L. Onerva

Onerva Lehtinen, known by her penname as L. Onerva (1882-1972), was the first notable female poet of Finland. Her literary production was vast, in addition to poetry (26 published collections), she wrote essays, drama, and translated works of French classic authors.
L. Onerva’s life took sensational, intriguing and often sad turns. After her first marriage had failed, she spent half a year in Rome together with Eino Leino, a celebrated Finnish poet. Some of the poems in L. Onerva’s collection “Sekasointuja”  (Mixed Chords) from 1904 ” and the 1908 novel “Mirdja”, as well as her lifestyle were considered ‘scandalous’ for a woman by the social standards of the time.
The happiest time of L. Onerva’s professional life was a two year period when she worked together with Leino in the production of a literary journal. She and Leino never married but they remained a source of affection, inspiration and spiritual support to each other until Leino’s death. Their spiritual closeness as poets is expressed by the following two lines from L. Onerva’s poem “Kaksi Runoilijaa” (Two Poets): “Together our songs ring high in the sky, / they together live and together die.” After Leino’s death in 1926, she completed a two-volume monograph about her idol and their relationship, “Eino Leino : Runoilija ja Ihminen I-II (Eino Leino: the Poet and the Man) (1932) which has been a valuable resource for the scholars of Leino.
L. Onerva’s second marriage, to a famed composer Leevi Madetoja, turned out unhappy and turbulent. Both partners ultimately became alcoholics; Madetoja signed into a rehabilitation center but L. Onerva, as a woman, was committed against her will to a mental institution and kept there for five years. Although apparently cured, she was not released by her doctors until her husband’s death in 1947, according to her doctors so that she would not disturb his work as a composer.
L. Onerva’s productivity was phenomenal during her confinement to the mental hospital. Her literary remains, donated to the Finnish Literary Society, were opened 30 years after her death. They contained 117 boxes of poems and 81 boxes of aquarelles and tens of thousands self portraits. According to an estimate by Hannu Mãkelã, a scholar of L. Onerva, she wrote over 100,000 poems. Understandably, not all poems from the hospital period are carefully edited, refined products. Mãkelã recently selected two representative collections of L. Onerva’s previously unpublished poems, “Siivet” (The Wings,2004), and Pilvet ja Aurinko” (The Clouds and the Sun, 2005).
The ‘rediscovery’ of L. Onerva after her death is a welcome phenomenon. In a way, in her early period as a poet she lived in the shadow of Eino Leino. Most of her life, she was notably ignored by the literary elite and -mostly male- literary critics, some of whom maintained, perhaps rightly so, that L. Onerva’s poems are of mixed quality, that there is redundancy in her later production, with little effort to search for new direction. The poems selected here come from L. Onerva’s early production period, all from the 1916 collection “Liesilauluja” (Songs by the Hearth) except the poems “Swinging an Echo” and “In the Tropics” (on top of this block) which are from the 1904 collection “Sekasointuja” (Mixed Chords).


A Memory Kindles

Reminiscent thoughts once more
kindle like then, giving light,
flutters tiny flame before
fading into night.
Everything has burned,
night is dark, embers churned.

A memory kindles and winkles
in the dim fog of the brain cell,
like a remote star it twinkles
in the night of abandoned well,
falsehood into dungeon’s shadows,
folly merriment to gallows.

By the Hearth

I occupy a desolate palace
with the image of my love affair,
slowly stirring empty hearth
of love castle in the air.

Here in imaginary castle,
here at home of high hopes we wait,
here forever side by side we sit
and eternal glory radiate.

Cold Spell in the Spring

Ah, that phony dream of early days of spring!
I can’t free my heart from its lovely ring,
though yesterday in its frozen disguise
still plays its tune in snowy veil and ice.

The sprig that in the bosom of past days died,
gnawing, taunting to the soul it cried:
here the harvest of the life of poor sower,
his only hope, was robbed by late winter!

Come Night!

Come night, come night!
you sweet and gentle night,
all healing herbs you know,
you take the soul below
from burning sun to cool emptiness!
Come deep into my heart’s happiness
the great tranquility,
your happiness will pacify,
blame and guilt of life purify,
new sun of life will clarify
in your arms’ serenity.

Come night, come night,
like the sorrow after suffering,
of godly gifts most beloved!
O, how the gods were caring,
loved this tribe so much
that its eternity-cries were allowed
on the journey of human being!

Come sorrow, the greatest and tender,
you, who cherish everything made,
life’s most brittle, drowning morsel,
you, the height and depth of the fate,
the maiden of night, peace on your face
your goodness is infinite, great.

Come night, come night!
Mind beaten you will not beat.
Death, the twin sister of sleep,
will us to cool waters lead
and open the skies the spirit is yearning,
bring ointment to wounds burning.
Ah, you know that unless we meet
I will not find the peace,
let me kiss your veil, please!
Come night, come night,
mind beaten you will not beat.

Crack Willow

Fragile, silvery, smooth,
sighing tree of my dream,
like the dream of my youth,
leans over frozen stream.

Ocean calls, the wave commands,
the flow in sound is pulling,
the sallow open shore demands,
graying from its longing.

Water-mirror’s mildew pillow,
pallid, cold moon looms.
In winter night a crack willow
its tall shadow grooms.

The Door to Happiness

A warm loving human heart
was beating once for me, I know ,
the door to happiness was open,
inviting to feel its glow.

I fool, I shut that door,
to my happy days it was the end.
I lost my love, my only friend,
my heart broke, will never mend.

The Dreamer

–Cold spell froze the tender dreaming-flower.
Awake, awake, take up your plough, you dreamer!

— O no, I do not want to melt and mend
until into my dearest I will blend.


The sunset tender waters cheers,
in its glow the shoreline swims in tears.
Ceased the whir of sickle, scythe,
the porch in village wrapped by night.

All is quiet, placid waters wait.
A lone dog parks at stars at gate.
A young girl under the window
shyly tiptoes to the meadow.

Fading Away like The Autumn Twilight

Like the twilight in the autumn, life’s spindle fades away
into the bosom of the earth and eternal evening,
like a drop, a leaf, a star and other pearls of moment
to the peace of Nirvana all of them are falling.

Ah, blissful is to drop the burdens of knowledge,
to sink, to blend into a greater soul,
to row to eternity on the wings of darkness,
to reach fulfillment, your dream, your goal.

Falling to Shadow

As you see, as you see, my forehead is wet,
from the sweat of death and fright,
you already managed too close to get,
let me go alone into the night.

Please let me just like a shadow pass
to wilderness quietly sighing,
drop on the hummock and wake up as grass
in a holy day morning.


Glittering bright, streaming in swirls
flow night-deep fountains of tears,
rolling in streams as golden pearls,
ancient remains of my happy years.

As golden pearls, stars and the moon
on the surface floating, memories gleam,
all arising as a picturesque tune
of a long-since forgotten dream.

Like a wreath they are circling tight
around the sunny ghost of my longing:
in the eve of my life they are now as bright
as they were at early dawn of my morning.

Grey Days

Night sky clears up, clouds over again,
sunrises, darkening evening skies,
smiles of human beings, cries,
hot changes to cool, in vain.

I once smiled, I cried, was I weak,
to want too much, to fight?
Ceased the joy, the sorrow, the night,
no more tears roll down the cheek.

Neither sad nor happy

Ah, the still-life of snowy scenery,
leave my soul, I rather find my ways
to all those olden stormy days,
to old tears, old songs, old misery!

The Heart!

The heart, now grow, be greater,
have faith in you creator!
Give up you raving insanity,
ideas of your little happiness,
or face your fatal destiny!

Or disillusions profound
will tie you down in sludge,
your strength will be bound
by the ivy of dark sorrow,
the sum of your feelings is zero.

Why was your flame extinguished
although it was destined
to embrace infinity?
It was destined to flame eternally
because the humanity
will strike down all evil
created by the devil.

In the Evening Dusk

The glow of the hearth illuminates
dark nooks of my dwelling.
My sad mind it fascinates
by its light, dim and wavering….

The winter scene behind the window,
the dusk falling tenderly….
On window pane snow flowers grow,
Saga’s fairy waves its veil tenderly….

Jingle Bells in Winter

Pulled by the stallions of timer unseen
we sit in the slay, night above, ahead a ravine….
We poor wanderers, where will it end?
Will tomorrow to us sunshine send
or bury us in that gorge serene!

The vistas fly, they slide like sleigh’s runners….
at the roadside the fur its memories whispers:
it has seen a lot but never such excess
of enormous wrongdoing, distress.
Furs shake quietly their snowy miters.

Jingle bells of New Year are ringing….
New Year, a new destruction bringing
or, ah, will finally blissful days arrive
healing all past traumas of life,
a new earth and heaven creating?

On the road of Hades the stallions are speeding,
it’s too late to restrain their furious leaping!
What we sow, we always reap.
Enough, enough for ransom, our guilt is deep,
have mercy on us, divine Providence forgiving!

Jingle bells sound loud through the winter evening….
When will their sound be gentler, soothing?
When will the brightest of stars arm in arm
bring new beauty to world with their fiery charm?
Then all mortals look up to the stars, hoping!

To you the books of the fate will open with glow
like human spirit’s glowing coal.
With affection poems of hope embroider!
If you love, a loving star you encounter,
if you hate, a butcher’s hatchet will show!

The Lonely

Like ghosts in this life we hurry,
sentenced to a lonely road.
On our shoulders load for two we carry
you bear my pain, your pain – my load.

No friendship can ever be as tight
and the night of our hearts bring us relief,
but not even our happy night
can sooth the burden of our grief.


The mayflies hover in the evening glow
over the clear and tranquil lake,
like a shimmering emerald show,
from a blade of grass to another blade.

From the crystal rays of the sunset created,
the golden mayfly now will end your flight.
The swinging lily in its bosom granted
to you a grave and an eternal night.

The sunset shudders at the dying scene,
it moans and quivers like in deepest grief.
I too cry the death of the mayfly queen
that with sunset’s glow fades away like a fallen leaf.

On a Bark Boat

I’m abandoned, alone in the dreary night,
the night of the earth, I’m scared of it’s might.

I may be a bark chip that floats on the sea,
ocean rolling like a mountain around me!

I may be a reed breaking when winter storms howl,
a child on a bark boat gone astray in the squall.

No hand of a friend, no star, no beach!
The depths of the sea my journey will reach.


Ah the load of parting!
Everyday I feel its weight grow.
I cry for you, orphan, like a child
cries after her father in window.

I walk in tears
along life’s dim, cloudy alley.
I miss your tender, firm handshake,
the secure shelter by you in the valley.

And I cry for your eyes
and for your voice so tender.
Ah the load of parting,
an orphan’s surrender.

Pearls of the Sea

Kannel, echo pearls of the sea,
ring the tender leafy flora!
Earth and sky in abundance
merriment of mental aura.

Moonshine waistbands weaves,
flinging shining frost in air.
Along edge of icy waters
flock of swans glide with flair.

Waking up flaming bewitched
frozen memories from distance glimmer,
through the looking glass of death
parks on coral islands shimmer.

Mussel shells on  coral reefs
from the heart of gloomy waters
shimmer like the honeybees
searching nectar from the flowers.

Is it heaven that is chiming?
Something odd in air is ringing.
Or is it a whitewing seagull crying
over ocean island sleeping?


Chilly, glittering-white snowflake arrays
construct snow trails,
neat and angular, winding like a maze,
fabricate tales
in ice-cold embrace,
on deserted swan lake’s surface,
on oak twig lace,
on shoulders of silent garden of illusion.
On my soul with grace
white fluffy images weaving,
sensitive images of dream and delusion….
In winter squalid
tears of summer fairytales falling,
freezing solid . . . .


I recall past winter’s stars in the night,
and the sparkling eyes of my lover.
Gone are those eyes, their sparking delight
taken away, never to recover.

Green-blue waters rowing, rowing,
listening waves singing their story.
Futile now feels happiness, living,
futile feels earthly glory.

I’m poor but once I possessed
an estate, gold and luster.
My whole world has now regressed
to heaps of dirt and litter.

Rowing, rowing green-blue waters,
my craft is sinking, sinking.
Cool waves in murmuring whispers
quietly sing of their longing.

Secret Reason

The reason for my anguish I don’t dare to tell
anybody . . . .

I can’t wish for, I can’t plead for solace
because I can’t tell the reason for my anguish.

An orphan I remained,
forever without home, a friend . . . .

My fate is to fight alone the battles of this life
to the end.

The reason for my anguish I don’t dare to tell
anybody . . . .


Premature eventide,
shadows from a far-off site
follow me and they revive,
– those who were then alive.

In the darkest night they cry,
twist their babyhands and sigh:
the doom comes unwillingly,
without planning, knowingly.

You, child, you are the image of your father,
an orphan double of your mother,
a dying fire in the night,
a burned-out sacrificial site.

Spring Dream

Elegant twilight waves in the air,
trees with tender reddish flair
dress the dimming earth in gleam,
in the springtime’s purple dream.

In mild weather on sky dome
a lonely star rows all alone,
like on a bark or silver swan
in the summer night at dawn.

In the trees and on the ground,
April’s summer dreams abound.
The ice is fragile, chinks and rattles,
the sprig of the willow stirs and trembles.

The weight of dreams the branches feel,
expect happiness and kneel.
Clear sky holds the earth at night
like it’s dearest, embraced tight.

Summer Love

My girl, with golden hair,
my heart aches.
Why, you sunflower fair,
you smile them all, by heart brakes.

My girl, my girl with golden hair,
you smile them all!
Why, my sunflower fair,
My heart breaks, don’t you care?

–Perhaps I’m a droopy-head grassland flower
that bends down your path to smooth!
My madcap, jealous colt, hold your power,
you crush me under your hoof!

The Swells

The swells at the sea are rolling to reach
the shoreline’s serene sandy beach,
to fall there to sleep with a wary sigh
in the sweltering days of July.

Silently rolls the message of the billows
to the shelter of shoreline’s willows,
telling dimming tales of the blurring surf
in a patch of sunshine on glowing turf.

When the darkness comes and covers the waves
Vellamo’s fairies awake in their graves,
and wavy fingers start playing their tune
in the gleam of the pearls of the moon.

Then those mellow tunes in the nightly sky
rock the nocturnal sailor with lullaby.
And the sailor who once hears how Vellamo sings,
that melody forever in his soul rings.


In Finnish mythology, Vellamo is the goddess of the sea

Two Poets

And together our songs will ring in the sky,
they together live and together die.


The tulips are droopy,
teasingly laughing,
flaming to enjoyment,
brittle hearts longing
for delicate beauty
of scuttle and vase
on exhibit tables
of market place.

Daughters of sunshine
worship the flames,
in the land of the shadows
playing their games,
swinging, frolicking
in the midst of the fluff,
in electrifying shade
of the spiral of puff.


With heavy feet of the weary
I pace the streets of the city,
I want to forget this forlorn orphan,
it’s hard with my miserable self-pity.

I want to forget
this fuss, noise and craze,
I already see all this
like through a veil and haze.

The heart feels feeble. . . .
I harden to ice and rock;
the load of tormented heart I suffered,
until I broke down like a broken clock.

The heart feels feeble . . . .
Time to stop the beat.
Good night all people,
the child goes to sleep . . . .

Vanity of Vanities

Like the tracks of heavy wagon wheels
the tracks of life are molded.
On the roadside memories, hopes,
charred, like dead flowers folded.

Like ghost bells through the ice
the memories of the past resound.
Science and arts – ornaments, trinkets,
mere solar dust, abound!

Like the scar of a thousand footsteps
the tracks of life are deep.
The heroes of the morning sick and silent
overnight in dust and ashes sleep . . . .

White Moon Travels…

The white moon travels
over the glimmering roof,
around and around slowly,
the guardian of the night, holy
and of hearts suffering, aloof.

The white moon travels,
calm and caring fiery deity . . . .
From alley to alley,
from body to body
falls its blanket tenderly.

The white moon travels,
the blessing of death approaches.
Secret shroud of the starry night
brings a beatific delight,
drowsy eyelids tenderly closes.


Titles of the Poems

Down in the Tropics
Lulling an Echo
A Memory Kindles
By the Hearth
Cold Spell in the Spring
Come Night!
Crack Willow
The Door to Happiness
The Dreamer
Fading Away like The Autumn Twilight
Falling to Shadow
Grey Days
The Heart!
In the Evening Dusk
Jingle Bells in Winter
The Lonely
On a Bark Boat
Pearls of the Sea
Secret Reason
Spring Dream
Summer Love
The Swells
Two Poets
Vanity of Vanities
White Moon Travels…

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