Friday, 17 February 2012

A Rare Privilege

  Just back from a restorative half-term break in Finland visiting friends, where the intense weather made England’s recent cold snap seem negligible. Despite the chilliness, to be surrounded by depths of powdery new-settled snow blanketing the whole countryside made for some starkly beautiful landscapes, the ideal window-view for the writer who wants to clear his/her mind of urban clutter and try to return to what Stevens calls ‘a mind of Winter’ – ‘nothing himself, beholds/Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is’. It also made me think of the somehow amusing image of monks on a pilgrimage plunged over their heads beneath snow-drifts in the Prynne poem ‘Frost and Snow Falling’ – ‘That /sounds to me a rare privilege, watching/ the descent down over the rim’.

   My friends took me to visit the house of Finland’s national poet JL Runeberg (1804-77), as far as I can gather a sort of Tennyson figure who wrote lots of long heroic epics and narratives about rural hardship. He’s certainly respected in his home-town of Porvoo, where the cafes even sell a rather tasty ‘Runeberg cake’ around the time of his anniversary.(For more information on Runeberg see the link to a very interesting post by Michael Peverett in Comments)

  I've also been trying to engage with more contemporary Finnish poetry through the fascinating anthology How to Address the Fog: XXV Finnish Poems 1978-2002 (Scottish Poetry Library/Carcanet). In most of these poems the unique quality of the Finnish language - with its bristling dots, long compound words and apparently (due to its structure of inflections) a kind of modular connectivity that lends itself to neologism and wordplay - is married to a dark, off-kilter pensiveness that is certainly more akin to Transtromer's work in Swedish or to East European poets like Holub or Popa than to anyone writing in English. No doubt you need a philosophical outlook to get you through such harsh winters: as Sikka Turkka puts it, "I also want to add that snow is a great delight, though I do not understand why so much of it is needed".


  1. That's J. L. Runeberg. I wrote a bit more about his poetry here: http://michaelpeverett.com/selhist2.htm#JRuneberg1848

    I love that Sikka Turkka line.

    1. Thanks Michael, I couldn't find out that much about Runeberg. Your posting is very informative and resonant; would you mind if I put the link into my piece?
      I'm delighted that you've looked at Ictus. I have always admired your blogging and if you look back to my very first post you will see I cite you as a luminary and model of atypical practice.