The Love Story of the Century

Märta Tikkanen (trans. by Stina Katchadourian)

February 19, 2020 
The following is from Märta Tikkanen's The Love Story of the Century, translated by Stina Katchadourian. Deemed a classic on its publication in 1978, Tikkanen’s verse novel is a haunting portrait of one woman’s fraught relationship with her alcoholic husband. Tikkanen is the recipient of the Nordic Women’s Alternative Literature Prize, Finland’s State Prize for the Dissemination of Knowledge, the Swedish De Nios Grand Prize, the Swedish Academy’s Finland Prize, and Finland’s State Literary Prize.

I love you so immensely
you said
no one has ever been able to love like me
I have built a pyramid of my love
you said
I have placed you on a pedestal
high above the clouds
This is the love story of the century
you said
it will last forever
in eternity it will be admired
you said

I had difficulty sleeping
the first seven hundred and thirty nights
after I’d realized
how immensely you love
your love


We moved in together
not because we
wanted to
but because we
couldn’t help it

We don’t move
although we want to
because we still can’t leave
each other alone

if this is hatred
what then does love look like?


If I could have been
everything you wanted me
to be
the mother
who loves you and forgives you
and understands you and approves of you
who admires you endlessly
and punishes you when you’re bad
and makes your decisions
and puts everything right for you
whom you can blame when the world
isn’t what you want it to be
who is eternal and everlasting
and who is always there
and stays awake and waits and worries
about you
and no one else but you—
then nothing would have been different


It probably wasn’t at all true
that you fell in love
with my blue striped cotton dress
because I looked so innocent
which I was

or that I was crazy for
your brilliant expressions
and your genius
that hit me
twenty years before it hit the world

but only that
your needs fit mine
—to need and to be needed—
and that both of us
completely lacked
all sense of moderation

Thus, at the starting point
we were
completely equal
if later on things went wrong
the fault was
entirely our own


Early on
I hid my vulnerability
from you

Why would I want to hurt you
by showing you
how much
you had hurt me

that way I managed to prevent
both you and me
from growing


You say
that you love me

My work, however,
you talk about
with contempt and disdain

My monthly salary
you can earn
in one afternoon
while sunning yourself in the yard

My views
you can’t find out
because I can’t make you hear me
while you are expounding your own

My people
you try to put down
the best you can
as soon as you know
that they are my people

My time
has always existed
for you to use
for your needs

My faithfulness
you claim is important to you
while you yourself of course
have your erotic needs

My despair
over your lack of concern
you see as envy

My anguish
during long nights
you soundly sleep through

You who love
can’t you sometime
try to tell me what it is you mean
when you say
you love me?


You claim that the whole world
knows my secrets
except you
who never get to hear

Still, it was precisely
so that you would listen
that I placed myself in the market square
with the whole world passing by
and howled out
my secrets


you used
your love
as an invocation
—so enormous, so all-embracing
so passionate, so unique
you mumbled
swinging the censer
so the world disappeared in a fog

How petty, then
the need for oxygen and fresh air
in comparison with
your tremendous love


From The Love Story of the Century by Märta Tikkanenn. Used with permission of the publisher Deep Vellum. Copyright © Märta Tikkanen, 1978. Translation copyright © 2020 by Stina Katchadourian.

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