Maidens Bathing in the Sea

A translation of Merenkylpijä-neidot What is that swish of geese at the bend of the White Sea river? Three maidens of Hiisi left their feathers on a rock and went bathing in the sea; they arrive at sunset, disappear at dawn. Lippo the fowler, watching from behind a coloured rock, saw the fairest of all wings. Already dawn was painting the clouds red. The maidens rose from the sea, two of them found their wings; the third sought hers, to no avail. She began crying. Lippo the unctuous suitor spoke: “You can have your feathers back if you kiss me.” The lovely maiden of frost said: “The moment I kiss you is the moment your eyes go dark.” The ruddy fellow jeered: “Let my eyes go dark when you call me your darling.” Already dawn was painting the mountains red. “The moment I call you my darling is the moment you have a change of heart.” “Let me have a change of heart when you hold me as your little bird.” “The moment I hold you as my little bird is


A translation of Kouta Kouta of Lapland, a grim man, was the greatest among sages behind the fell of Turja. Vipers shone green in his eyes, night-bats flew from his mouth, wolverines rose from under his foot, stoats ran on his arm, a raven balanced itself on his head, vultures sat on his shoulders. All that mortals knew, he knew, all that gods could do, he could; he could not bind blue fire, open the treasure tombs. He set out to learn the deepest power of Mantu. He travelled pathless ways, unmeasured distances, crossing lakes as ice, waves as frost, fells as a roar of thunder; children wailed in Lapland, dogs whined, a cold wind came in through doors, embers darkened in goahtis. A Maahinen slept in his hut; hearing Kouta approach, he yawned, gaped, spread his jaws: great pines fell whole into the bottomless pit; not Kouta, the grim man. The Earthsleeper rose from the ground: “Who is this traveller, what mighty thing roams here, that will not fall into my mouth?” Said Kouta, the grim

Oterma and Katerma

A translation of Oterma ja Katerma There once was a man, Oterma, he had a brother, Katerma, both had young wives. Early one morning they were driving through a dim forest; a devil-bird sang in a tree: “Oterma has a limp while Katerma is handsome, a bird of hell enjoys eating the bloody liver of a brother.” The elder brother swore: “Got something to say, bird of hell?” The younger brother spoke thus: “Just some birdsong to entertain us on our journey.” The brothers were returning home as a winter day darkened; evil spoke from a tall pine: “Oterma’s joy is full-figured while Katerma’s woman is skinny, a bird of hell enjoys eating the nipples of a young woman.” Katerma took a stick and threw it at the winged creature. “What are you saying, abomination?” The elder brother grunted: “Singing some sense into a man’s head.” Some time passed, snow was gleaming, hazel grouses were burring, blackcocks were cooing; fair Katerma spoke: “You approach the game from that direction, I’ll go this way.

Girl of Tyyri

A translation of Tyyrin tytti The empty girl of Tyyri, a cowherd of little worth at the rectory, went to mass in the summer and servant girls mocked her: “There comes Miss Nothing without proper church clothes.” She came home crying. – She spent her nights alone, weaving, sowing in the cow-house, and with each stab of the needle a prick dissolved from her heart; having completed the skirt, she entered the house of the Lord. The people in the village were asking: “Who is this Cinderella arriving without godly pearls?” She came home crying. – She spent her summer gathering pearls at cattle fords, and with each fine pearl a tear dried up on her cheek; she stringed the pearls on a cord and went to the house of the Lord. Suitors were standing by the roadside, each holding a flower for his sweetheart; a young lady who took a flower was a kind companion for the church road, one who held a flower and studied it was a fair partner for the dance, one who hid a flower at her bosom was to be a

Wretched Räikkö

A translation of Räikkö räähkä Wretched Räikkö, an unkempt man, showed the enemy the way between two cliffs on a quiet autumn night; he did so fearing for his life. They burned the village to ashes, slew people in abundance. One house remained standing: it was the house of wretched Räikkö. The evening of the second day came. – The refugees, one here, another there, glancing around, cowering, wary of trees and bushes, returned to the bloody corpses, to beloved ruins. Räikkö at his door watched and listened. “What do you seek, old lady?” “I sought my golden home, found smoking ashes.” Räikkö at his door looked pale and sickly. “What are you looking at, dear friend?” “I’m looking at a bloody knife, maybe my brother’s, maybe my brother-in-law’s.” Räikkö’s son on the steps cried profusely. “Why are you crying, poor boy?” “I cry for the jolly stallion; I found the bell by the roadside.” Räikkö hid in his house, barred the doors, closed the bolts, sat on the bench by the oven. “What are y


A translation of Ylermi Ylermi the proud master rode in through the temple door, spoke in the nave of the church: “Here is a man who has no regrets and does not reach for heaven.” A statue on the wall spoke, quoth a Virgin, made of wood: “You will have regrets once your house is in ashes.” Ylermi the proud master struck his shield, rode away; he saw his house in ashes, spoke among the charred beams: “A new house shall be made, better than the first.” Ylermi the proud master rode to the centre isle, swore at the crossing: “Here is a man who is not on his knees in ash, who becomes greater from his grief.” A statue on the wall spoke, a stony Jesus received words: “You will be on your knees in ash once your wife has died.” Ylermi the proud master broke a whip of walrus bone, rode away; he saw his wife had died, spoke by her side: “A new wife shall be brought here, better than the first.” Ylermi the proud master rode a stallion to the altar, blasp

Blue Cross

A translation of Sininen risti Katrinainen the fair maiden spent her summers as a cowherd, saw strange visions; she gazed into the blue sky, listened as the trees spoke. And so one day clouds took the shape of towers, misty temples arose, golden churches were dimly seen in a summer sunset, in fleeting puffs of cloud. She told others of her visions. They listened and wondered, told her to go to confession, to make the sign of the cross; a girl’s dream, they thought. The young lady hid her visions. – Then one day fir trees spoke on a hill: “Holy smoke does not thicken in the heartlands of Karelia, church bells do not tinkle, no blessed water is sprinkled; the fires of war are seen, red blood gushes, the battle axe makes music at rushing streams, in unbaptised lands.” The young lady hid these words. – She prayed, went to confession, bowed in the morning and in the evening at the base of God’s image; the burning in her chest did not pass. And so one