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Scholar, Writer, Mother, Dreamer. Editor of Luminarium, an online library for English Literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Lyrics to "Finlandia" by Jean Sibelius

Everyone was really interested in the Finlandia Hymn, so I thought I'd share some background.

The music for the Finlandia Hymn was written by composer Jean Sibelius in 1899, while Finland was experiencing a rise in nationalism, beginning its rise against Russian oppression, and grappling toward independence as a nation.

The lyrics which are now most often associated with the work were composed in 1940 by V. A. Koskenniemi, when Finland had just finished fighting Russia in the Winter War. Finland had been independent since 1917, but in November 1939, Russia decided to "take Finland back" as part of World War II. After all, Hitler and Stalin had agreed that Finland could be part of Russia's piece of pie.

Everyone in Finland who was battleworthy went to repel the invading army — consider that the "everyone" was 250,000 (mostly civilian) men with 30 tanks and 130 airplanes trying to hold off 1 million soldiers, 3000 tanks, and 3800 aircraft.

That means for my generation that ALL our grandparents were in the snow-filled trenches in the forests, fighting for their lives and for the freedom of a little country with no allies of any kind. Almost everyone was missing at least one grandfather, because he had died in a snowy forest in either the Winter War, or the continuance war after. I was fortunate to have both of my grandpas — but neither would ever talk about what they went through in the war. My great-uncle recalled swimming away from the Karelian fortress of Viipuri (Viborg), when the waters ran red with blood. Someone once told me they had heard Peter Gabriel say in concert that a story of the same had been an inspiration for "Red Rain," but I've never been able to authenticate that any further.

Finnish ski troops 12 January 1940. (National War Museum Archives).

Somehow, against such odds, we retained our independence, unlike so many other nations. A novel called "Tuntematon Sotilas" ("The Unknown Soldier") was written by Väinö Linna soon after the war, and was followed by the movie. In it, the "band of brothers" whose story has been followed, are in a snowy woods when the sun breaks. The "Finlandia Hymn" plays in the background — armistice is announced. The nature so beautiful and yet so bleak, because their fellow men who were protecting home and family, lay strewn around them.

All our men still go through the armed services, +/- 1 year of training, including skiing and shooting, like their fathers before them. Growing up in the 70s, the fear that Russia could decide to try again, any day, was ever present. Every school, every office, every apartment building, every public building in Finland had, and has, a bomb shelter. We were taught from almost as soon as we could walk, where all the nearest bomb shelters were, what an air raid alarm sounds like, and what to do if bomber planes came. The fear of war was always on the back of my mind as a child. I remember thinking when I was on second grade (age 8), that I would not have children — how could I bring children into such a bad world. I've since learned to think differently, but I still remember having nightmares about bomber planes in the dark.

I don't think there's a person in Finland who doesn't get goosebumps at the first notes of the song. I tried singing it to someone who asked me a few months ago — I didn't make it through the first full verse before I was sobbing so hard I couldn't continue. It holds special significance to us Finns, especially on Independence Day.

Lyrics: V.A. Koskenniemi

Oi, Suomi katso, sinun päiväs koittaa,
yön uhka karkoitettu on jo pois,
ja aamun kiuru kirkkaudessa soittaa,
kuin itse taivahan kansi sois,
yön vallat aamun kirkkaus jo voittaa,
sun päiväs koittaa, oi synnyinmaa.

Oi, nouse , Suomi, nosta korkealle
pääs seppelöimä suurten muistojen,
oi nouse, Suomi, näytit maailmalle
sä että karkoitit orjuuden
ja ettet taipunut sa sorron alle,
on aamus alkanut, synnyinmaa.

trans. A. Jokinen

Oh, Finland look, it is your day that's dawning,
The threat of night is banishèd away;
The morning birds do trumpet in the brightness,
As if the heavens themselves did play;
Night's powers are conquered by the morning's lightness,
Your day is dawning, oh birthland mine.

Oh raise, oh Finland, oh raise up on high
Your head that's crowned with deeds of bravery;
Oh rise up Finland, all the world doth know
How you have banishèd slavery;
You bent not under the oppressor's throw
Your day has dawnèd, oh birthland mine.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like many of his contemporaries, Sibelius was initially enamored of the music. I think that it is so intersting and very important to know.I buy some of the albums of this music next to generic viagra's building.

February 01, 2011 3:56 PM  
Blogger RoxyB said...

Hi - my mum, being of Finnish descent, wants me to learn this to sing to her. I'm looking for it as a soprano solo, so far without success... and am not sure how would go pronouncing the Finnish! Any suggestions?

June 15, 2011 1:56 AM  
Blogger Brillig said...

Thank you Anniina, That was worth reading and I shall come back to see more. Howard

February 07, 2012 1:08 PM  
Blogger Christi said...

@Roxy - You posted your comment a while ago, but this should help:

I'm trying to learn Finnish. I'm teaching myself. It's a beautiful language.
Love this song. I'm American and this made me cry. Such a beautiful song, beautiful country, beautiful language...

March 02, 2012 11:15 AM  

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