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.
Rickard, J (27 January 2014), Russian artillery retreating, Vistula Front, 1915 , http://www.historyofwar.org/Pictures/pictures_russian_artillery_retreats_1915.html
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…
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