Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Girl And The Dancing Bear. Or Echidne's Poetry Translation Hour

I haven't done these poetry hours for several years.  The song below is based on a 1976 poem by a Finnish poet Marja-Leena Mikkola.  The poem (which I only learned about yesterday) is so popular in Finland that it lent its name to a Finnish annual poetry award (Tanssiva Karhu).

The poet has stated that she'd prefer to leave the interpretation of the poem to the reader, but that it can certainly be seen in several ways: as a description of real love* and as an ode to the importance of art in dark and dismal times.

I have provided a rough** translation of the poem below but without any attempt at trying to make it rhyme.

When the girl stepped in the wide halls
of her father's house 
she did not know
what was heavy
and what was light.

Then she was taken to the fair
- without care she was, 
without a hat she was -
and there she saw a dancing bear
among the grimacing clowns

And all she had to do then
to know
what was heavy
and what was light,
was to look into the eyes of
the leaping bear.

She forgot her father and mother
she forgot her childhood
and she hid herself among
the traveling clowns.

From then on she walked
with the bear,
From then on she slept
by the bear,
she shared with the bear her bread,
the cold, the hunger and work.

And the bear, the bear danced
when the girl beat on a drum,
and just like the sun eats of the moon
she ate of the bear's heart.

The road ran on, the years passed,
and still the clowns  they were clowning,
and in the midst of the fire and smoke
cheerful music rang.

But the bear at last grew weak,
and it fell on its side,
and it never rose again 
but slowly spoke:

"O, a light we have carried
into these years
of iron and of wrath,
we bore the light to a dark era
while taken for clowns.

The one who walks
the circus road
so long and broad,
that one knows 
what is heavy
and what is light.

The one who rules my heart
must cut it in two with a knife,
for my only crime has been
my bottomless love for her."

Now the mandolins cracked
now the clowns grew quiet
The girl took a knife in her hand
and the spectators paled.

When red drops ran
from the lips of the bear,
it looked at the girl and
said these final words:

"My love for you was like
a trip which has arrived.
Now the drum of my heart is quiet.
O, take it into your hands." 

This tale is old,
and already covered by
the most voiceless dust.
The girl herself doesn't remember
and even she has been forgotten.

* Which I needed as an antidote after having read one economist's proposal about how to reduce the "sex inequality" problem in the United States which,  in his view quite understandably, results in threats of violence. The solution (which I will address later) would probably require some kind of force to be applied to women reluctant to part with all that sex they are hoarding or spending on Trump and other top alpha males only.

**  It's pretty bad.  I changed the word "market" to "circus" in one place because the connotations are different in English.  But I couldn't find a good translation for "ilveilijät".  It's roughly the same as clowns but more sinister, about making scary faces and so on.