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Kalevala by Elias Lönnrot

Kalevala (1849)

by Elias Lönnrot

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,746166,147 (4.16)52
  1. 21
    The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Michael.Rimmer)
    Michael.Rimmer: Longfellow used the Kalevala metre for The Song of Hiawatha. Both works in the epic tradition.
  2. 00
    The Book of Dede Korkut by Anonymous (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: national epics containing multiple tales more or less tangentially connected through a minstrel-figure

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» See also 52 mentions

English (13)  Swedish (1)  Finnish (1)  French (1)  All languages (16)
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Disclaimer, I love the Kalevala.

While most [Atlantic] people know of the Kalevala as "that thing that Tolkien liked," and subsequently have their expectations missed for lack of "epicness," I find that the Kalevala is more to the heart of what makes a good story. Even translated into English, the prose is beautiful and not without grandeur ("___ uttered a word, spoke thus:"), and I found myself reading it aloud even when needing to complete whole cycles in a short amount of time. The Kalevala isn't a story about the same sort of heroes and villains westerners like I are accustomed to, rather it reads to be something more human, more mystical, and more real. ( )
  MarchingBandMan | Dec 8, 2017 |
Suomen tarinoiden klassikko, kansalliseepos, joka kertoo vaka vanha Väinämöisestä. Hän luo maailman ja haluaa Ainon omakseen, mutta ikävä kyllä hän joutuu taistelemaan muiden kosijoiden kanssa naisen huomiosta. Monimutkainen tarina on inspiroinut näytelmäntekijöitä sekä aku ankan piirtäjiä.
  Yellona | Dec 16, 2015 |
Elias Lönnrot
  Ross.Farnsworth | Dec 9, 2015 |
This is a more modern translation than the other one I have , not necessarily great poetry in its translated form, but with very helpful and compared top y other copies up-to-date information on the background in the traditional Finnish folk poetry. The translator is a disciple of Francis Magoun's oral-formulaic school, but even he admits the Finnish epics were being largely transmitted by memory by the time they were compiled by Lonnrot. He has some very interesting comments on the impact of writing down an oral bard's performance line by line by hand versus recording it electronically and transcribing it -- what Lonnrot did was very much what the transcribers of Beowulf and Homer must have done. HIs comments on "stitching" together poetic sequences reminded me of the comments on "bad stitching" in Homer in Renault's The Praise Singer. ( )
  antiquary | Aug 26, 2015 |
When Elias Lönnrot was born in 1802, Finland was a province of Sweden; by the time he came to compile the Kalevala in the 1830s and 1840s, it was part of the Russian Empire. ‘Finnishness’ was (and had been since the twelfth century) little more than a shared idea, and sometimes a dangerous one at that. So this epic is a part of that nineteenth-century fashion for literary and linguistic nationalism that also gave us curiosities like Pan Tadeusz in Poland or The Mountain Wreath in Serbia-Montenegro – albeit dealing less with history, here, than with mythic prehistory.

I said this was ‘compiled’, and indeed in that sense the Kalevala is a nineteenth-century book, despite the ancientness of much of its material; it is not like the Edda, or Beowulf. In most cases we have examples of the old Finnish myths and legends that Lönnrot used, but the finished product is its own animal; characters have been conflated, and legends have been expertly arranged into a framework that seeks to tell a composite story of Finland's magical past.

It's a past absolutely different in its sensibilities from Anglo-Saxon or Nordic equivalents, let alone those from the Classical world. I suppose I was expecting tales of heroic warriors and epic battles, but there is very little of that. The heroes of the Kalevala are singers and shamans, not soldiers, and when they face off against each other, instead of reaching for their weapons they break into song:

The old Väinämöinen sang:
the lakes rippled, the earth shook
the copper mountains trembled
the sturdy boulders rumbled
the cliffs flew in two
the rocks cracked upon the shores.

Väinämöinen, indeed, goes on a quest not unlike those of more familiar epics; but instead of seeking a magical weapon, he is simply seeking ‘words’ – spells and tales that have been lost. (He is repeatedly described in formulaic epithets as ‘the singer’ and ‘the everlasting wise man’ – just compare this with Homer's ‘man-killing’ Hector, ‘spear-famed’ Menelaus!) One on occasion when two heroes do set out on the war-path, they just end up getting lost in the woods somewhere in Lapland, and decide to turn around and go home for a restorative sauna.

The inhabitants of this poem are not fighters: they're farmers, hunters, fishermen, metalsmiths. The world is full of mystery but it revolves around cattle, populations of fish, the threat of wolves and bears outside the village, occasional ritualised celebrations like a birth or a wedding. Despite the supernature, it is refreshingly down-to-earth.

Some of my favourite parts in this are in fact the most domestic – narratives that Lönnrot wove in from the rich Finnish tradition of women's songs, which tend to be more concerned with practical matters. The advice given to a bride at her wedding is typical, and it brought home to me more forcefully than anything I can remember how nerve-racking it must have been for a girl to leave her parents' home and head off to run the household of her new husband, perhaps miles away:

What a life was yours
on these farms of your father's!
You grew in the lanes a flower
a strawberry in the glades;
you rose from bed to butter
and from lying down to milk […].

You'll not be able to go
through the doors, stroll through the gates
like a daughter of the house;
you will not know how to blow
the fire, to heat the fireplace
as the man of the house likes.
Did you really, young maid
did you really know or think
you'd be going for a night
coming back the next day? Look—
you'll not be gone for a night
not for one night nor for two:
you'll have slipped off for longer
for always you'll have vanished
for ever from father's rooms
and for life from your mother's.

This translation was published in 1989 by Keith Bosley, a poet and fluent Finnish-speaker who set about to improve what he sees as the defects of previous versions. To judge how successful he is, let's look at some of the original – it has a very particular rhythm. The metre is trochaic tetrameter, but with vowel length instead of stress – in other words, every line has four feet, each of which contains a long syllable followed by a short one. Here's the opening six lines:

Mieleni minun tekevi
aivoni ajattelevi
lähteäni laulamahan,
saa'ani sanelemahan,
sukuvirttä suoltamahan,
lajivirttä laulamahan.

The first English translator, John Martin Crawford in 1888, worked from a German version rather than from the original; he tried to simulate the rhythms of the Finnish by using stress-trochees. The effect is quite unusual, and you may recognise it:

MASTERED by desire impulsive,
By a mighty inward urging,
I am ready now for singing,
Ready to begin the chanting
Of our nation's ancient folk-song
Handed down from by-gone ages.

If it sounds familiar, it's because the German source also caught the fancy of Longfellow, who borrowed it for his Song of Hiawatha, still almost the only example of true trochaic poetry in English (‘Downward through the evening twilight, / In the days that are forgotten, / In the unremembered ages’ etc.). WF Kirby in 1907, working from the original Finnish, took the same approach:

I am driven by my longing,
And my understanding urges
That I should commence my singing;
And begin my recitation.
I will sing the people's legends,
And the ballads of the nation.

Which doesn't seem a big improvement. Bosley, for his part, dismisses trochaic metre in English as ‘monotonous’ and restrictive ‘to the point of triviality’ – this ‘matters little in a romance of Indians without cowboys,’ he breezes, ‘but it matters a great deal in an epic of world stature’. His solution is to construct his own version around lines of five, seven or nine syllables in length, disregarding stress altogether. The result is very different from previous incarnations:

I have a good mind
take into my head
to start off singing
begin reciting
reeling off a tale of kin
and singing a tale of kind.

The advantages of this solution grew on me, but I wouldn't say I view it with undiluted approbation. It allows for much greater fidelity to the original sense of the lines, but at the cost of sacrificing its power as oral poetry. The driving rhythms of the original (listen, for instance, to this) are simply not there. Nevertheless, and despite a few odd-sounding lines, it can work very well. Little laments such as this:

This is how the luckless feel
how the calloos think—
like hard snow under a ridge
like water in a deep well.

…have an appealing straightforwardness that is not available to more restrictive metres (e.g. Kirby: Such may mournful thoughts resemble, / Thus the long-tailed duck may ponder,/ As 'neath frozen snow embedded, / Water deep in well imprisoned).

Quite apart from the many pleasures to be found here, I am grateful for the fact that the Kalevala introduced me to artists in two other fields: the composer Sibelius, whose work I knew very little of, and the painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela, whom I'm not sure I'd even heard of. Many of Sibelius's works are set to lyrics from the Kalevala (one example I've been listening to a lot); and Gallen-Kallela illustrated several scenes from the epic in the sort of bold, almost cartoonish style that I have always found very appealing.. All contributing to the sense that the Kalevala is Finland's most essential cultural touchstone, a shared reference of wonderful richness….

Out of this a seed will spring
constant good luck will begin;
from this, ploughing and sowing
from this, every kind of growth
out of this the moon to gleam
the sun of good luck to shine
on Finland's great farms
on Finland's sweet lands!
( )
3 vote Widsith | Sep 9, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (67 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lönnrot, Eliasprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bosley, KeithTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Branch, M. A.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Branch, MichaelEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ebbinge Wubben, J.C.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Friberg, EinoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gallen-Kallela, AkseliIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holzing, HerbertCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Huldén, LarsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Huldén, MatsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnson, Aili KolehmainenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kirby, William ForsellTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kuusinen, Otto WillePrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Léouzon Le Duc, LouisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Le Nobel, MiesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Magoun, Francis PeabodyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This is the extended second edition first published in 1849 and now commonly known as the "New Kalevala". Nearly all translations into foreign languages are based on this edition.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 019283570X, Paperback)

The Kalevala is the great Finnish epic, which like the Iliad and the Odyssey, grew out of a rich oral tradition with prehistoric roots. During the first millenium of our era, speakers of Uralic languages (those outside the Indo-European group) who had settled in the Baltic region of Karelia, that straddles the border of eastern Finland and north-west Russia, developed an oral poetry that was to last into the nineteenth century. This poetry provided the basis of the Kalevala. It was assembled in the 1840s by the Finnish scholar Elias Lonnrot, who took 'dictation' from the performance of a folk singer, in much the same way as our great collections from the past, from Homeric poems to medieval songs and epics, have probably been set down. Published in 1849, it played a central role in the march towards Finnish independence and inspired some of Sibelius's greatest works. This new and exciting translation by poet Keith Bosley, prize-winning translator of the anthology Finnish Folk Poetry: Epic, is the first truly to combine liveliness with accuracy in a way which reflects the richness of the original.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:12 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Often compared to the epics of Homer, The Kalevala consolidates a rich oral tradition with prehistoric roots. Created only 150 years ago as the tradition was dying out, this Finnish epic presents a rare portrait of an ancient people in both war and peace. The Kalevala played a central role in the process towards Finnish independence and inspired some of the greatest works of the composer Sibelius.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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