The Dainas (Latvian Folk songs) are little four-liners of ancient Latvian wisdom captured in song. Created well over a thousand years ago, Dainas were part of celebrations, daily work, reflections on life preserved in oral form. There are more than 1.2 million Dainas. The collection of Dainas under the name “The Cabinet of Folk songs” is inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Program.
Sentivani-Auzina said that she doesn't translate Dainas - she calls it "transforming into English". The process is very complicated because there is no way to say certain ancient Latvian expressions in English, such as saulīt tecēj' tecēdama (literally - the sun was flowing).
“The sun doesn't flow in English! I fight, fight, fight, and I come to Sweetest Sun so soon is setting,” said Ieva.
“And not just the same number of syllables, but the syllables must give up to a trochaic or dactyl meter that is in Dainas. And it's unnatural for English, because in English the emphasis can dance everywhere. But the Latvian can only be pum, pum, pum...” said Ieva.
Sentivani-Auzina has transformed 450 Dainas into English over 18 years. Her second book, in which more than 900 Dainas will be in English, is waiting for release. This means that there are only 650 missing before the dream of 2,000 is reached.
“Dainas is our bible, and they have to be part of the cultural values of the West. And if we don't show them, no one will,” said Sentivani-Auzina.
She does not only transfer each Daina into English, but also describes and explains it so that it can be understood by foreigners.
“I also don't want them called folk songs in English. Latvians say folk songs, but... In English, “folk song” means something very primitive. So I call them folk poetry,” said Sentivani-Auzina.
Ieva Sentivani-Auzina lives in the United States, but she tries to come to Latvia every year to spend half a year here.