Kristiina Ehin: How to Explain My Language to You

On 1 September 1995 Kristiina felt disappointed: she had spent the previous night learning the ten stanzas of Gaudeamus in Latin and bearing the jokes of her partying neighbours, but only a few stanzas were sung at the opening ceremony of the new academic year in Tartu!

On 6 July 2014 a grand choir of 21,225 singers sang Kristiina Ehin’s own song, “Touch” (“Puudutus” in Estonian), at the national Song and Dance Celebration in Tallinn, written to the tune by Tõnu Kõrvits:

Puuduta mind oma tulise palgega
nii et on ilus ja valus.
Oma silmade sinimustvalgega
puuduta veel, ma palun.

Refr: Kas tunned kuis meile ikka on lahti
kõige kõrgemad taeva teed,
kui tuleme kokku,
kui leiame mahti,
jätame vaevad ja laulame.

Rüüpa mu elust januse sõõmuga,
kõige kaunimad ajad.
Puudutan Sind oma rahu ja rõõmuga
nõnda palju kui vajad.

Puuduta mind oma headuse väega,
ainsaga, millel on väärtust.
Õnnista oma sileda käega
minu karget saatust.

Puuduta mind oma tulise palgega
nii et on ilus ja valus.
Oma silmade sinimustvalgega,
puuduta veel, ma palun.[/ezcol_2fifth] [ezcol_3fifth_end]
Touch me if you will with your fiery features,
make it beautiful – painfully so.
Please let the blue black and white of your eyes
touch me again I pray you.

Refr: Do you feel how the heavens’ highest roads
before us lie ever open.
When we come together, when we take the time,
leaving our troubles behind we can sing.

Drink a deep and thirsty draught from my life
of its very loveliest moments.
I will touch you with the peace and joy within me
as much as you may want.

Touch me with the power of your goodness,
of all things the only treasure,
bless if you will with your smooth, sleek hand
my own fate rough and tattered.

Touch me if you will with your fiery features,
make it beautiful – painfully so.
Please let the blue black and white of your eyes
touch me again I pray you.

The lyrics of “Touch” were born at the last minute outside of Estonia: “Sitting under an orange tree on a not-so-warm Portuguese night, I got these feelings and words that I was looking for on paper”, explained the author. Getting to this poem was very much about recognising that even two people can’t stay strong for long and need a community of others to come and act together.

This academic year, Kristiina Ehin is a Visiting Professor of Liberal Arts at the University of Tartu. In her open course, she invites participants on a journey to discover one’s unique, artistic sensibility. Her own learning journey at the University of Tartu stretched for nine years. In 2004, Kristiina received a master’s degree in Estonian and comparative folklore. Kristiina Ehin’s creative journey led her to become one of the best-known and most translated modern-day Estonian writers. She has published eleven books in English through Ilmar Lehtpere’s translations.

If you are interested in Estonian language and culture, poetry and writing might guide you to to the deepest layers of national identity and expression. Let Kristiina explain her language to you:

Kuidas seletada sulle oma keelt
allika kaldal

Istun sinu
ilusa indoeuroopa mehega
suurel sammaldunud soomeugri kivil
ajan sinuga poolpaljast
ööhaljast juttu

Tahan väga sulle öelda
kuidas lõhnavad minu keeles männid
ja iirised
kuidas minu keeles vesi üle raudkivide vuliseb
ja ritsikad võtavad oma viiulitest viimast

Selle asemel vaikime
paotades vahetevahel suud
mõneks poolpaljaks ööhaljaks sõnaks
ei kummagi keeles

[/ezcol_1half] [ezcol_1half_end]
How to explain my language to you
here and now
by moonlight
beside the spring

I’m sitting with you
handsome Indo-European man
on a big mossy Finno-Ugric stone
the talk half-naked
night-bright between us

I so want to tell you
how pine trees smell in my language
and irises
how water babbles in my language over granite stones
and how crickets get the very last out of their fiddles

Instead we are silent
eyes closed
and we open our mouths just a bit now and then
for some half-naked night-bright words
in a language neither yours nor mine

Kristiina Ehin’s English translator, Ilmar Lehtpere, has gathered a collection of her poems in both languages, as well as media coverage and other related materials. If you understand some Estonian, see more info on Kristiina Ehin’s lectures and their recordings.

Inga Külmoja is an author and the editor of the UT Blog.

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