I was unable to finish Andrus Kivirähk’s Ivan Orava mälestused, mostly because several English-language books captured my attention, and the library demanded Härra Orav’s memoirs back.
I have been trying to increase my exposure to higher levels of Estonian language recently, because my ability is being stunted by the parameters of everyday conversation.
I can handle myself in a store, I can talk to neighbors and friends, but can I really understand news articles or talk shows? Sometimes, the material is so simple, but depending on the writer or the speaker, I can become completely lost.
It reminds me so much of when I was first exposed to jazz, particularly John Coltrane. At first it’s just noise, but after repeated listening, you find a melody and a rhythm. Soon after, you wonder how it is that you didn’t ‘understand’ the music the first time around.
One new language resource has been the poetry of Heljo Mänd. Mänd, born in 1926 in Narva, is one of the mothers of modern Estonian children’s poetry. There are many poems and songs that you may know by heart that you just assumed were traditional. In fact, the hand behind that poetry is Heljo Mänd’s.
Epp has been overdosing recently on children’s poetry. There are books upon books of material by Erika Esop and Uno Leies lying around our house. I sometimes feel that I must surf upon these waves of books to reach simple destinations, like the toilet or the kitchen. And so it is with Heljo Mänd’s books, which are great reservoirs of memorable vocabulary. Consider the following:
Näe, vist sellel kajakal
päevanorm veel vajaka !
Muudkui nopib kalu veest
tea, kas aitab kalameest.
Või ehk polegi see nii,
miks ta naerab — hi-hi-hii
Narrib hoopis kalameest,
nopib kalad ära veest.
Essentially, the seagull (kajakas) is annoying the fisherman (kalamees) by eating up his daily catch (päevanorm). From this poem, I learned the words “noppima” (to pluck) and “narrima” (to mock). I wonder a bit, though, about a person who spends their time writing about seagulls, cats in trouble, or giraffes with colds, or mice who jump rope.
Is that really the key to happiness, to write poems about baby bears learning to read? Is there some deep wisdom to be gleaned from children’s poetry?