The Kalevala Poem
The Kalevala begins with the traditional Finnish creation myth, leading into stories of the creation of the earth, plants, creatures and the sky. Creation, healing, combat and internal story telling are often accomplished by the character(s) involved singing of their exploits or desires.
There are many other legends,
Incantations that were taught me,
That I found along the wayside,
Gathered in the fragrant copses,
Blown me from the forest branches,
Culled among the plumes of pine-trees,
Scented from the vines and flowers,
Whispered to me as I followed
Flocks in land of honeyed meadows. – Proem, line 53
The Kalevala is a Finnish mythological poem, compiled by the 19th century folklorist Elias Lönnrot from traditional ballads and some original material.
It is regarded as the national epic of Finland and is one of the most significant works of Finnish literature. The Kalevala played an instrumental role in the development of the Finnish national identity, the intensification of Finland’s language strife and the growing sense of nationality that ultimately led to Finland’s independence from Russia in 1917.
The first version of The Kalevala (called The Old Kalevala) was published in 1835. The version most commonly known today was first published in 1849 and consists of 22,795 verses, divided into fifty songs
Elias Lönnrot (9 April 1802 – 19 March 1884) was a physician, botanist and linguist. During the time he was compiling The Kalevala he was the district health officer based in Kajaani responsible for the whole Kainuu region in the eastern part of what was then the Grand Duchy of Finland
The poetry was often sung to music built on a pentachord, sometimes assisted by a kantele player. The rhythm could vary but the music was arranged in either two or four lines consisting of five beats each.
The poems were often performed by a duo, each person singing alternative verses or groups of verses. This method of performance is called an antiphonic performance, it is a kind of “singing match”.
Many runes the cold has told me,
Many lays the rain has brought me,
Other songs the winds have sung me.
Many birds from many forests,
Oft have sung me lays n concord
Waves of sea, and ocean billows,
Music from the many waters,
Music from the whole creation,
Oft have been my guide and master. – Proem, line 65
As well as magical spell casting and singing, there are many stories of lust, romance, kidnapping and seduction. The protagonists of the stories often have to accomplish feats that are unreasonable or impossible which they often fail to achieve leading to tragedy and humiliation.
Thus the ancient Wainamoinen,
In his copper-banded vessel,
Left his tribe in Kalevala,
Sailing o’er the rolling billows,
Sailing through the azure vapors,
Sailing through the dusk of evening,
Sailing to the fiery sunset,
To the higher-landed regions,
To the lower verge of heaven; – Canto 50, line 493
There his bark he firmly anchored,
Rested in his boat of copper;
But be left his harp of magic,
Left his songs and wisdom-sayings,
To the lasting joy of Suomi. – Canto 50, line 504
Classical composers are not the only musicians who have delved into The Kalevala for inspiration. In the mid-1960s the progressive rock band Kalevala was active within Finland and in 1974 the now prolific singer-songwriter Jukka Kuoppamäki released the song Väinämöinen.
The Finnish Folk metal band Ensiferum have released songs, such as “Old Man” and “Little Dreamer” which are influenced by The Kalevala
The Kalevala Graphic Novel – The art of Huitula
Thus the wise and worthy singer
Sings not all his garnered wisdom;
Better leave unsung some sayings
Than to sing them out of season. – Epilogue, line 20