Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Kalevala

Tomorrow, February 28th, we celebrate our national epic, The Kalevala in Finland. It’s a compilation of 19th century poems collected by Elias Lönnrot (1802-1884). Before him, the poems had only existed in oral form, meant to be sung, but they were already disappearing. Lönnrot saved them and gave them the epic form. The first version was published in 1835. The first English translation is from 1888.

While never my favourite reading, The Kalevala is nonetheless part of my heritage. The stories are interesting. Complete with a creation myth, they depict life in the prehistoric Finland, with tribal clashes, lust, seduction, warfare and magic. It ends with an allegory of Christianity's arrival to Finland. They’re written in a unique Kalevala metric, but personally I like the stories best in prose form.

The Defence of the Sampo by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, 1886.

Here’s a small sample of the second rune, Wainamoinen’s sowing. The translation doesn’t do justice to the rhythm, but it’s the only one I could find.
Straightway rose a form from oceans,
Rose a hero from the waters,
Nor belonged he to the largest,
Nor belonged he to the smallest,
Long was he as man's forefinger,
Taller than the hand of woman;
On his head a cap of copper,
Boots upon his feet were copper,
Gloves upon his hands were copper,
And its stripes were copper-colored,
Belt around him made of copper,
Hatchet in his belt was copper;
And the handle of his hatchet
Was as long as hand of woman,
Of a finger's breadth the blade was.
Then the trusty Wainamoinen
Thought awhile and well considered,
And his measures are as follow:
"Art thou, sir, divine or human?
Which of these thou only knowest;
Tell me what thy name and station.
Very like a man thou lookest,
Hast the bearing of a hero,
Though the length of man's first finger,
Scarce as tall as hoof of reindeer."
Then again spake Wainamoinen
To the form from out the ocean:
"Verily I think thee human,
Of the race of pigmy-heroes,
Might as well be dead or dying,
Fit for nothing but to perish."
Answered thus the pigmy-hero,
Spake the small one from the ocean
To the valiant Wainamoinen
"Truly am I god and hero,
From the tribes that rule the ocean;
Come I here to fell the oak-tree,
Lop its branches with my hatchet."
Wainamoinen, old and trusty,
Answers thus the sea-born hero:
"Never hast thou force sufficient,
Not to thee has strength been given,
To uproot this mighty oak-tree,
To upset this thing of evil,
Nor to lop its hundred branches."
Scarcely had he finished speaking,
Scarcely had he moved his eyelids,
Ere the pigmy full unfolding,
Quick becomes a mighty giant.

Since last week, I’ve finished reading The Golem and the Djinni, and Do Unto Others. Click the names for my reviews of them. I enjoyed both books immensely. However, The Golem and the Djinni left me a little sad, and Do Unto Others mightily frustrated, like only short stories can. But both were well written, wonderful stories that I warmly recommend for everyone.

This week, I’m reading Wicked Business by Janet Evanovich. I have no excuse, other than wanting to give the series another try. There isn’t a third book in the series that I know of, perhaps mercifully so. The book is mildly entertaining, but it’s nowhere near the delightfulness of some of her earlier books.

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