanium’s lustre.
And a sandbank, as if it were cut by an evening shaft straying,
On a water mill’s purple gleamed bride with a virginal bluster.
Silent arrows were falling as if from a drunken sun’s spinning
To the depths they descended, and silent, the depths they ignited,
As an overripe apple, from tree of the garden’s beginning,
And too dazzling the sun was as stars in the heavens were lighted.
Having landed my boat on the silver lush beach I was walking;
Quite how long and to whom I was praying I cannot remember…
Boundless Saimaa with torrents of lava appeared to be stalking,
Vapour settled and billowed white silent on surface’s ember.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

О красавица Сайма, ты лодку мою колыхала,
Колыхала мой челн, челн подвижный, игривый и острый,
В водном плеске душа колыбельную негу слыхала,
И поодаль стояли пустынные скалы, как сестры.
Отовсюду звучала старинная песнь — Калевала:
Песнь железа и камня о скорбном порыве титана.
И песчаная отмель — добыча вечернего вала,
Как невеста, белела на пурпуре водного стана.
Как от пьяного солнца бесшумные падали стрелы
И на дно опускались и тихое дно зажигали,
Как с небесного древа клонилось, как плод перезрелый,
Слишком яркое солнце, и первые звезды мигали;
Я причалил и вышел на берег седой и кудрявый;
Я не знаю, как долго, не знаю, кому я молился…
Неоглядная Сайма струилась потоками лавы,
Белый пар над водой тихонько вставал и клубился.

Translated by Rupert Moreton

2 thoughts on ““O Lake Saimaa, you beautiful maiden” (“О красавица Сайма”), Osip Mandelstam

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