I do read poems from time to time, but I rarely read poetry-books. I don’t find it that enjoyable to sit down and read a collection of poetry in one go. This was different. The book I read is a Norwegian translated collection of some of her poems, so it’s not one of her poetry books just translated into Norwegian. On the other hand the translator wrote that the book I read was an eclectic collection of her work and that it tried to represent the diversity in her poetry writing.
Under was an Estonian poetry writer born in Tallinn, Estonia in 1883. Estonia was at that time a part of the Russian Empire, before getting their independence in February 1918, just to be occupied by the Germans the day after. They fought against them and received their independence in 1920. Then after the second world war they were occupied by the Soviet
Union, before they got their independence in 1991. Under had fled after the second world war to Sweden and died there in 1980. Both in the time after 1920 and during her time in exile Under is referred to as one of the Queens of Estonia and helped create the Estonian language as it exists today. I’m mentioning this because this explain what you get and what you lose by reading her translated works.
Poetry, more than any genre, plays with language. This is lost when it’s translated into a different language (especially one translated into Norwegian from a Swedish translation of the original Estonian). Knowing this the translator choose to focus on the mood and the pictures she creates in her language. This was also what caught my attention when reading.
“Phosphorus golden bone marrow has fertilised the earth
where children again run around in the grass.
An abundance of small flowers in the sea of blood
picked by innocent hands.”
(MURELIKU SUUGA, my English translation of the Norwegian translation of the Swedish translation of the original Estonian).
Under had lived through war, like a lot of other poets. What drew me to her was that she writes about something that I haven’t heard much about, the aftermath. About what happens to a people, a country, a person not just during the war, but after. How do people pick themselves up and move on. While she is quite frank in her description, as I’ve found a lot of Easter-European authors are, there is a hope in the frankness. Not directly the ‘Keep calm and carry on’ of the Brits, but something a bit akin to it. It speaks to her writing that so much has survived the flow of translation, but regarding the languages, but also the cultural and historical distance.
Under is one of these poets I think are important to read. Especially now with so many conflicts around the world. We need her poetry to remind us that just because the bombs stop, doesn’t mean the work is over.