Wednesday, July 01, 1992


by PhDr. Emile Yuskevich

I am undone. My life unravels towards a final resting place on the cold table of the Institute's morgue, seven floors below me as I sit here at my ancient desk. The bleak Carpathian light struggles through my apartment's dusty window, just as my withered hand struggles to guide my pen across this paper. My work is done or not done, depending on how I choose to look at it, on what I choose as the center. For myself, I can do no more. For the work, there is more to be done. Perhaps there will be another, perhaps living here in these same simple chambers I have inhabited for the past fifty years. Perhaps at the end of another lifetime this translation will be finally finished, definitive.

But I think it extremely unlikely that this translation will ever be complete; this is due to the unique idiosyncracies of the Proto-Finno-Urgic language and especially of this particular poetic form, the Laatmuung. For as vexing as its constant shifts of meter within an irritatingly repetitive text are, far more vexing is the text's absolute refusal to remain fixed. Every reading is different: scan one short sentence ten times and the eyes will record ten different combinations of letters and words. These differences are sometimes subtle but they are always differences. Set down a translated passage in one's own hand, slip the paper into a drawer, lock the drawer with a key, stare at the locked drawer for ten seconds, unlock and open the drawer, take out the paper and read its barely-dried inked characters and you will find something completely other than that which you wrote only minutes before.

This is an unsettling experience, and one which I struggled against for decades. But finally I arrived at the seed of victory which always resides inside the decayed fruit of defeat. I learned to accept this poem's eel-like slipperiness, this language's shifting fog. And then oh the wonders it gave me, the pleasures I had sitting here in solitude, drinking my nettle tea and nibbling on cakes baked from oats and honey. Reading and writing and thinking. I can imagine no finer life. I am grateful for the long years of its past and appreciative of the few days of its future. I shall now put down my pen one last time, pick up my teacup and a bit of cake, and be content.