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

lingua fennica

"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…

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