“Our Land” (“Vårt land”, the Finnish national anthem) by J.L. Runeberg – my translation from the Swedish

Vårt land

From a school edition of “Fänrik Ståls sägner”, Helsinki, 1951.

This is my first poetic translation from Swedish. J.L. Runeberg (1804-77) is the Finnish national poet, not least thanks to his epic Tales of Ensign Stål (Fänrik Ståls sägner), a verse account of the Finnish War between Russia and Sweden (1808-09), which led to Finland becoming an autonomous part of the Russian Empire. The verses that would become the national anthem, Vårt land, open the book. Runeberg published his Tales in the year of European revolution of 1848, and they would come to play a part in forming the new Finnish identity.

By translating this ‘sacred’ text I am opening myself up to several charges. My Swedish is far from fluent, this is the national song of a country whose citizen I am not, and I am translating the Swedish, not the Finnish. To all who come with such criticisms, I politely say ‘sod off’. No text is sacred, or at least, too sacred for any mortal to attempt to translate. Whatever my skills in the source language, what matters most is the end product. I am not a Finn, but I do understand the verses’ themes of cultural renaissance and small-nation nationalism. The Swedish is the original text, with consensus on a Finnish translation only being reached in the 1880s.

Vårt land was relatively easy to translate. The similarities between Swedish and English helped (land/strand/hand), but I felt I could not rely on them entirely. By verse 10, I was determined not to have yet another strand/land rhyme, so I re-arranged things a little. The text gets a little repetitive, but in this I felt I must be true to the original. Indeed, anyone would be hard-pressed to find any national anthem completely free of all tedium and repetition.

Readers may be surprised by the near-absence of the words “Finland” and “Finnish”. The original only mentions “the Finnish people” in the fourth verse, while the first verse refers to “our home in the north” (this I found, unfortunately, impossible to retain in translation). The official Finnish-language translation by Paavo Cajander has “Suomi” (“Finland”) in the first line. I am not going to speculate on Runeberg’s original intentions; I have merely refrained from adding or subtracting needlessly, where rhyme and metre permitted.

The metre is iambic tetrameter, except for lines two and six in each verse, which are in iambic trimeter. The rhyme is abaabb, which is pleasant enough to translate.

Below my translation and the original is a video of the melody of the national anthem (music by Fredrik Pacius).

Our land, our land, our native land!
Sing out, oh precious word!
No hill that touches heaven’s band,
No sinking dale, no sea-washed strand,
Can more to us than this be worth,
Our fathers’ very earth!

Our land is poor, and so shall be,
For those who seek but gold.
A stranger here will nothing see
But this our land do treasure we;
Its islands, moors and fells untold
To us are dear as gold.

We love our roaring rapids’ run
And bubbling of our springs.
Our trees that murmur all as one,
Our starry nights, our summer sun,
All, all that here is seen and sings,
For this our heartbeat rings.

Our fathers here have struggle seen
In thought and sword and plough.
When skies have cloudy, sunny been
In times of fat and times of lean;
The Finnish people’s heart beats now
These struggles to avow.

Can all the struggles e’er be sang,
And numbered as they should?
When war from vale to valley rang,
When winter came with hunger’s pang,
When blood was shed, for ill and good:
With patience all withstood.

And they were here, whose blood did flow,
Yes, here for us they were.
The ones who pleasures here did know,
The ones who fell to savage blow,
The people who our burdens bore
In bygone days of lore.

And sweet and well are we begot
With all we have from birth.
Here Fate did cast for us our lot
A land, a native land we got;
What in the world can more be worth
Than our own native earth?

Yes here, yes here, here is this land
Our eyes do see it here!
We only need extend our hand
And gladly look on lake and strand
And say: oh see this country dear,
Our native land is here!

And if we could in splendour live
Beneath the gold-blue hues
Where life would starry dances give
And pain and suff’ring all relieve
We would the same our poor land choose:
Our home we’d not refuse.

Oh land, you land of thousand lakes
Of safety and of song.
Where life a sturdy harbour makes
Where lives the past, where new dawn breaks;
Though richest not among the throng,
Be joyous, free and strong!

Your bloom, though sleeps in slumber tight,
Shall blossom before long.
Our love shall raise up with delight
Your sound, your hope, your joy, your light
And we shall sing in voices strong
Our native country’s song.

***

Vårt land, vårt land, vårt fosterland,
Ljud högt, o dyra ord!
Ej lyfts en höjd mot himlens rand,
Ej sänks en dal, ej sköljs en strand,
Mer älskad än vår bygd i nord,
Än våra fäders jord.

Vårt land är fattigt, skall så bli
För den, som guld begär,
En främling far oss stolt förbi;
Men detta landet älska vi,
För oss med moar, fjäll och skär
Ett guldland dock det är.

Vi älska våra strömmars brus
Och våra bäckars språng,
Den mörka skogens dystra sus,
Vår stjärnenatt, vårt sommarljus,
Allt, allt, vad här som syn, som sång
Vårt hjärta rört en gång.

Här striddes våra fäders strid
Med tanke, svärd och plog,
Här, här, i klar som mulen tid,
Med lycka hård, med lycka blid,
Det finska folkets hjärta slog,
Här bars, vad det fördrog.

Vem täljde väl de striders tal,
Som detta folk bestod,
Då kriget röt från dal till dal,
Då frosten kom med hungerns kval,
Vem mätte allt dess spillda blod
Och allt dess tålamod?

Och det var här, det blodet flöt,
Ja, här för oss det var,
Och det var här, sin fröjd det njöt,
Och det var här, sin suck det göt,
Det folk, som våra bördor bar
Långt före våra dar.

Här är oss ljuvt, här är oss gott,
Här är oss allt beskärt;
Hur ödet kastar än vår lott,
Ett land, ett fosterland vi fått,
Vad finns på jorden mera värt
Att hållas dyrt och kärt?

Och här och här är detta land,
vårt öga ser det här;
Vi kunna sträcka ut vår hand
Och visa glatt på sjö och strand
Och säga: se det landet där,
Vårt fosterland det är!

Och fördes vi att bo i glans
Bland guldmoln i det blå,
Och blev vårt liv en stjärnedans,
Där tår ej göts, där suck ej fanns,
Till detta arma land ändå
Vår längtan skulle stå.

O land, du tusen sjöars land,
Där sång och trohet byggt,
Där livets hav oss gett en strand,
Vår forntids land, vår framtids land,
Var för din fattigdom ej skyggt,
Var fritt, var glatt, var tryggt!

Din blomning, sluten än i knopp,
Skall mogna ur sitt tvång;
Se, ur vår kärlek skall gå opp
Ditt ljus, din glans, din fröjd, ditt hopp,
Och högre klinga skall en gång
Vår fosterländska sång.

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