Return to the Light: ‘Bright Dusky Bright’ by Eeva Liisa Manner

Translated by Emily Jeremiah – Waterloo Press 2009

Bright Dusky Bright

When reading the poems  of Eeva-Liisa Manner, and discovering  the landscapes that gave birth to them, I am reminded of these lines by the great Finnish/Swedish poet Edith Sodergran, lines in fact inscribed upon her gravestone, ‘See, here is  eternity’s shore, here the stream murmurs by, and death plays in the bushes his same monotonous melody’, for amid the surrounding cacophony of nothingness, the ice-empires  and snow-creatures that  dominate the psychological terrain of this poet’s imagination, we sense the always pervading presence of conscience and creation combined, in  poems that  seem to de-personalize and tether the ‘I’ of the poet  to a frozen post  in the  mind of the reader  for the poem’s duration. We  are, like her, forced to watch as:

‘Snow moves like a low animal,

Nests in corners.

Scarce panes and eyes freeze.

If a bird strays in, it drops.

This freezing hand fails to warm it.’


Eeva – Liisa Manner was born in Helsinki  5 Dec 1921. She began her ‘career’ as a poet in 1944 with ‘Black and Red’, but it was in her breakthrough collection ‘This journey’, published in 1956 , and from which this book begins, that she truly found her voice, and which led to her becoming one of the most influential modernists in postwar Finland. Time and dream combine in her poems, to pre-empt and then surpass mystery, a ruthless subjectivity that uses the pen as a chisel to carve free  the inaudible, the unsaid, from the great white mountainous  side of the page:

‘Night’s coldness moves slowly further

like the edge of a glacier

and covers small corpses.

The trees outside bear emptiness,


moves stone-like from tree to tree.’

(‘How loneliness emanates from me’)

Throughout her poems  she attempts to sacrifice the ‘events’ of the world’ for the ‘events’ of poetry, in a vision that drags language on a word-halter into the furthest interior reaches of her  experience. Her poems are ‘modern’ only in as much as they by-pass any pre-conceived  formula to speak, relying instead upon a pure  language ground out of the fine silt of silence, where everything seems about to defuse  and disappear.  One of the strongest and most pivotal poems  in this important modernist collection is her poem ‘Descartes’ a poem in which she reverses the philosophers most famous  dictum, ‘I think, therefore I am’, turning it instead into ‘I thought, but was not’ a seemingly irrevent notion but which plays dividends in the way that the poet reinterprets the duplicity of this truth for her own means:

‘I thought, but was not.

I said animals were machines.

I had lost everything apart from reason.

Give my regards to all those

Whose knowledge is secret…

Tell them that philosophy is loneliness and a dead body

Which copulates with reason,’


The beauty of the line beginning ‘give my regards…’ is remarkable and could only be considered anti-social if it were uttered towards those in Heaven. The philosophical interests of a poet are of course always more illusive, more indirect than the philosopher,  in order to force a meaning out into the world; the responsibility lies only with the imagination and, in the case of this poet, the supernatural and the atomic particles that get scattered by every dislocated word, the way she loosens the senses, and opens the valves of seeing  afresh:

‘Rain opens the sleeper’s ears

Rain opens the walker’s shadows

Rain opens hearing, walking, inwards.’

(‘Rain opens the sleeper’s ears’)

She creates of the natural world something akin to what Mallarme termed as being a ‘brutal mirage’, an unreal but compelling rupture in the real world. The ‘ideas’ in her poems overcome quickly the poem’s conception, which creates for the reader the sensation that we are experiencing what the poet is experiencing at exactly the same time. Each poem like a thermal-secret, is  squeezed free of ice-enclaves, and is coaxed out  by the poet from the discreet syntactical hiding places  of her  imagination:

‘And the gates open, open-

Purple beaks open, are variations and flute,

Cast-off wings open, rise, are fugue,

Towers tremble, flowing grass

Weaves music from light and water’


Music to this poet is as important as silence, in fact they both at times share the same irrevocable pitch, a superabundant  soundtrack played out on the musical scale of trees, grass, and seasons. Mozart and Bach are evoked throughout and appear to re-organize their orchestral arrangements in the tops of trees, beside a river, retuning their instruments in the larynx and throats of birds:

‘tuned birds flutter

laughter in their beaks

drops of  Mozart

zart  zart’


It is like watching nature search in vain for a suitable and transcendental  conductor, to play out its successes and failures in language; And that ‘conductor’ is Eeva –Liisa Manner. One of the most important poetical props used over and over by this poet is the ‘mirror’, of which she peels back like tinfoil from the surface of stones, hoists up  like a sheet  of glass from the depths of water, as she locates always a co-object as image. It is a slide-show in which the inanimate and the living cannot be truly separated:

‘The bird ascends,

parts from its water-image;

the mirror flies;’

(‘Mirror images’)

This poem from her 1964 collection ‘the seasons shifted’ is synonymous with how she develops the ‘image’ in the later collections. Her imagination, like a sundial, learns to activate and control the shadow-movements of her own words, thus revealing the minute shifts in space that occur beyond the natural eyesight of the human. Her poems mirror (literally) the dictum of the French poet Paul Valery when he said, ‘I am born on all sides…I am the analogue of what is.’ This poet sees, like Blake, from the fixed-centre of her own crystal-ball, where the world, still splintering, still becoming, remains neutral,  a place where science, anthropology, politics, and other renderings of humanity appear  still barely organized particulars of a planet still reveling in the perfection of its  creator’s draughtmanship:

‘Will you see how everything shifts

Slightly each moment

and becomes more modest and more primitive

(like children’s drawings

or protozoa: the ABC of the soul)’


There is no confusion of thought in her poems, no clunking  or irregular philosophy, there is merely the need to uncover the poetical and imaginative motives of the mirror and the object in a reflective world. Reading this selection of her work I am drawn to the conclusion that she seems an unconscious proponent of what Ezra Pound meant when he wrote, ‘Relations between things are more important than the things themselves’ such as in her Rilkean image that concludes one of the finest poems in this book ‘Where is the end of endless days?’:

‘It’s as if an angel-yearning for death

had removed his wounded steps

from the magnet of dust and gone

brushing past so deftly that you do not forget it’

From the earliest collections to the later ones this poet chose to stay close to her original and most accustomed themes, water, echoes, snow, light, landscapes, trees and mortality, but in the later work there does seem (maybe inevitably so) a greater sense of finality, a hardening up of the once shifting syntactical terrain:

‘This heart too will tire, all clocks tire,

now its still throbbing in my wrist,

knocking at my ribs, a boat-shaped coffin’

(‘untitled cycle’)

Waterloo Press have done a fine job in producing this book and bringing it to a larger audience and it is certainly a book to celebrate, and to thank also the translator for producing poems that seem themselves as almost perfect co-objects/ mirrors to the original poems. The  imagination of this excellent poet  is brought full circle for the reader by this book, the return by ‘other boats’ to a final lone destination:

A weightless and easy departure, a return to the light.

by Paul Stubbs

Waterloo Press


Paul Stubbs is the author of three books of poetry The Theological Museum (Flambard Press) and The Icon Maker (Arc Publications). His latest release, a long poem Ex Nihilo has just been published by Black Herald Press as of Sept this year. Another full collection The End of the Trial of Man is forthcoming in 2011.


About thefiendjournal

I was born in Blackpool, England and am currently based in Lancashire. Poems have been published in magazines in the U.K, Ireland, France, New Zealand, Canada, U.S.A and South Korea. A pamphlet; "MMV", was published in 2008. Hundreds of poems have been written in draft form, and multiple books are being planned and edited for future release. As well as editing 'The Fiend' I translate, paint and dabble in photography (images of which have occasionally been used here).
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3 Responses to Return to the Light: ‘Bright Dusky Bright’ by Eeva Liisa Manner

  1. Pingback: The Crime Of It All « Brighton Writes

  2. Pingback: Book reviews, by Paul Stubbs « Paul Stubbs, poet

  3. Pingback: Return to the Light: “Bright Dusky Bright” by Eeva Liisa Manner « Paul Stubbs, poet

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