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Elias Lönnrot 1802 1884

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Finnish folklorist, linguist, and physician.

Best known for his compilation of traditional Finnish poetry in the epic Kalevala, Lönnrot published numerous other collections of traditional Finnish poetry, proverbs, riddles, and incantations, as well as original works on medicine and linguistics. As a folklorist and linguist, he is credited with promoting the recognition of Finnish as a national language and with laying the groundwork for the development of a Finnish national literature.

Biographical Information

Fourth of seven children of a tailor and a peasant's daughter, Elias Lönnrot was born in Sammatti, Finland (then part of Sweden). Despite his family's poverty he managed to attend high school and the University of Turku, working first as a pharmacist's assistant, then as a tutor, to support himself during his studies. He became interested in folklore while studying at the University of Turku under the noted philologist and folklorist Reinhold von Becker. He was also inspired by the ideas of German philosopher and critic Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803), one of the first scholars to recognize the importance of folklore to world literature, and Finnish historian Henrik Gabriel Porthan (1739-1804), who had begun collecting Finnish folklore in 1766. After receiving his medical degree in 1832, Lönnrot was assigned as a circuit physician. While travelling around the Finnish countryside and serving the local inhabitants, he also expanded his knowledge of Finnish folklore and folk practices. He eventually took several leaves of absence from his medical practice to collect traditional poetry and proverbs and to work on various other literary projects, including the preparation of a Finnish dictionary. In the 1830s and 1840s, Lönnrot undertook numerous journeys to various parts of Finland, Estonia, Ingria, and eastern Karelia (the area of the Russo-Finnish border from the Gulf of Finland to the Arctic Circle). Dressed as a common laborer, he sought out folksingers and transcribed their songs, elements of which are believed to date back as far as 500 B.C. He would later arrange them, noting, "I followed what I observed the best singers paid attention to in matters of arrangement, and . . . when no help was forthcoming from that quarter, I sought basis for arrangement in the songs themselves." In the late 1840s, Lönnrot became increasingly interested in linguistics; from 1853 to 1862, he taught Finnish language and literature at the University of Helsinki. He died in Sammatti in 1884.

Major Works

Believing he was recreating a coherent epic poem from the surviving fragments of traditional poetry he and others had recorded, Lönnrot presented his first attempt at epic reconstruction in 1835. This was the Kalevala taikka Vanhoja Karjalan Runoja Suomen kansan muinoisista ajoista ("The Kalevala, or Old Karelian Songs from the Ancient Times of the Finnish People"), which consists of thirty-two "runes," or songs. This 12,978-line work was superseded in 1849 by the enlarged second edition, the New Kalevala, whose 22,795 lines are divided into fifty runes. From that time, the 1835 edition has been known as the Old Kalevala. When modern critics cite the Kalevala, they are referring to the New Kalevala. The Kalevala consists of unrhymed, non-strophic trochaic tetrameter lines, now referred to as the Kalevala meter. Most familiar to English readers from Longfellow's Hiawatha, where at times it sounds monotonous and forced, the Kalevala meter is far more melodious in the original Finnish. Critics distinguish in the Kalevala four intertwined story cycles, all of which concern the interactions of the heroes of Kalevala ("land of heroes") with the people of Pohjola ("north land"). Drawing on poetry gathered by himself and others, Lönnrot published several other folklore collections besides the Kalevala: Kantele (1829-31; "The Harp"), the Kanteletar (1840; "The Spirit of the Harp"), the Sananlaskut (1842; "Proverbs"), the Arvoitukset (1844; "Riddles"), and Suomen kansan muinaisia loitsorunoja (1880; "Old Metrical Charms of the Finnish People"). His notes also became the basis for the thirty-three volume Suomen kansan vanhat runot (1908-48; "Ancient Poems of the Finnish People").

Critical Reception

Most critical evaluations of Lönnrot' s work focus on the Kalevala. Translations of the Old Kalevala into Swedish in 1841 and into French in 1845 made the Finnish tales known to a wide readership and garnered immediate acclaim. The first English translation appeared in 1888. Most early criticism focused on the nature of the work and the circumstances of its composition. Lönnrot' s contemporaries believed that he had restored a long-lost epic to its original form, although later research revealed that supposition to be incorrect. Several nineteenth-century experts, including the noted German scholars Max Müller and Jacob Grimm, hailed the Kalevala as a complete national epic on the level of the Iliad or the Nibelungenlied. In the late nineteenth century, scholars began to realize that Lönnrot had intervened substantially in the original material he had collected, piecing together lines from numerous variants of individual songs, standardizing the language, changing character names to fit his concept of the story line, and creating prefatory, final, and linking verses (totalling less than five per cent of the overall poem). As a result, modern commentators tend to treat the Kalevala as a creative work in its own right and to agree with Lönnrot' s own view of himself as belonging to a long line of rune-singers. Opinions of the meaning of the work also vary: Lönnrot himself saw the Kalevala as primarily historical, illustrating early conflicts between Finns and Lapps, while modern critics prefer a symbolic or mythological interpretation. Another focus of recent critical interest has been the role of the Kalevala in the development of Finnish national identity in the late nineteenth through the early twentieth centuries. Although very little commentary exists in English on Lönnrot' s other works, a recent English translation of the Kanteletar, a collection of folksongs composed and sung by women, promises to attract critical attention, particularly by virtue of its sometimes humorous, sometimes bitter perspectives on the lives and status of women in traditional Finnish society.

Principal Works

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Kantele [editor] (poetry) 1829-31

Kalevala taikka Vanhoja Karjalan Runoja Suomen kansan muinoisista ajoista [editor] (poetry) 1835, enlarged edition, 1849

Kanteletar [editor] (poetry) 1840

Sananlaskut [editor] (proverbs) 1842

Arvoitukset [editor] (riddles) 1844

Finsk-Svenski Lexikon ("Finnish-Swedish Dictionary") 2 vols. (dictionary) 1874-80

Suomen kansan muinaisia loitsorunoja [editor] (poetry) 1880

The Kalevala [editor] 2 vols. (translated by John Martin Crawford) (poetry) 1888

Kalevala, The Land of Heroes [editor] (translated by W. F. Kirby) (poetry) 1907

* Suomen kansan vanhat runot [compiler] 33 vols. (poetry) 1908-48

The Kalevala, or Poems of the Kalevala District [editor] (translated by Francis Peabody Magoun, Jr.) (poetry) 1963

The Kalevala: An Epic Poem after Oral Tradition [editor] (translated by Keith Bosley) (poetry) 1989

The Kanteletar: Lyrics and Ballads after Oral Tradition [editor] (selected and translated by Keith Bosley) (poetry) 1992

* Assembled from his notes.

Elias Lönnrot (essay date 1835)

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SOURCE: "Preface to the 'Old Kalevala'," in The Kalevala; or, Poems of the Kaleva District, edited by Elias Lönnrot, translated by Francis Peabody Magoun, Jr., Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963, pp. 365-74.

[In the following excerpt from his preface to the first edition of the Kalevala, later known as the Old Kalevala, Lönnrot discusses the nature of the poems and the way in which he compiled and organized them.]

I have tried to put these songs into some sort of order, a task of which I should give some account. Since to my knowledge no one has previously tried to order them or so much as mentioned doing so, I will first report on how I came upon this idea. Already while reading the songs previously collected, particularly those collected by Ganander, I at least wondered whether one might not possibly find songs about Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen, and Lemminkäinen and other memorable forebears of ours until from these had been got longer accounts, too, just as we see that the Greeks [in the Homeric poems] and the Icelanders [in the Poetic or Elder Edda] and others got songs of their forebears. This idea was just getting a firm place in my mind when in 1826 with the help of Reinhold von Beckner, associate professor of history at Turku (Swedish Abo), I got to writing a B.A. thesis on Väinämöinen, and while preparing it I saw that there was no lack of tales about him. I also wondered why Ganander had not already done this, but I soon came to understand that he did not have the songs necessary for the task. He published the best passages in the songs he collected in his Mythologia Fennica (Turku, 1798), but he had scarcely any of these in very ample form. An early death had taken off Zachris Topelius, Sr.; otherwise he would in the course of time have been able to devote himself to this work.

If I knew now that the order in which these songs have been planned here would be pleasing to others, I would stop and say no more about it, but the matter is such that what one person thinks suitable another views as inappropriate. In my opinion the songs run along fairly well in the order in which they are arranged, but they might perhaps go better in some other. While organizing them I paid attention to two things: first, I followed what I observed the best singers paid attention to in matters of arrangement; and second, when no help was forthcoming from that quarter, I sought a basis for arrangement in the songs themselves and arranged them accordingly.

The reader may ask whether our ancestors sang these songs in any sequence or sang them singly. It seems to me that these songs, as it happens, turn up singly. The various songs about Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen, and Lemminkäinen must be the compositions not of one person but of several. One singer memorized one thing, another another, what each individual had observed or heard. But nowadays I scarcely find a single song which seems to have been preserved down to our time in just its original words. Everybody will see how easily poetic composition eludes many of the peasants if he undertakes to sing completely about any familiar subject whatever, and discovers of course that the very best memory cannot preserve word for word what is heard in long songs sung by another. But he will more easily remember the subject matter, and from passage to passage, if remembering most of them he relates it in verse to someone else, forgetting some passages, improving others. One can gradually distort the basic plot of a song from its original character so that it is told quite differently. This has already happened partly at least in the case of proper names. What formerly may have been told of memorable men and women with their right names might, as Christianity spread in the country [from ca. A.D. 1150], be changed so that in place of the men one often put Jesus Christ, St. Peter, Herod, Judas, and others, in place of the women the Virgin Mother Mary.

That the subjects sung about in the songs were not all without some foundation in fact anybody will easily understand, but what the real truth is—what things may be described in some other way in a song, what ones may be completely invented—is now quite difficult to distinguish. Certain matters, even when one hears especially odd things or somewhat incredible ones, should on careful investigation somehow clear up. None of us should view Väinämöinen' s and Ilmarinen's troubles as deriving from the disappearance of the sun and the moon, and how would the dame of North Farm (Pohja) have hidden them in the hill? But when one remembers what is said of our forefathers' coming here, that they got here to the far north from very southerly lands, and what we know about the disappearance of the sun in winter in high latitudes, we will realize that had they gone clear up north, this phenomenon could, as something strange to them, even arouse a great fear that the sun had gone forever. If also they had wars with the Lapps who formerly lived in Finnish territory, Lapps from whom there was reason to fear everything bad and who were regarded as superior wizards, then the mistress of North Farm soon got the blame for it. And what in the first instance could come to be told about the disappearance of the sun could later also get to be told of the moon and stars. . . .

In these poems one meets the Finnish language and Finnish poetics in perhaps a purer form than in any other book. Many words and phrases appear here and there in their original form or in the same form as one hears them in the mouth of the peasantry. Persons learned in other languages, even though they of course command Finnish, often find it hard not to change the basic nature of the language to conform with other languages. For the peasant population, however, which understands nothing but its mother tongue, this danger is nonexistent . . .

Concerning Finnish songs it has probably already been stated that they are certainly of two different kinds: narrative songs and magic songs. It may also have been mentioned that the charms were from the beginning nothing but narrative songs which later, according to the material, began to be changed into something else. The poems in the present book are mostly narrative. What I judged to be the main version among these is not on that account more valuable for the investigation of ancient matters than what one hears told some other way. Both have been got from the same places and are equally old. A few individual songs I got from so many singers and in so many different forms that it is certainly an open question which is the best variant. In other songs the difficulty for me was to get them in a very full form from one singer or another. There are both those persons who hold our old songs indeed in great esteem and those who esteem them very little. I would not want the songs to be disparaged nor to be biasedly regarded on the other hand as very great. These are not by any means on a par with those of the Greeks and Romans, but it is quite all right if they at least show that our forebears were not unenlightened in their intellectual efforts—and the songs at least show that. . . .

Lauri Honko (essay date 1960)

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SOURCE: "The Kalevala and Finnish Culture," in The Finns in North America: A Social Symposium, edited by Ralph J. Jalkanen, Michigan State University Press, 1969, pp. 46-52.

[In the following excerpt, originally published in 1960, Honko discusses the cultural milieu in which the Kalevala was compiled and reviews the course of its subsequent study.]

Few works have had so pervasive an effect upon a nation's life as the epic Kalevala. Its influence upon Finnish music, art, and poetry is recent enough to be remembered by everyone; its unique place in Finnish literature is recognized by all.

Two characteristics of the age, romanticism and the awakening of the Finnish national consciousness, prepared the way for an enthusiastic reception of the Kalevala. Admiration for the undefiled "folk," a basic trait of romanticism, led to attempts to preserve folk literature. The publication of folk poetry and literature by Thomas Percy in England and Johann Gottfried von Herder in Germany, and the songs of Ossian, composed in Scotland by James Macpherson, are representative of such attempts. In time, these products of the late eighteenth century became known in Finland among the "pre-romantics," a group which included Henrik Gabriel Porthan, a professor of rhetoric; Frans Mikael Franzen, a poet; and Kristfrid Ganander, a pastor at Rantsila. However, these foreign works did not initiate Finnish romanticism; rather they stimulated a movement which had already begun. For example, Porthan was uninfluenced by Herderian romanticism when he began his broad researches into the poetry of the people with his Depoesi fennica 1766-1778. If anything, Porthan should be regarded as a predecessor rather than an imitator. When Finland was joined to Russia, the inheritors of the Porthan tradition, the so-called romanticists of Turku, strove to produce an awakening of the national consciousness and collected materials necessary to the study of the Finnish language and poetry.

The ties with the Swedish romanticists were particularly strong at this time. One of the many Finnophiles studying in Sweden was K. A. Gottlund. While a university student at Upsala in 1817, Gottlund wrote: "If we wished to gather together the ancient folksongs and compile and order them into a systematic whole; whatever may become of them, an epic drama or what have you, it may bring to life a new Homer, Ossiad, or Nibelungenlied; and in its singular creative brilliance and glory, awakened to its sense of independence, the Finnish nation would receive both the admiration of its contemporaries as well as that of the generations to come." But considerable time elapsed before his dream became a reality.

After the University of Turku was destroyed by fire, it was moved to Helsinki, where the Saturday Society was soon organized. A cultural and political discussion group, the Society had about thirty members, the majority of whom achieved a significant place in science, art, or politics. In 1831, some of the Society's members organized the Finnish Literature Society, an original and effective supporter of Elias Lönnrot's efforts to collect and publish folk poems and songs.

In 1834, Lönnrot wrote to a friend:

As I compared these (the results of my collections on my fourth journey) to what I had seen before, I was seized by a desire to organize them into a single whole in order to make of the Finnish legends of the gods something similar to that of the Edda, the saga of the Icelanders. So I threw myself into the labors before me immediately and continued working for a number of weeks, actually months, at least until Christmas, when I had quite a volume of poems about Väinämöinen in exactly the order in which I desired them. I gave attention especially to the time sequences of the feats accomplished by the heroes of the poems.

Thus, the concept of a Finnish epic was born, with prototypes from the ancient Scandinavian epics uppermost in Lönnrot's mind. However, recognizing the magnitude and importance of the task, he doubted his ability to carry out such a work:

I am not certain whether the task or compilation or concatenation of the sagas of the gods should be accomplished by a single individual, or preferably by a number of persons working together, since our posterity will probably place this compilation on a par with the Edda by the Gothenborgains or at least those of Hesiod, if not Homer, by the Greeks and Romans.

Lönnrot's fifth trip, on which he discovered the most knowledgeable of the singers of ancient runes, Arhippa Perttunen, was so fruitful that it was February 28, 1835, before Lönnrot was able to write the preface to his work, The Kalevala, or Old Karelian Songs from the Ancient Times of the Finnish People (Kalevala Taikka Wanhoja Karjalan Runoja Suomen Kansan muinaisista Aijoista).

At the 1835 annual meeting of the Finnish Literature Society, J. G. Linsén announced:

In collecting a vast number of runes in the Archangel district, Lönnrot, in fitting them together into a whole, has made the remarkable discovery that there exists, in fact, a great and complete mythological national epic which has now been compiled by its collector into thirty-two runes in which the principal songs tell of Väinämöinen's deeds of a heroic nature and also of his destiny. Painstakingly and with almost superhuman application to his task, the discerning discoverer and compiler achieved a marvelous result in the success of his endeavors in that he has fitted together the scattered pieces of these ancient Finnish runes and thus preserved them from certain disappearance; or more rightfully, he has brought to the light of day that which already existed only as fragments and were indeed hidden and forgotten. The poems were published under the name Kalevala—an invaluable gift not only to Finnish but also to European literature, which must add these precious memorials to Finnish poetry and the songs of the Ionians as well as those of the Caledonians.

This concept of Lönnrot' s contribution is in complete harmony with the romantic view of the nature and creation of folk songs and epic poems. The Kalevala was seen as a complete epic saved by Lönnrot from fragmentation. Now restored to its pristine form, it could tell the tale of the ancient Finns, the phases of their history, and their customs and religion. No single individual, neither Lönnrot nor the rune-singers, played a critical part in the Kalevala's creation; its creator was "the people," the collective creative genius active in the earliest language and poetry of all cultures. If someone questioned this collective creative process, the explanation was that folk runes and epics were born gradually: in being communicated from mouth to mouth, they occasionally received an addition here and another there until "the people's creative spirit" modified its creation into completeness. In fact, few questioned this process. The basic romantic viewpoint was so strong that the nature of Lönnrot' s labors was never actually recognized, although he spoke about it quite openly. The Kalevala was—or so it was acknowledged—from its inception, a pristine and complete epic poem, born in antiquity. Lönnrot was simply the successful reconstructor of this ancient masterpiece.

The flaws in this hypothesis are revealed by Lönnrot's letter to Fabian Collan: "I suppose you are amazed that in all this I have nothing to do but to follow the runes.

Therefore, I must explain to you that from the runes collected to date I could get at least seven volumes of Kalevalas, each unlike the other." This letter, dated 25-5-1848, was written a year before the manuscript for the new Kalevala was completed. Lönnrot had in his possession the results of four trips made by himself as well as the collections of A. J. Sjögen, M. A. Castrén, D. E. D. Europaus, H. A. Reinholm, August Ahlqvist, Fr. Polén, and Z. Sirelius. The sheer magnitude of the materials forced Lönnrot to choose among alternatives, even to the extent of modifying the theme and structure of the old Kalevala. He wrote of this problem: "The poems, especially those at the beginning will be in a different order from the previous ones, to bring about a more cohesive and natural entity. The many repetitions afford so vast a selection in form and verbiage that one could often wish for fewer riches from which to make a choice." However, when the researchers began to argue about the place and time of the Kalevala's birth, they forgot completely that the epic as they knew it was born at the desk of Elias Lönnrot.

The publication of the old Kalevala awakened a powerful national consciousness. J. G. Linsén said in 1836, that if Porthan still lived, he would bless this unexpected victory for the land of his birth. Declaring that Finnish literature could now claim a significant place in European literature, Linsén added: "In making these oral runes her very own, Finland can thus, encouraged and self-informed, learn to know its antiquity and also the future potential of its intellectual development. Finland can now say to itself: I, too, have a history' (Suomi voi sanoa insellensa minullakin on historia!)." M. A. Castrén, a young scholar from the North, conjectured: "If I wished to prophesy a future for Finland, when its young men enlivened by true patriotism and willing to lay aside foreign cultures and confessing only that to be true, which had developed from their very own intellectual life and effort; I could well seek the foundation for these hopes in the very Kalevala itself."

The powerful need for a national political self-consciousness was the greatest single factor in the Kalevala's success. Interest was first aroused by the fact that the Finnish "hoi polloi," of whose language little was understood, had now been proved to be the protector of a great treasure. In addition to the influence of the romantic milieu, Ruenberg threw the weight of his prestige in defense of the work. Comparing it favorably with the greatest artistic accomplishments of the Greeks, he thus helped the Kalevala to achieve recognition. Ironically, each of these inspired pronouncements was delivered in Swedish; the Swedish-speaking intelligentsia were especially interested in the Kalevala although their acquaintance with it was rather superficial because of the difficulties of language. Even such a Finnophile as Volmar Schildt-Kilpinen acknowledged ten years after its publication that "I feel like a blind man with regard to the runes, in many instances playing a guessing game at what may have been in the mind of the creator, for I cannot grasp it completely."

On the other hand, the Finnish-speaking people knew very little about the Kalevala. The only Finnish-language newspaper in the country, Sanan-saattaja Viipurista, did publish a brief but dry article in which both the name of the epic and its author were misspelled. The first edition of the Kalevala, consisting of five hundred volumes, was sold out twelve years after the date of publication. Nevertheless, this apparent lack of interest is in no way indicative of the Kalevala's importance. It was, as Mariti Haavio has since expressed it, not only "the symbol of Finnish nationalism; but it was actually its crown jewel. It formed a kind of capital, which could hardly as yet be fully drawn upon. It was a cultural goal toward which the oppressed spirit of the Finnish nationalism groped."

Before long, the discussion concerning the Kalevala was joined more closely to the program of awakening the national consciousness and was a factor in the struggle over the language question. In 1845, the new editor of the Mehilainen, J. V. Snellman, began directing his readers to become acquainted with the Kalevala: "Young men, each Swedish word which you utter from this moment onward shall be, relatively speaking, lost from this literature, from the name of Finland, and from your own dignity. Only your mother tongue will afford your works and name a place in the world." When the decree of censorship in 1850 threatened to put an end to the strengthening cause of Finnish patriotism, scores of university students, helped by gifts from their home districts, journeyed to the backwoods and towns with the Kalevala in their knapsacks to continue Lönnrot's work.

The peacefully begun national awakening was seriously impeded when the country was torn asunder by political factions and the language struggle. The Swedish movement challenged the originality and true nature of the Kalevala; C. G. Estlander contended that the epic was nothing more than a counterfeit based upon runes of the Ossian-type. As Lönnrot's original notations of the runes had been lost (they were later discovered by chance among some discarded papers), the task of quickly gathering "replications of the Kalevala" was begun. This task was doubly beneficial, for it not only refuted Estlander's contentions but also helped to renew the lagging interest in rune collection. The Kalevala is original in the same sense that the Homeric epics, the Edda legends and the Niebelungenlied are original. It is based upon original, although separately sung, runes and upon smaller folk epics (the Sampo-epic, the Lemminkainen-epic and the Kullervo-epic). Both Homer and Lönnrot compiled the runes of the rhapsodists and runesingers into a broader and systematic whole. On the other hand, the Kalevala cannot be compared either to Macpherson's Ossiad, which contains only a sprinkling of original folk songs, or to the two literary epics inspired by the Kalevala, the Kalevipoeg by the Estonian Kreutzwald and Hiawatha by the American Longfellow.

About 1860, numerous kalevala-inspired works began to appear: Aleksis Kivi's Kullervo-tragedy, Sjöstrand's sculptures, Ekman's paintings, von Schantzin's Kullervo overture, and Topelius' Princess of Cypress. The 1890's were the golden age of folk romanticism. Artists journeyed to the wilds of Kauko-Karjala in search of the milieu from which the runes had come. Four names are pre-eminent among the multitude of artists in this period: Jean Sibelius, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Juhani Aho, and Eino Leino.

About the same time that realism began to be a factor in literature, the maturation of research in folk poetry caused a re-evaluation. Julius Krohn in his lectures on the Kalevala in 1875 reported that he had concluded "that the published Kalevala, although it is so carefully compiled, or, better, especially because it is so carefully concatenated, does not lend itself at all to scientific research." In other words, it had become quite clear to the researcher that the problem of "replication of variant readings of the Kalevala" indicated that one could solve the problem of the variant forms and rich folk-runes only by attaching the original runes themselves as basic sources. Examination should be focused primarily upon the developmental history of the separate poems, their structure and age, and not upon the synthesis created by Lönnrot which did not contain all of the runes and therefore could not reveal the richness of the variant readings and the nature of folk poetry. The researcher must also investigate the prose forms contained in the descriptive runes, legends, proverbs, and riddles. A similar impulse to extend Finnish literary culture can be observed in the other works of Elias Lönnrot, who had published works on incantations, proverbs, and riddles (arvotuksia), and was presently at work on a monumental Finnish dictionary. At this time, Kalevala research became separated from research on Finnish folk runes. The latter utilized geographichistorical methodology to uncover a cultural basis for the creation of runes. The former devoted itself to delineating the problems related to the compilation of the Kalevala and to critically examining the epic as literature. Today, nearly one hundred years after this work was published, it is possible to mark the excellent achievements of both schools. The "Finnish method" used in the investigation of sagas achieved prominence in its day, even in foreign countries; later, when the methodology used in folk research became multifaceted, it served to illumine the history and nature of folk poems and lyrics. Kalevala research, in its investigation of the individual runes, has clarified the sources of the verses and has revealed the creativity of Elias Lönnrot. Contemporary scholars assign the modern Kalevala research to literary science; the special artistic creative process which resulted in Elias Lönnrot's Kalevala is best explained through the methodology of literary criticism.

The foregoing has attempted to trace the meaning of the Kalevala in terms of the cultural-historical situation into which it came. Neither the Kalevala nor the folk-songs which comprised it were understood in any profound sense for a long time. A considerable interval elapsed before it was possible to interpret the strange words and obscure language of the runes, and to recognize the poetic values in the text. In spite of these obstacles, the effect of the Kalevala is immeasurable. It has been said that the greater part of Finland's history during the past generation is a direct or indirect result of the publication of this folk epic. Simply in the area of political history it has been crucial. In almost all the fields of artistic endeavor the Kalevala's influence has been pervasive: it gave birth to new branches of learning; it fructified the Finnish language, thus laying a corner-stone for Finnish literature; and it brought the name of Finland to the attention of the world. Only an epic and only a folk epic at that could have accomplished so much.

William A. Wilson (essay date 1975)

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SOURCE: "The Kalevala and Finnish Politics," in Journal of the Folklore Institute, Vol. XII, No. 2-3, 1975, pp. 131-55.

[In the following excerpt, Wilson takes a critical look at the historical relationship between Finnish nationalist politics and the study of the Kalevala.]

Folklore studies in Finland have from the beginning been intimately connected with the struggle of Finnish nationalists to achieve first cultural and then political independence. Probably in no other country has the marriage of folklore research and national aspirations produced such dramatic results. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Finns, fragmented into several dialect groups and lacking the binding ties of a common literature and a written record of their national past, were ill-prepared to face the century of Russian rule and attempted Russification of their culture that lay ahead. Then in 1835 Elias Lönnrot published the Kalevala, the national epic based on the old heroic songs that Lönnrot and his compatriots had collected from the Finnish hinterlands and that Lönnrot had welded into a unified whole. In the following decades, a small band of scholar-patriots dipped deeply into this folklore as they forged a literary language, created a national literature and sought to reconstruct the prehistoric period when Finns had walked on Finnish soil as free men. The Kalevala and the cultural works based on it gave the Finns a newfound pride in their past, courage to face an uncertain future, and, above all, a feeling of self-esteem they had never known before. That their beleaguered little nation on the fringe of Western civilization had produced an epic comparable, in their own minds at least, to the great Homeric epics was to be a never-ending source of pride to the Finns. The Kalevala had become their book of independence, their passport into the family of civilized nations. A nation that had created the Kalevala, they repeatedly told themselves, was not destined to die. In 1907 the great lyric poet Eino Leino summed up the feeling of the times in these words:

The national spirit which appears in it is the spirit of a free nation. .. . In reading it we feel ourselves to be free and independent. . . . From it there steps before us a nation which enjoys its existence. . . . It is no slave nation . . . nor is it an upstart nation, but rather a nation which has its own customs, traditions, gods and concepts of life. It is old Finland. . . . The Finnish tongue in the Kalevala sounds freely, brightly and victoriously. It gives a picture of a nation which is sovereign.

That a decade later Finland was able to take advantage of unsettled world conditions and in actuality to become sovereign was due in no small part to the feelings of cultural identity and national unity engendered by the Kalevala.

But in the years following independence both Finnish political ideology and the folklore research that underpinned it in many instances tended toward extremism. This development was due largely to two points of view which had by then gained widespread acceptance and to shifting national aspirations and commensurate adjustments in folklore theory. Both points of view had deep roots in the past but in the volatile years between the world wars had emerged with renewed force.

The first of these was the firm conviction that the ancient Kalevala poems provided an untarnished reflector of the pristine national soul—the conviction that one ought to look to these poems, or to the Kalevala itself (which in the popular fancy was synonymous with authentic folklore) to discover what it really meant to be a Finn and to find historical models on which to build the society of contemporary Finland.

The belief that folklore was the abode of the mystical national soul was, of course, nothing new. It had been developed by Herder and the German Romantics at the end of the eighteenth century and, at the beginning of the nineteenth, had been responsible for turning Finnish folklorists to nationalism and Finnish nationalists to folklore. Weakened momentarily in the 1870s and 1880s by the spread of empiricism and positivism, it had received new life at the turn of the century from the neo-romantic movement, which stressed feeling and intuition, and from the anti-positivism and loss of faith in reason that grew out of World War I. By the time independence had been won in 1917, every schoolchild had been taught again and again that Finnish folk poetry was a mirror for all that was one hundred percent Finnish. In the following years, if anything, the belief grew still stronger and continued as a means of influencing cultural-political thought. In 1921, for example, E. A. Saarimaa, a prominent educator, instructed his fellow teachers: "The national significance of our folklore . . . entitles it to a prominent position in the national literature studied in our secondary schools. But particularly the fact that our nation's individuality is best revealed in this poetry makes learning it important. The nation's soul is nowhere reflected so clearly as in its almost collectively created poetry. And one of the most important tasks of the secondary school is to acquaint the students with their own nation."

The second point of view that made possible the political exploitation of folklore was the belief that folklore was to be handmaiden to the state—that the end of folklore research was service of the fatherland. Once again this belief found support in the teachings of Herder, who had argued that an individual could receive his fullest development only as an integral part of his particular nation and that service to that nation was the highest endeavor of man. Through the years preceding Finnish independence, this service had been expressed primarily in attempts to advance Finnish culture, to create a national literature, to elevate the vernacular tongue, and to draw nearer the common folk. But following independence, nationalistic endeavors took on a harsher tone. The milder spirit of Herder gave way to that of Hegel, and individuality yielded to national or racial loyalty. The following oath read to initiates at the swearing-in ceremony of the Academic Karelian Society, the university's most influential and politically active student organization, reflects something of the changed spirit: "From this moment on you no longer belong to yourselves but to the Fatherland. You stand before an open door; on this side is everything which a weak human will consider worthwhile and desirable: I, myself. On the other side is self-denial: The Fatherland. You step through the door and shut it behind you with an unopenable bolt: your manly oaths."

Sentiments such as this one soon began to echo in the statements of folklorists. For example, in a youth publication Valdemar Rantoja wrote: "Folklore research is with us in Finland a national branch of science whose task is to reveal the earliest development of the Finnish spirit and to create an ideological-historical foundation for our nation's independent life and for its historical duty." And in a doctoral ceremony, in the militaristic tones typical of the time, Mariti Haavio, one of the country's most brilliant young folklorists and during the 1920s, a leading figure in the Academic Karelian Society, declared: "Only a free man can carry a sword, not a slave nor the servile minded. .. . In this land we have been chosen to fight on behalf of that culture which we received as an inheritance; indeed, to conquer new areas for it. Only so long as science in this land is free will there be a sword in our hands; only so long as there is a sword in our hands will science be free. And without free science that fatherland to whose service we have consecrated ourselves can never flourish."

The trouble with this argument is that when a scholar has consecrated himself above all else to the service of his fatherland, the demands of his scholarship all too easily yield to the needs of that fatherland. He becomes a patriot first and a scholar second. In such instances, folklore continues to serve as a mirror for culture, but the image reflected depends on the political predisposition of the man holding the mirror. Such was frequently the case in Finland in the years following independence, as folklore study at times became not just a means of understanding culture, but also a tool for manipulating minds. Intellectual leaders and propagandists from both sides of the political spectrum interpreted Finnish epic poetry to fit their own views and then, in the name of loyalty to one's heritage, used this poetry to advocate diametrically opposed courses of political action—the political right to generate in the citizenry a militaristic posture and to argue for an expansionist foreign policy; the political left to counter the ideology of the right and to argue for a classless, communistic society.


Folklore and Militarism

In preparation for "Kalevala Day" in 1917 (the annual commemoration of the publication of the epic) Eino Leino wrote in the popular press:

To honor the Kalevala is to us Finns the same as honoring one's own deepest being; to come to know the Kalevala is the same as knowing the wellsprings of one's own spirit; to rejoice over the Kalevala is the same as rejoicing over the swelling, streaming sunshine of one's own breast, over faith in life and over fulfillment. If a Finn does not care to read the Kalevala, then that testifies that he does not care to glance at the pages of his own book of destiny; if a Finn does not like the Kalevala, then that testifies that he does not like anything nor anybody, for only one who loves his own primeval self can radiate love around him. But if a Finn ridicules the Kalevala, then that is a sin against the Holy Ghost.

Though the Kalevala was never widely read, except in school assignments, Leino's words suggest the symbolical force the epic had achieved in the minds of the people. It was important simply because it was there, a spiritual monument to the greatness of ancient Finland. Thus ten months later, with independence now achieved, cultural leaders quite naturally looked to the Kalevala and to the more genuine old heroic poems from which it had been formed to seek guidance in determining what kind of nation independent Finland should become. The answer was clear: a strong militaristic nation, a great northern power.

This answer was based in part on the Finns' swelling pride, on their understandable desire, after centuries of foreign rule, to become masters of their own fate and to recapture that lost age of glory and heroism revealed to them by the Kalevala. But, perhaps more important, it was based on the national will to survive, on the firm conviction that only by becoming militarily strong could Finland hope to resist the malevolent powers emanating from the East. Following a divisive civil war in 1918, which many Finns blamed on Russia, and following the Peace of Tartu in 1920, which the political right, as we shall see, considered a betrayal of Finland's legitimate territorial interests in the East, there developed in the land a militant anti-communism and an unrelenting hate of the Soviet Union. Russians were no longer Russians; they were "our hereditary foe" or, more often and more disparagingly, simply "Ruskis" ("Ryssä t"). And they were denounced from all quarters in the most inflammatory terms. On "Kalevala Day" in 1923, for instance, Elias Simojoki, a theology student and later a Lutheran pastor, declared to Helsinki University students that to love their fatherland they would have to hate Russia:

Hate of the Ruski was the power which made Finland free. Hate of the Ruski .. . is the Finnish Spirit. .. . Do you know how to hate as one hates in blood wrath, as your forefathers hated? .. . Death to the Ruskis, whatever be their color. In the name of the blood spilled by our forefathers, death to the destroyers and spoilers of our homes, our kinsmen, and our fatherland. Death to the dividers of Kaleva's race, to the polluter of the Finnish nation. In the name of Finland's lost honor and her coming greatness, death to the Ruskis. On this "Kalevala Day," in the name of our fatherland's rising greatness and the awakening of our people, let a rousing cry of holy love and hate travel through the tribe of Kullervo and through our beloved birthland.

Simojoki's intemperate blast was more extreme than most but still not atypical. Three days earlier Martti Haavio had told a university audience that "nothing good can come from Moscow—against Moscow we must wage battle." And Haavio's friend, E. E. Kaila, wrote: "By the power of a strong national feeling and an active patriotism—hate of the Ruski—every individual and the entire society are to sacrifice themselves to this work, so that when the hour strikes we will not be caught napping but will be ready for battle on behalf of our national freedom, our state independence, and humane culture, ready for the battle and for victory."

To stir up this martial spirit, to glorify fighting and reckless courage, and to convince their countrymen that they were capable of greatness, Finnish nationalists turned to the ideal world revealed in native folk poetry, and particularly to the militaristic world which the dean of Finnish folklorists, Kaarle Krohn, had recently discovered in the Kalevala poems.

At the turn of the century there had been little in Krohn's folklore theory and in his study of the Kalevala heroes that would lift the Finns' flagging self-esteem and spur them on to heroic actions of their own. Nurtured by the evolutionary and positivistic spirit of his youth and following, in part, lines laid down by his father Julius, Kaarle Krohn had argued in his great work Kalevalan runojen historia (The History of the Kalevala Poems, 1903-1910) that though a few of the Kalevala poems had mythological origins—the famous heroes Vä inä mö inen and Ilmarinen he considered to be gods of the water and air—the majority of them had clearly derived from medieval Catholic saints' legends which had arrived in Finland from the West. Beginning life in southwest Finland as small poetic "germ cells," the poems had migrated slowly across the land to the remote province of northeast (Viena) Karelia, sloughing off in the process original Christian names, which were replaced by those of the old pagan gods, and evolving all the time into the longer poems and clusters of poems which Lö nnrot had eventually collected and shaped into the Kalevala. In none of this then—the lack of a solid historical or mythological foundation for the epic poetry, the lack of an heroic age, the development of the poetry from borrowed rather than from indigenous materials, and the late blossoming of the poetry—was there much grist for the nationalists' mill. But as Finland began to struggle toward independence, Krohn began to change his theory; Indeed, few scholars have opposed the theories of other men with the vigor that Kaarle Krohn was in the ensuing years to oppose those that had once been his own.

From the end of the nineteenth century a spirit of resistance to Russian oppression had been developing in the land. Its first manifestation had been the 523,000 signatures (half the adult population) sent to the czar in 1899 to protest violation of Finland's constitutional guarantees. This petition was soon followed in 1902 by the refusal of three-fifths of the youths of conscription age to report for the draft, by the refusal of Finns in general to obey edicts they considered illegal, by the assassination of Governor General Bobrikov in 1904, and by the general strike in 1905, which in its beginning stages, at least, had been an act of unified resistance against the Russians. At the beginning of World War I, a number of young Finnish activists, having come to believe in the force of arms as the proper means to achieve political ends, sought military training in Germany while others of their number, for the first time seriously considering the possibility of political independence, had sought German assurances that in the event of Russia's defeat Germany would support Finland's bid for freedom. These political activities and aspirations had been further augmented by neo-romanticism in art, music, and literature, which had once again focused attention on the Kalevala and the golden age of the past. The folklore-inspired productions of Eino Leino, Jean Sibelius, and Akseli Gallén-Kallela, the fervent patriotic sermons given in 1902 on the one-hundreth anniversary of Elias Lö nnrot's birth, and the Kalevala celebrations held across the land in 1910 on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the publication of the epic all contributed to the Finns' sense of national self-esteem. And it was in the midst of this political climate in 1914 that Kaarle Krohn, in two short essays ("The Heroes" and "Kalevala and His Kin") dramatically suggested that he had been wrong in his earlier Kalevala interpretations and that the ancient Finns really had had a famous past.

These essays were only preliminary steps to the major works to come, and in the intervening years the public waited somewhat anxiously to see what direction Krohn would take. Shortly before the March Revolution that would thrust Finland down the road to independence, J. R. Danielson-Kalmari, a leading historian and politician, declared in a speech at Helsinki university: "[Krohn] has presented the view that in the Kalevala we have before us much more historical material based on actual happenings . . . than we have ordinarily been accustomed to see. With great interest the Finnish people expect now, and have the right to expect, that Kalevala research will clarify this matter and show to what extent this new view is accurate."

The Finnish people had not long to wait. The following year Krohn published Kalevalankysymyksiä (Kalevala Questions, 1918), which turned his former theories upside down and provided ample material from which the disciples of militarism could seek sustenance. Krohn now argued that the heroic poems had not begun life as insignificant poetic germ cells but as individually created artistic wholes which had often fragmented as they migrated from southwest Finland to Viena Karelia; that the original poems had not been composed in the Middle Ages but in the Late Iron Age (700-1100), during the warlike period corresponding to the Scandinavian Viking Age; and, most important, that the events described in the poems had derived neither from mythology nor from saints' legends, but from actual historical events. This meant that the principal heroes of the poems—Vä inä mö inen, Ilmarinen, Lemminkä inen—were real men, Finnish Viking chieftains who had once walked as free men on free Finnish soil and had with the sword won honor and fame for the fatherland.

To the end of his life, Krohn continued to write about his country's epic poetry, producing among other works his monumental Kalevalastudien (1924-1928) and remaining throughout unshakably committed to his new faith: once restored to their original forms through comparative textual analysis, the old poems would prove to be purely native poetry recounting the gallant exploits of fearsome Finnish heroes. A year before his death, Krohn wrote of old Vä inä mö inen, the greatest of these heroes, that he had been "a great man of good lineage," and "had been a battle-tested sea warrior, more skilled than his fellows in the use of the sword."

To the academic community Krohn explained that his changed view had resulted simply from an honest assessment of "observed facts." But that the change was also politically motivated and that Krohn, like so many others, was overwhelmed by the martial spirit of the times seems clear from even a cursory glance at his statements in popular publications.

In April, 1919, for example, in the leading nationalist paper Uusi Suomi, Krohn boldly defended his new historical view, gave a stirring account of the epic heroes—their consuming love of battle, their daring pillaging expeditions—and then, by quoting with obvious approval a statement by the Danish scholar F. Ohrt, suggested in conclusion that Finland's changed political situation had required a corresponding change in folklore interpretation:

The formerly peaceful Finland has become militaristic, which during these unsettled times is good. Kalevala scholarship has followed the same road. Before the great war the notion prevailed that the Kalevala primarily depicted the thoughts and cares of a people living in peaceful circumstances, that the power of the word rather than of the sword was its ideal. Now from the Kalevala the clamor of warlike sea adventurers reverberates [and] golden hilts and dragon-crested ship prows gleam. The young people grown up in a Finland that has achieved its independence can in their imaginations return, project themselves back, to the folklore heroes and from them can gain inspiration for a common struggle.

In 1923, in an essay prepared for the schools and the general public, he wrote: "After a century of scholarship . . . that daring supposition (the idea of the poems' historical validity) has changed to a scientific conviction at the very time when the Finnish nation has attained its external independence and has shown itself capable of both understanding and creating history." To what extent he manipulated his data, either consciously or unconsciously, to inspire those creating Finland's new history is a question that lies beyond easy answer. It is perhaps best to take him at his own word. Shortly before his death he wrote: "At the time we were fighting for our independence there arose before my eyes an age following but similar to the Scandinavian Viking Age, when Finns, still independent, embarked on sea expeditions, appearing in turn on the shores of Sweden." And for Kaarle Krohn that splendid Viking vision seems, to borrow a phrase from Robert Frost, to have "made all the difference."

Krohn died in 1933, but not until the end of World War II was his vision of a glorious past to fade from the minds of the Finns. Of the many scholars who helped keep it alive, two of the most influential were Jalmari Jaakkola and Martti Haavio. Though each departed somewhat from Krohn in their historical reconstructions, each, following him, believed epic poetry to be the key to the distant past, and each found revealed in that poetry a dazzling, heroic world.

Jaakkola, the first to hold the prestigious chair in Finnish history established at the University of Helsinki in 1932, was also one of the first professional historians to make the study of ancient history the study of folklore and thus lend further credence to Krohn's point of view. Just as the Aurorea Borealis shimmered in the distant northern sky, so too, argued Jaakkola, did folk poetry provide a brilliant road back to the ancient Finns: "And that poetic flash, in spite of all its gilding, reveals a great reality which the tools of research can never penetrate as deeply as . . . the ancient Finnish heroic song." In his major work, Suomen varhaishistoria (Early Finnish History, 1935) he stated in the preface that he intended to depict "the life of ancient Finland as it was reflected in the mirror of the period, the Kalevala heroic poetry." In the following pages, he brought vividly to life the different Finnish tribes who had lived and fought in Finland in those glorious years between 800 and 1100.

Easily the most brilliant and productive of Krohn's students was Martti Haavio, whose eloquent pen carried the message of folklore to a large portion of the populace. In a number of short articles and in two long studies meant for both scholarly and popular audiences Suomalainen muinaisrunous (Ancient Finnish Poetry, 1933) and Suomalaisen muinaisrunouden maailma (The World of Ancient Finnish Poetry, 1935)—Haavio defended folklore as a mirror for culture in an eminently reasonable manner. Yet when he moved from general principles to specific descriptions of the Viking culture reflected in the heroic layer of poetry, he was carried away by the same enthusiasm for scenes of battle and conquest that had overcome his predecessors. "Our old poetry," he said, "relays to us information from the Kalevala culture, from the Finnish heroic age about which history is silent." This heroic age "was restless and warlike, a Finnish society in which a spirit of battle held sway." Of its heroes, Haavio declared: "Their carefree warrior-mentality is reflected in many passages in the poems; their yearning for fighting expeditions is sincere and often overwhelming." After describing in considerable detail this warrior society, he exclaimed with a burst of pride: "Rich bounty, beautiful women, the honor of men, wilderness expeditions, pillaging expeditions, sea voyages, battles, blood revenge—there are some catchwords that capitally characterize the Finnish Viking Age."

It is surprising that in a man like Haavio, essentially a scholar, scenes of conquest should evoke feelings of admiration, and that both he and his readers should find great cause for pride in having had ancestral heroes whose principal virtue seemed to be an overwhelming desire to wage fierce battle against their neighbors. Few can deny, however, that Haavio's eloquent rhetoric did tend to lend a rather pleasing prospect to the battle, pleasing enough, at least, to inculcate in young men ardent for glory what Wilfred Owen has called "that old lie, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori."

Had Finnish folklorists simply been ivory tower academicians writing for other folklorists, their ideas would probably have had little impact on the general public. But they were not. Most of them were also political activists and folklore popularizers. They spoke at patriotic ceremonies; they helped prepare readers and folklore teaching guides for the public schools; and they wrote constantly for popular publications, including official and semi-official military journals.

One of the earliest of these articles and one that set the tone for many to follow was written by Vä iö n Salminen (a docent and later professor of Finnish folklore) and published in Suomen Sotilas (The Finnish Soldier) on "Kalevala Day" 1921. "One often hears the claim," stated Salminen, "that our forefathers did not admire heroic acts and warlike exploits, since these supposedly are not sung about in the ancient Kalevala poetry. That claim does not hold true. In the old poetry both the warrior's bearing and fighting capability are depicted with rapture." To prove this point and to provide Finland's modern young warriors with an inspiring model for action, Salminen described, in carefully selected detail, the feats of the hero Kullervo. A capital hero, Kullervo lusted after battle, proclaiming:

Soma on sotahan kuolla
kaunis miekan kalskehesen.

[It is sweet to die in war,
Beautiful to die in the
clashing of swords.]

And when the call to battle sounded, he left for the fight with a gay, rejoicing heart. Such heroism, however, was not without its rewards, for Finnish warriors, Salminen melodramatically informed his readers, had always been much admired by the people, and particularly by Finnish maidens, who would gaze from their windows at passing young heroes and sigh:

Voi kun tuo minun olisi,
Suven syö mä ttä olisin,
aastajankin einehettä.

[Oh, if he were only mine,
I would go a summer without eating,
A year without food.]

"From the Kullervo poems alone," concluded Salminen, "we see that war heroes and battle were not alien to the ancient Finns."

The comments with which the editors of the journal introduced Salminen's article are as instructive as the article itself and clearly reveal the purpose for which it was published: "The most magnificent spiritual creation of our forefathers, the Kalevala, must not remain a stranger to a single Finnish youth. On this day, eighty-five years after the publication of our national poems, there is reason to recall in the columns of The Finnish Soldier what the Kalevala has to say particularly to the Finnish soldier." In the following years Finnish folklorists would continue to argue that the Kalevala did indeed have much to say to the youth of the nation, and to its soldiers. Fourteen years later, for instance, Martti Haavio was still developing the same themes. In a "Kalevala Day" article in Hakkapeliitta (a publication of the Civil Defense Corps), he declared that "the heart of the Kalevala poetry is simply war poetry." Through this poetry, he argued, "we arrive in the midst of that age when Scandinavian Vikings in swift-sailing ships plowed the seas of the world, destroying, burning and plundering. Finnish society—our heroic poetry makes this perfectly clear—is a war society." In another militaristic essay, this one published in Laivastolehti (The Navy Journal), Haavio discussed ancient Finnish heroes of the sea. Vä inä mö inen, for instance, was a great sea warrior and the society that had sung about him was a "Finnish war society in which the sea, war, and sea warfare were extremely popular, in which heroism was a virtue, in which a sea warrior merited the highest praise." The poems describing young Ahti, another bold and battle-hungry sea hero, were, exulted Haavio, "the clearest, the most human, and in my opinion the most beautiful of our heroic poetry."

If the warlike spirit of the epic poems, then, was the true Finnish spirit, and if the epic heroes, the prototypes of Finnish character, were men of the sword, eager to take up arms to achieve their just ends, the lesson to patriotic Finnish youth was clear, "go and do likewise."

Folklore and Greater Finland

For most Finns, achieving their just ends meant simply becoming strong enough to defend their borders and to maintain their independence. But among some members of the political right, it meant not just defending borders but expanding them eastward.

When Finland became independent, East Karelia and Ingria, where most of the Kalevala poetry had been collected, remained in Russian hands. For years these regions had comprised a sort of Finnish holy land where artists, musicians, and literary men, not to mention troops of folklorists, had made pilgrimages to seek creative inspiration and to imbue themselves with the spirit of the Kalevala. In 1920, at the Peace of Tartu, which the political right considered a cowardly betrayal of Finland's national interests, Finland and Russia agreed to keep existing borders, Russia's one concession being to grant East Karelia local autonomy. When the Bolsheviks failed to keep even this promise, Finland appealed to the Hague Court of International Justice and to the League of Nations, but to no avail.

The door had thus been nailed shut. A hue and cry of anger spread across the land, talk of holy war filled the air, and men swore sacred oaths never to sheathe their swords until their tribal brethren had been freed. The goal was to wrest Ingria and particularly East Karelia from Russia—by peaceful means if possible but by force if necessary—and to combine them with Finland proper into a Greater Finland (Suur Suomi), held together by the bonds of blood and culture.

The Greater Finland issue is far too complex for detailed discussion here. It deserves at least brief attention, however, because some of the same folklorists who admired their heroic ancestors' reliance on the sword were also among those militantly raising their voices in defense of an enlarged fatherland. For example, in 1919 Vä inö Salminen wrote: "The Finnish race does not wish to seize foreign land. But from centuries of hard experience it has certainly learned enough that at long last it has categorically determined to take control in that area which has belonged to it from times immemorial." In 1923, in a speech before the Estonian-Finnish University Club, Martti Haavio proclaimed: "[The Finnish race] must for all time knock down that pillar on which is inscribed The Kingdom of the Ruskis—and must erect one a thousand times higher on which is [written] IMPERIUM FENNICUM." In 1935, in a harsh essay entitled "What Has the Kalevala To Say to Contemporary Youth?" Matti Kuusi, inspired by the heroic vision of Jalmari Jaakkola, declared: "It is understood that Finnish destiny is contingent upon this alternative, 'national destruction—national greatness. Either—or!' . . . only a desire for Finnish greatness can withstand the pressure of the Slavic desire for greatness. Thus an organic part of the youth's national ideology is belief in the coming liberation of the Finnish tribes beyond the border, Viena, Aunus, Ingria."

From our perspective today, the Finns' desire to appropriate these areas, which bordered Leningrad and contained the Murmansk Railway, seems foolhardy. But one should recall that in its first years, at least, the Soviet Union was torn by civil war and by a struggle for survival. The Finns, sharing the prevalent belief that the Bolsheviks would soon be toppled from power, felt that in the subsequent realignment of Russia's borders Finland would have a more reasonable claim than others to East Karelia. Further, if the dream of a Greater Finland sounded like misty eyed idealism, so too had the dream of an independent Finland a century earlier. With that first dream now realized, the young men of the new republic set out with firm resolve to bring to pass the second. And in the propaganda campaign that developed, they once again found in folklore a most effective weapon.

The advocates of a Greater Finland based their argument on two major premises. The first was the belief that Finland, Karelia, and Ingria were ethnically one people and ought therefore to be one nation. There was much talk of achieving Finland's "natural borders," those which, as Vä inö 'Salminen pointed out, God had intended for her. The belief in nation-states as living organisms having gained considerable ground, it was generally felt that the divided Finnish tribes could never fulfill their destiny until they had become one nation. "The incorporation of all Karelia into Finland," explained Salminen, "is, frankly speaking, a condition of survival for the Finnish race and, at the same time, a condition of survival for the East Karelian nation." This belief in ethnic unity was based on a common ancestry, on a common language, and, most important for our purposes, on a shared body of folk poetry.

Some Finns felt this poetry to be an ancestral inheritance from the misty past, from the period of Balto-Finnic unity when the Finns, Karelians, and Ingrians had lived together as one people and before they had migrated to their present homelands, taking with them their language and folk poetry. Others like Kaarle Krohn believed the poems had originated much later in Western Finland and then, through automigration, had moved slowly to the east and northeast where they had been preserved and reshaped by the Ingrians and Karelians. But whether viewed as a racial inheritance from primordial times or as collective creations resulting from their automigration, the poems came to represent for political activists the "binding tie" holding together the members of the Finnish race.

The symbolical significance that political activists found in this binding tie is illustrated well in an essay published by the Academic Karelian Society, the organization most devoted to the Greater Finland dream. "The Kalevala," stated the essay, "is the strongest witness of that affinity which holds sway between Karelia and the rest of Finland. It above all testifies that the Karelian nation and the Finnish nation are one nation. . . . The Finnish nation is not yet what it should be. Finnish nationality does not yet shape the Finnish state. . . . The duty of our present generation of Finns is .. . to work for the accomplishment of that goal which the Kalevala has initiated." As the activists worked toward that goal, they turned also to narratives in the epic itself, and particularly to the story of "Lemminkä inen's Mother" to symbolize the hoped for establishment of Greater Finland. Lemminkä inen, killed by a treacherous enemy, cut to pieces and then thrown into the river Tuonela, was raked up from the river by his mother, put back together, and resuscitated. In like manner, Finnish patriots, supposedly stirred by the same kind of love that had moved Lemminkä inen's mother, were attempting to join together the divided parts of the "natural" Finnish body and bring it once again to life.

The second premise on which the advocates of a Greater Finland based their demand for territorial aggrandizement was the belief that the publication of the Kalevala had prepared the way for Finnish independence and that the Finns, therefore, were now honor bound to bring independence to the Karelians and Ingrians, who had kept the old poems alive after they had faded in Finland proper. The following "Kalevala Day" editorial published in the influential newspaper, Aamulehti, is typical of the statements that echoed throughout the 1920s and 1930s:

Without the Kalevala, Finnish national spirit and culture scarcely would have been able to rise to that strength, richness, and significance necessary for the birth of an independent Finland.... The Finnish nation must therefore remember the great debt of gratitude to Karelia and its singing folk who, through the Kalevala songs, have in a forceful manner indirectly influenced both the development of a Finnish national spirit and culture and, by the same token, the birth of a free and independent Finland.

.. . On both sides of the state border the same tribe is still living, and on the Russian side it is still without that rightful political, national, linguistic, and cultural independence which it has prepared for Finland through the poems of the Kalevala. . . . The Kalevala obligates the Finnish people and state seriously to turn their attention to the plight of these border lands, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for preserving the ancient spiritual treasure of our nation. . . . The badly oppressed Ingria, which has likewise been instrumental in preserving both the Kalevala poems and other folklore . . . , also deserves our attention.

Proclamations like this one often deplored the deprivations suffered by the surviving folksingers at the hands of the Bolsheviks. "The homes of these men," wrote Martti Haavio, "are presently being pillaged by oppressors; their boys and girls are presently slaves: there where the kantele and the Sampo anciently rang out, there sounds now a sorrowful lament. During these very days Ingria's singing villages are being emptied of their occupants; the sons of the double-headed eagle are raging frightfully in the dwelling places of the Finns, places where our wonderful folk poems once took refuge." In like manner, E. N. Setä lä , a professor of Finnish language and literature, and a prominent politician and statesman, declared in a stirring "Kalevala Day" address: "Listen, listen to the lament of Karelia from those everlasting backwoods, from the shores of wilderness lakes where the Kalevala songs once echoed. . . . The voice of that lament sounds over the Finnish land; it wrings our hearts."

In this same address, Setä lä referred to the Karelians as "the last border guard of Western civilization." Some years earlier Kustavi Grotenfelt had similarily argued that Finland could fill its mission as Western civilization's vanguard "against the chaos of the East and against Bolshevism" only when it had attained its natural border. Between the wars this position became entrenched in the thinking of the political right. Finland, it was believed, was destined valiantly to serve as the West's last outpost against Eastern barbarism, as "the steel wall," as Haavio put it, "protecting [the West] from Moscow." This historical calling could be fulfilled, however, only if Finland were to become Greater Finland. The advocates of territorial expansion could thus appeal not only to narrow national interests but also to an unselfish concern for the welfare of Western culture.

In a public school reader published in 1930, Setä lä complained to students that a "strict prohibition" stopped the Finns from crossing the border into the Kalevala song country of East Karelia and that only in their imaginations could they envision "that land of broad backwoods, of great lakes, and of the poems." But in a little over a decade the Finns had actually crossed that border, not just in imagination but in fact. On November 30, 1939, Russia, having failed to win from Finland territorial concessions claimed necessary to protect the approaches to Leningrad, had attacked. In the short and vicious Winter War that followed, the Finns paid a terrible price in lost land and lost lives, but at the war's end (March 12, 1940) had managed to keep their independence intact. Fifteen months later, allied now with Germany, the country entered the conflict again, moving quickly into territory lost during the Winter War, and into East Karelia.

The Finns have always claimed officially that they moved across the border not to annex new territory but simply to establish a better line of defense. Whatever the case may be, there is no question that for many who lived this moment in history, the beginning of the war signaled the long-awaited realization of the Greater Finland dream, the restoration to Finland proper of the land that had preserved the Kalevala. An editorial in the Academic Karelian Society's principal publication proclaimed: "The moral justification for Greater Finland is irrefutable: it is based on the salvation of the Finnish race and culture from destruction by the East." And Vilho Helanen, a long-time Society leader, declared: "Now is the day of the fulfillment of our great visions."

The tone of statements such as these was set by none other than Marshal Mannerheim, commander-in-chief of Finland's armies and one of the country's most powerful men. Three days after the war began he "summoned" his troops and fellow citizens to follow him in a "holy war against the enemy of our nation." And two weeks later, as the army prepared for a major thrust eastward, he declared, in an emotional order of the day:

In the War of Liberation in 1918, I swore to the Finnish and Viena Karelians that I would not sheathe my sword until Finland and East Karelia were free. . . .

For twenty-three years [the Karelian provinces of] Viena and Aunus have awaited the fulfillment of this promise. . . .

Fighters in the war of liberation, famous men of the Winter War, my gallant soldiers! A new day has dawned. . . . Karelian freedom and a great Finland glimmer before us in the powerful avalanche of world historical events.

Whether Mannerheim, in spite of these words, was really committed to the Greater Finland dream is highly debatable. What he was committed to was the destruction of Bolshevism, which he despised. That he chose to allude to the dream, however, in order to rally the army and nation behind him in his struggle against the forces of the Kremlin demonstrates how firmly he believed that dream had seized the public imagination.

It was a dream, as we have seen, based solidly in folklore. And through these days of trouble and triumph, folklore continued to play an important political role, as the old arguments about ethnic unity and debts of honor were repeated with renewed fervor. As the Finnish armies moved intoxicatingly forward, Jalmari Jaakkola published a pontifical defense of the creation of a Greater Finland in the New Europe then taking shape and declared: "More clearly than any war or battle the Kalevala heroic poems show to both Finland and Europe that East Karelia belongs by spirit and nature to Finland." In November, 1941, a Finno-Ugric Conference sponsored by the Finnish League and attended by numerous officials, including the President of the Republic, was held in Helsinki. In one of the several politically volatile speeches given at the conference, the well-known poet V. A. Koskenniemi, referring to the old folk poems, praised the heroic Finnish army for pushing the Finnish border eastward: "A great poetry created by a united race once found its way through the wilderness, from house to house, from home to home, across an artificial border; now the Finnish army of liberation has arrived at these same roads and paths and has opened new ones, in order to pay its debt of honor to Karelia, to the song country of our tribe." Three months later, in the "liberated" village of Vuokkiniemi, where a century earlier Lö nnrot had collected some of his best poems, a Finnish army officer, speaking at a "Kalevala Day" celebration, made the same point:

Above all, of the great friends of East Karelia, we must mention Elias Lö nnrot, who again and again crossed over the border into the parishes of Vuokkiniemi and Uhtua, collected from these backwoods areas ancient Finnish poems, and from them formed the Kalevala, the national epic of the Finnish people. We men of the Finnish army of liberation who last summer crossed the border to drive the Bolshevik oppressor from Viena Karelia and to return these areas to the Finnish race, crossed the border under the power of a sacred emotion. We remembered that we were nearing the villages from which the Kalevala poems were once collected. The Finnish troops, who have heroically driven the Russian enemy from Finland's old border, have walked the same paths that the collector of the Kalevala, Elias Lö nnrot, once walked. . . . We Finns from beyond the former border wanted today, as we moved near the graves of the old Viena singers, to show them and the entire Viena lineage our delayed gratitude.

To the singers of songs asleep in the grave, the Finnish soldiers want now to say: "We are here!" The rest of Finland owes a great debt of gratitude to this tribe. For Viena Karelia's part in the development of the Finnish nation toward an independent and virile society has been overwhelming.... The final result of this holy war is certain. . . . The Finnish land from the Gulf of Bothnia to the White Sea and from Lake Onega to the Gulf of Finland will rise to a new life.

But the glory was short lived. Germany fell, and with it Finland. In the harsh peace terms that followed, the Finns' dreams of a Greater Finland faded forever.


During the first years of Finnish independence, the extreme left was less able to exploit folklore for political purposes than was the right. First of all, academic folklore study had always been in the hands of the nationalists, and it remained there after 1917; second, the Finnish government sharply curtailed the open publication of Communist propaganda; and third, following the Civil War in 1918, the most effective cultural and political ideologists had been forced to go underground or to seek exile across the border. Thus when the propaganda counterattack began in earnest in the 1930s, it took place not in Finland itself but among Finnish expatriates living in the land to which the political right looked with longing eyes—East Karelia.

Those who have attempted to play down the impact of the Greater Finland movement have generally argued that while its advocates made a lot of noise, they exercised little influence on the actual policies of the Finnish government. This assessment seems reasonably accurate, but it leaves out the crucial fact, as Wolf H. Halsti has pointed out, that they exercised considerable influence on the Soviet government. The Soviets, of course, did not fear a Finnish invasion, but they did fear that one of the greater powers bent on destroying Russia would launch an attack on Leningrad under the pretext of aiding Finland. A totalitarian state allowing no public deviation from official policy, Russia could not believe that the advocates of Greater Finland, considering the intensity of their propaganda, were speaking without government approval, and that Finland would not use the first available opportunity to move against Russia. Indeed, the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Maxim Litvinov, once told a Western journalist that Finland had concluded a secret treaty with Germany and Poland to bring to pass the annexation of East Karelia.

That the Communist leaders took Finnish folklore propaganda seriously is clear from the propaganda campaign launched in their own press during the Kalevala Jubilee Celebration in 1935, the commemoration in Finland of the centennial anniversary of the publication of the Kalevala. Few folklore celebrations, and certainly none in Finland, have ever matched the intensity of this event. Kalevala athletic events, Kalevala dramatic presentations, Kalevala radio programs, Kalevala concerts, Kalevala art shows, Kalevala festivals, and an endless array of fervent Kalevala speeches were held throughout Finland, all for the greater glory of the fatherland. At the gala festival held in Helsinki's new exhibition hall, the President spoke, the Minister of Education spoke, and the Speaker of Parliament, Kyö sti Kallio, warmed the hearts of Finnish scholars by declaring: "In order to promote research aimed at throwing light on the past of the Finnish race, the Parliament, in session today determined to establish a two-million-mark fund for this research. On behalf of the Parliament it is my honor to wish success to this research."

The Communists, of course, took quite a different view of this research. Press titles such as "Folklore and the Imperialistic Aims of the Finnish Bourgeoisie," "The Attempts of the Finnish Bourgeoisie to Force the Kalevala into the Service of Nationalism and Chauvinism," and "To What End has the Finnish Bourgeoisie Used and is Now Using the Kalevala?" make their attitude clear. "Thousands of Fascist students," cried one Communist publication, "have been sent throughout the land to arrange Kalevala celebrations, that is, to whip up anti-Soviet feeling. . . . The Finnish bourgeoisie have come to the egocentric conclusion that they can without hindrance soil and desecrate the best products of the people's creative ability and force them into the service of their plundering and national oppression." Another wrote: "The Fascists in many ways demonstrate that from a cultural-historical perspective they haven't much to learn from the Kalevala. They are not organizing the Kalevala's centennial celebration because of the Kalevala's cultural-historical significance. Warlike impassioned speeches . . . and provocative agitation against our Soviet land are a witness of that." And a Leningrad paper published an intriguing cartoon which showed the old Kalevala hero Vä inä mö inen sitting with a bewildered look on his face while two uniformed Nazis pinned a swastika arm band on him. A third Nazi, arm raised in a sieg heil gesture, was handing him an automatic pistol. The caption read: "One or two more strokes and the old boy will be ours."

To the Communists, the Finns' talk of freeing their racial brethren from Bolshevik oppression was simply a smoke screen behind which members of the Finnish bourgeoisie were masking their true intents of adding Karelian land and natural resources to Finland and thus further lining their own capitalistic pockets. On the basis of Finnish folklore, declared one Red newspaper, "Finland's timber capitalists and industrial magnates" claim that they have the right to appropriate the Karelians' land and to turn the Karelians themselves into "the slaves of the Finnish bourgeoisie." Another wrote: "The nationalistic and chauvinistic wave which has in recent days become particularly strong is a definite preparation by the Fascistic bourgeoisie for the organization of a . . . plundering expedition. The Kalevala Centennial Celebration will be used to intensify this struggle." And still another exclaimed: "[The Finnish bourgeoisie is using the Kalevala] in the service of their Fascist dictatorship. With its aid Finnish Fascists attempt to fan the flame of nationalism and to seek sympathy, support, and justification for their plans to seize Soviet-Karelia."

These statements show that the Communists had become fully aware of the symbolic importance of folklore in political propaganda and now realized that to counter this propaganda they would have to work out new interpretations of the old poetry. To emphasize this fact and to make the Soviet Karelians aware of "their cultural heritage," the Communists organized their own Jubilee Celebrations throughout East Karelia. On the same day that the cream of Finnish society met in Helsinki to commemorate the Kalevala, East Karelia's principal political leaders, many of them Finnish exiles, gathered in the regional capital Petroskoi to pay homage to the same epic. In his opening address Edward Gylling, Chairman of the People's Commissariat, decreed: "We have before us the especially important task of exposing the use of the Kalevala poems as the ideological foundation of the Finnish bourgeoisie's imperialistic ambitions, in the service of their Karelian-conquest enterprises and their daydreams of a Greater Finland."

The man to whom this task of exposition fell was the prominent leftist ideologist Yrjö 'Sirola, one of the leading Social Democrats in Finland's pre-Civil War Parliament and, following his exile, an important politico and educator in East Karelia. In his youth, Sirola had studied folklore, and now in the Kalevala song country he took up the pursuit once again, studying the epic this time from a Marxist point of view. During the Jubilee Celebration in 1935, he gave an important "Kalevala Day" speech, which was distributed widely through East Karelia, and wrote, with Ivar Lassy, the introduction to a Communist edition of the Kalevala. These pieces formed the basis of a new ideological approach.

With intriguing duplicity, Sirola admitted from the outset that his purpose was political—he intended to use folklore to help advance the cause of communism; but at the same time he roundly criticized the Finnish nationalists for their own political interpretations, suggesting that only the progressive Communists were capable of properly understanding the old poems. "In the present circumstances of capitalism's period of decay," he moralized, "bourgeois science is not capable of moving ahead but prompts researchers artifically to reach conclusions which fit the dirty purposes of capitalistic imperialism." The most unacceptable of these conclusions, claimed Sirola, were the notions that the folk poems had originated in Western Finland and had arisen from historical accounts of ancient aristocratic heroes.

Well aware that the theory of the origin of the poems in the West and their migration to the East had provided a convenient symbol in the struggle to unite these areas into a Greater Finland, Sirola claimed that the theory had been concocted by reactionary counter-revolutionists like Kaarle Krohn to justify the seizure of foreign land. Nobody denied, said Sirola, that the poems contained a few Western Finnish words, but these were a result not of migration, but of the Karelian singers' having visited Finland and having brought back to Karelia words they had learned on their trips. The poems themselves, however, were Karelian. They had been collected in Karelia; they had been collected from Karelians; and "without doubt" they had been created by Karelians. They did not link East and West. Thus "the Finnish bourgeoisie who so haughtily celebrate the Kalevala and make material and political capital from it, have [had] no part in the original poems from which the Kalevala was shaped."

Nor had the supposed ancestors of these Finnish bourgeoisie, the warlike heroes of Viking Finland, had a hand in the creation of the poems. The poems quite obviously could not reflect the feudalistic society of Western Finland, as Krohn claimed they did, because they had not originated there. They reflected instead the social and economic life of ancient Karelia, and it was to this life, not the fantasies of bourgeois scholars, that Karelians ought to look for guidance.

Like his counterparts in Finland proper, Sirola believed that folklore mirrored the spirit of the past, if not the actual events, and that it provided models for future action. As W. Edson Richmond has pointed out [in Southern Folklore Quarterly, 1961], romantic nationalism can masquerade as proletarian realism. Certainly this was the case in Sirola's work. Finnish nationalists looked to folklore for a reflection of the national or racial soul; Sirola sought in folklore the soul of the proletariat, of the working class. But in each instance the notion prevailed that folklore surviving from the past revealed a world worthy of study and emulation.

And the golden world of the past that this study brought to the attention of the Karelians was not a society of gallant warriors but of peaceful workers, depicted in their daily round of activities, workers who tilled the soil, cultivated their crops, and built their homesteads "in groups," working always for the greater good of the community. This society, said Sirola, structured around the family, was actually a primitive, or prefeudalistic form of communism. And it was this society that the workers of modern Karelia were building once again:

The Karelian people today, as they honor their folk poetry, stand amidst a tremendous socialistic construction work, which is changing the forests and lands into a new Sampo mill [the magic mill in the Kalevala that ground out good fortune to its owners] and is creating a new socialistic generation.

The laments of slaves no longer echo through the lands of Karelia, but the victorious songs of a new socialistic construction work. Its Sampo is now the miraculous machinery of hundreds of factories and power plants, saw mills and stone quarries, railroads and canals, tractors and steamships.

Having thus distorted the image, Sirola and his compatriots were now ready to ask their own youth, as right-wing ideologists had asked theirs, to capture the spirit of the Kalevala and to study the way of life reflected in it as they set out to build a better tomorrow.

Since the war, Communist leaders in East Karelia have on occasion continued to use folklore to serve their political ends, but in Finland itself the drama seems to have been played out. Folklore studies still prosper, but in a changed political climate and within new theoretical perspectives. In recent years there has been a renewed interest in Karelian studies but without the dreams of grandeur that once accompanied such endeavors. The voices raised in defense of Greater Finland have long fallen silent.

But the issues originally raised by those voices are still very much with us. Should the folklorist be content simply to study the folk and their lore, or should he use his research to bring about social, political, economic or religious change? Should he use the lore he collects and studies only to increase our understanding of and sympathy for the human condition, or should he attempt to use that lore to improve the lives of the people? Should he study folklore to understand his heritage, or should he attempt to shape the destiny of his ethnic group? Should he use folklore to study man or to control man?

With both nationalism and communism still major forces in world politics, with ethnic, sexist, and social movements gaining momentum in our own country, and with folklorists seeking increased state support of folklore study, these are not idle questions. Nor are they meant to be purely rhetorical questions. They have no easy answers.

My own view is that the folklorist's best course lies in always being a scholar first and a patriot or special pleader second—not because the cause one pleads is not worthy, but because his devotion to it too easily clouds his vision and allows him to see only that which serves his ideological ends. In any event, one hopes that those seriously seeking solutions to these questions will begin by examining the fruit that unions of folklore research and political ideology have borne in the past.

Matti Kuusi, Keith Bosley, and Michael Branch (essay date 1977)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3236

SOURCE: An Introduction to Finnish Folk Poetry-Epic: An Anthology in Finnish and English, edited and translated by Matti Kussi, Keith Bosley, and Michael Branch, Finnish Literature Society, 1977, pp. 21-77.

[In the following excerpt, the authors discuss the historical context of Lö nnrot 's compilation of the Kalevala and review its popular and critical reception.]

The ideas that inspired Bishop Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765) and Johann Herder's Stimmen der Vö lker in Liedern (1st ed. 1778) found a response in Finland when in 1766 a young academic, Henrik Gabriel Porthan (1739-1804), roundly condemned those of his contemporaries who did not share his admiration for Finnish folk poetry. Porthan, who was to become the most distinguished Finnish scholar and teacher of his day, personally inspired several of his contemporaries and his students to undertake a serious study of folk poetry. He himself wrote about prosody and in 1789 his close friend, Christfrid Ganander (1741-1790), published Mythologia Fennica, an encyclopaedia of phenomena associated with folk beliefs and poetry.

Interest in folk poetry grew stronger in the early years of the 19th century, especially after the annexation of Finland by Russia in 1808-1809 and the granting of the status of an autonomous Grand Duchy. By this time, a sense of national consciousness had taken root among students and scholars at the university in Turku and there was a growing desire to discover more about the country's ancient history as a step towards defining the 'national identity'. The study of the related languages and folk poetry made up the principal means by which young men attempted to reconstruct their country's past. By the 1820s young scholars were already undertaking long journeys beyond the eastern frontiers of Finland into Russia to gather the information they needed.

One of those whose attention focused primarily on folk poetry was a doctor of medicine, Elias Lö nnrot (1802-1884). After publishing several short studies and collections of folk poetry, he brought out in 1835 the work which finally established the importance of Finnish folk poetry (and with which it has generally been associated ever since) Kalevala, or old poems of Karelia from the ancient times of the Finnish people. The first edition contained 32 epic poems (12,078 lines) and was followed by the enlarged and definitive edition of 50 poems (22,795 lines) in 1849. In 1840 Lö nnrot published as a companion volume the Kanteletar, a collection of 652 lyrical poems and ballads.

Lö nnrot had collected the greater part of the material for these works while practising medicine in the Kajaani district of Eastern Finland. In this capacity he had to travel long distances and frequently crossed the frontier into Archangel Karelia where he met singers of folk poetry and noted down their poems. Lö nnrot undertook eleven such expeditions and, travelling much of the time on foot, he covered some 13,000 miles and collected 65,000 lines of Kalevala-type poetry. It was from the heroic epic he had found in Archangel Karelia and from sources that had been collected earlier that he constructed the 1835 Kalevala. The idea of putting the material together to form a long, coherent epic sprang from the practice of the singers he had met and from contemporary literary thinking. He was familiar with F. A. Wolf's theory of the origin of the Iliad and Odyssey which seemed to him to be sustained by the tendency he had observed among singers in Archangel Karelia to combine several epic poems into long, thematically linked sequences.

Lö nnrot's contemporaries believed that he had discovered a long-lost epic in the backwoods of Karelia and that he had done little more than put it on paper. In fact, Lö nnrot had introduced considerable changes into the poems he had used in order to bring them into a narrative sequence and to achieve thematic coherence. He had removed many Christian and other relatively recent features and had changed the names of persons and places. The adventures attributed to Lemminkä inen, for example, combine in one character the feats of several heroes. According to one calculation, one-third of the total number of lines in the 1835 Kalevala was modified or revised by Lö nnrot; more than 600 lines appear to have been composed by Lö nnrot himself, for no corresponding variants have ever been discovered. While in terms of its basic components the Kalevala has its origin in folk poetry, its overall shape and structure are the work of Elias Lö nnrot.

The Romantic View

The appearance of the Kalevala was a turning-point in Finnish cultural history. It marked the establishment of a movement that finally saw Finnish acquire equal status with Swedish as a national language. For many decades after Finland's union with Russia, Swedish had remained the language of culture, administration and commerce. While the question of russification was considered, no serious moves were made towards this until the end of the 19th century. On the contrary, the Russian authorities did not discourage anything that served to weaken traditional ties with Sweden and the decades following the publication of the Kalevala saw a protracted struggle between those Finns who wished to promote Finnish as a national language and those who wished to retain Swedish. The leadership of the former was assumed by J. V. Snellman (1806-1881), a student of Hegel, who gave the necessary impetus to the campaign to achieve equal language rights for the majority of the inhabitants of Finland. In this struggle they pointed to the Kalevala as proof that Finnish could be developed into a language of civilisation and culture, and the epic became the cornerstone of the ensuing Finnish cultural movement. Schoolchildren had to spend four years studying it; many people could recite from it by heart. It was set to music and became a popular subject for the visual arts. Ice-breakers, restaurants, even commercial firms took their names from the Kalevala or places and characters mentioned in it. Writers, artists, scholars, students, and philosophers went off to Karelia to follow in Lö nnrot's footsteps and to see for themselves the primitive scenery and the people they imagined the Kalevala to depict. Many of Finland's greatest talents—including the writers Aleksis Kivi, Eino Leino, the composer Jean Sibelius, the painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela, and the sculptor Wä inö Aaltonen—drew inspiration from the Kalevala and the cult that grew up around it.

For many decades the Kalevala was seen as a primary source of information about the ancient Finns' history, mythology, way of life, and their understanding of the world around them. Like the tales of Homer and the Scandinavian Edda, the Kalevala continues to be the subject of scholarly and quasi-scholarly works that attempt to analyse its historical significance. Numerous theories have been advanced to explain who Vä inä mö inen really was and where Pohjola was situated. Although Julius Krohn showed convincingly, as early as 1885, that 'the printed Kalevala, skilfully compiled though it is, cannot serve as the basis of scholarly research', amateurs have not been deterred from using it as the starting-point for fantastic flights of imagination into Finnish antiquity. While in Finland serious folklorists and historians abandoned this approach long ago, scholars outside Finland, especially if they do not read Finnish, may still look to Lö nnrot's epic as a source of information about ancient Finnish poetry. The results are as reliable as if Liszt were used as a primary source for research into Hungarian folk music.

Despite the warnings of scholars and even the suggestion that genuine folk poetry might be of far greater interest and aesthetic quality, the prevailing attitude remained for many years one of unqualified admiration. Typical of the unquestioning attitudes were statements such as 'For me the Kalevala poems have been so sacred that listening to them is like resting one's weary head against some ancient, immovable support' (Gallen-Kallela, 1899) and 'The most remarkable poetic achievements of the North should not be sought in the works of Bellman, Stagnelius or Runeberg. No, they are to be found in the Kalevala and the Kanteletar. These are the miraculous creations of the intelligence of the heart' (from the unpublished papers of the Swedish poet Vilhelm Ekelund, 1880-1949). But such attitudes on the part of intelligent and educated people need to be seen in the light of the political situation.

The years 1890-1917, which saw increasing intervention by the Tsarist authorities in Finnish affairs, leading at times to the suspension of traditional rights and privileges, was a time of powerful growth of interest in the Kalevala and in Karelia: the oppressed people sought hope for the future from a glorious past. When faced with the reality of independence in 1918, however, economic, social and military matters took precedence and interest in the Kalevala began to fade. More recently, thanks to a growing disenchantment with modern urban life, interest in the Kalevala, in Karelian romanticism, and in folklore has begun to revive.

In the Shadow of the Kalevala

Despite the uncritical acclaim of most Finns, there was nevertheless a small group of Finnish scholars, contemporaries of Lönnrot, who realised that the Kalevala was not wholly representative of genuine folk epic. D. E. D. Europaeus (1820-1884), one of the young men who helped to assemble and arrange the material for the 1849 edition of the Kalevala, expressed his regret in 1855 that it was 'crammed too full of all kinds of variants and unimportant details,' and, he continued, 'it contains many features that have been made up by the compiler himself . . . In their original form the poems are unified, lively, and full of imagination.' Europaeus complained that the original poems had been spoiled by Lönnrot' s attempts to reshape them, to fill gaps with lines taken from other poems, and by the compiler's elaboration of some themes at the expense of others; Europaeus was especially critical of the tendency to diminish the part played by the supernatural.

While scholars such as Europaeus appreciated the relationship between the Kalevala and genuine folk poetry, the sheer size of Lönnrot' s epic overshadowed their reservations. To what could they point to justify their criticisms apart from their own personal experience as collectors? There was very little that could be set against the Kalevala as evidence of how the poems were performed by contemporary singers and even less from earlier times. Neither rune-stones nor ancient manuscripts survived to show how Finnish folk poems were performed in pre-Christian times. The earliest surviving documentary source, a 13th century Karelian lightning spell recorded on a piece of birchbark, was discovered in 1957 in the vicinity of Novgorod. Bishop Agricola's Prayer Book (1544) contains the earliest version of a Finnish proverb, a weather prophecy, and a chant that lists the gestation periods of various animals, while the earliest example of a poem is a spell against the plague, a couplet in the accounts book of the Korsholm Crown Estate, noted down in 1564.

About 1615, the exiled Swedish poet Johannes Messenius (1579-1636) copied from the papers of Sigfrid Aronus Forsius (ca 1550-1624) a Latin version of the legend of Bishop Henry and Lalli that was known in the Köyliö district of South-West Finland; a corresponding Finnish verse legend was recorded by not later than 1682 (cf. Poems 66, 67). The first Finnish grammar, Eskil Petraeus' Linguae fennicae brevis institutio (1649) includes eight popular Finnish riddles as illustrative material. The earliest examples of Kalevala-type lyric poems are found in a collection compiled in the 1660s by Henrik Florinus (1633-1705) and published in 1702; two poems used in bear rites were published by Petrus Bång (1633-1696) in 1679. Daniel Juslenius (1676-1752) was the first to publish a version of a Finnish ballad, Death of the Bride, in his fanciful account of the history of Turku (1700). The earliest manuscript of the historical poem Duke Charles dates from 1699.

The first example of old Kalevala epic to catch the attention of Finnish scholars appears to have been variants of the poems about Väinämöinen's voyage and the playing of the kantele. Versions of these poems had begun to find their way into poetry and dissertations in the 18th century. But many of these had been forgotten, or were not readily available, and in any case their fragmentary information was eclipsed by Lönnrot' s epic.

On the Cultural Periphery

A further difficulty faced by Europaeus and those who shared his views was that the efforts of the Lutheran clergy to stamp out folk poetry, together with the gradual spread of West European culture from Sweden, had largely eliminated the old tradition from Finland proper, where it existed only in fragments and in a few isolated districts. The areas where it survived were those that represented the cultural periphery in the 19th century, areas to the east of the boundary of the Grand Duchy which were still isolated either geographically or linguistically, or for both these reasons, from the unifying cultural influences that had spread over most of Europe—the periphery of the Swedish and Russian spheres of influence in the far north: the region east of the frontier of the Grand Duchy of Finland, in the western districts of Archangel Karelia, midway between Oulujärvi in the west and the southern shores of the White Sea in the east. It is a region of lakes, marshes and forests where communications were arduous. In the 19th century its inhabitants still supported themselves by hunting, fishing, rudimentary—often burn-beat—agriculture and, like their forefathers, eked out a meagre livelihood as pedlars of small wares, travelling long distances on foot in Finland undeterred by officials who tried with little success to stop this illegal trade. It was an area into which the Lutheran Church had not penetrated. The Christianity of these Karelians was that of the Russian Orthodox Church, which tolerated folk poetry and did not frown so severely on surviving pagan practices. A second area which was similarly isolated from Western influences and whose inhabitants also belonged to the Russian Church, was Olonets and Ladoga Karelia, the region around the northern shores of Lake Ladoga extending north into Olonets and north-west to the Finnish-Russian frontier. It was mainly in these areas, Archangel Karelia in the north and Ladoga and Olonets Karelia further south, that the heroic epic was still being sung by men, and occasionally by women, in the 19th century. It is interesting to note that the areas where the Novgorod bylina tradition survived most strongly, among the Russian settlers on the shores of Lake Onega and the White Sea, were not far away.

A third area in which Kalevala-type poetry continued to flourish into the 19th century was the Karelian Isthmus and Ingria. While the tradition of male singing died out along the south-east shore of the Gulf of Finland, the singing tradition survived among the women-folk of three areas in particular: Narvusi, Soikkola, and Hevaa, each of which is isolated at the tip of a cape. These women did not retain the practice of singing relatively long narrative epic sequences, but used fragments of epic in an allusive style to express personal sentiments. It was linguistic rather than geographical isolation that sheltered the Ingrian Finns and those on the Karelian Isthmus from the penetration of new ideas. The oldest group, the Izhors, clung to their old ways in a virtually unchanged form, although nominally they belonged to the Russian Orthodox Church. Of particular interest are the large numbers of Lutheran Finns who migrated from areas in Eastern Finland to Ingria with the expansion of Sweden in the 17th century. They brought with them their poems, customs and other traditions which, because of the religious difference, generally survived in their old form largely untouched by the traditions of their linguistically related Russian Orthodox neighbours and escaped the excesses of the movement that stamped out most folk poetry in mainland Finland.

Lönnrot was not the first person to realize that a wealth of folk poetry survived across the frontier in Russia. This fact had been well publicized by an Ostrobothnian doctor of medicine, Zachris Topelius (1781-1831). Paralysed by a stroke and unable to move beyond the confines of his home in Uusikaarlepyy on the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, he used to invite the Karelian pedlars to sing their poems to him and published a selection of them in five slim volumes: Suomen Kansan Wanhoja Runoja ynnä myös Nykyisempiä Lauluja (Old poems and more modern songs of the Finns', 1822-1831). In the preface to the last volume Topelius described where collectors should look for poems: 'The only area where the old customs and the old tales of the menfolk survive untouched by outside influences and are sung as part of the daily round is beyond the frontiers of Finland, in a few parishes of the Province of Archangel—especially in the parish of Vuokkiniemi. There the Väinämöinen songs can still be heard, there the hantele and the sampo [!] still echo and it is from there that I have with great care obtained my best songs.'

It was this that led Lönnrot and others to Archangel Karelia and gave birth to the 1835 Kalevala. In the following years Lönnrot and his disciples, including Europaeus, explored the two other regions described above, the fruits of which are embodied in the second edition of the epic. It was to all three regions that Europaeus, and before long others, urged that collectors should return and undertake a more thorough and exhaustive collection of folk poetry materials. It is uncertain whether Europaeus' motives were those of the modern folklorist, who treats every piece of material as worthy of attention and study, or whether he thought that by assembling and publishing oral literature in a different way from that adopted by Lönnrot, the national cause (of which Europaeus was a prominent exponent) would be better served. Whatever his motives, his ideas gradually found support. Towards the end of the 19th century the collection of folk poetry assumed the proportions of a national movement and literally thousands of scholars have since taken part in it. Perhaps the most important were the great collectors at the turn of the century, whose work provided the foundations and demonstrated the techniques of subsequent collection—men such as J. Länkelä (1833-1916), V. Porkka (1854-1889) and V. Alava (1870-1935), who saved the poetry of Ingria from extinction, and A. A. Borenius-Lähteenkorva (1846-1931), the first scholar to prove that many of the poems in Archangel Karelia had been transmitted from areas further south or west.

John B. Alphonso-Karkala (essay date 1979)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1975

SOURCE: "Transmission of Knowledge by Antero Vipunen to Väinämöinen in Kalevala and by Sukra to Kacha in Mahabharata," in Proceedings of the 7 th Congress of the International Comparative Literature Association, Volume 2, Comparative Literature Today: Theory and Practice, edited by Eva Kushner and Roman Struc, Kunst und Wissen, Erich Bieber, 1979, pp. 619-23.

[In the following excerpt, Alphonso-Karkala examines the symbolic implications of Väinämöinen's quest to obtain three magic words from the giant Antero Vipunen in the Kalevala]

In the oral tradition, when natural phenomena were not readily comprehended, people simplified their perception of the existential situation by explaining the then unexplainable through the imagistic logic of the myth. That was a highly skilled science of that time. Such myths invariably made clear in a dramatic shorthand the symbolic meaning of the natural process. One can easily discern the mythification of the natural phenomenon of the gathering of the rain clouds and the accompanying thunder and lightning as the struggle of beings of another order, and the terrifying light and sound are the result of wielding a supreme weapon of destruction, whether the wielder of that dreadful weapon is Siva or Indra, Jehovah or Zeus, Odin or Ukko Jumala. In this manner the incomprehensible phenomenon becomes meaningful within the cultural experience structured by the myth. Similarly, there have been myths to explain human mortality, and human suffering, or even human resurrection—though symbolically—or failure of such resurrection.

This paper is an attempt to present two identical myths relating to the problem of the transmission of knowledge by the possessor of knowledge, to another who seeks to know. The two episodes are taken from the heroic poetry of two different cultures, namely the Finnish epic Kalevala and the Sanscrit epic Mahabharata. The paper will examine these two myths with a view to determining the cultural attitudes and values behind them, and to gaining some understanding of the purpose and meaning of the myths.

In Lönnröt's Uusi Kalevala, the episode relating to the search for knowledge by Väinämöinen and its transmission by Antero Vipunen is contained in Runos XVI-XVII. While building a boat with the power of his songs, Väinämöinen finds himself unable to complete it for want of three magic words, and therefore goes in search of them. First, he seeks to obtain the required knowledge from the brains of animals that float, such as swans, geese, swallows, reindeers. But unable to find any knowledge there, he goes to Tuonela, the region of the dead, hoping to get the knowledge from the wise and the old who have already departed. Upon entering Tuonela, Väinämöinen finds himself in mortal danger and quickly escapes by changing his shape (Runo XVI).

After he returns home, Väinämöinen meditates for a long time as to how to get the needed magic words, until one day a common shepherd tells him that he might get "a hundred phrases and a thousand words" from ancient Antero Vipunen, the wisest, full of craft and famous for his songs. Väinämöinen decides to seek Vipunen, and the smith Ilmarinen forges for him from iron a pair of shoes, a gauntlet, a shirt, and a mighty sword lined with the strongest of steel. However, Ilmarinen warns him that Vipunen has long since perished and he cannot hope to get words or even half a word from him. Disregarding this warning, Väinämöinen goes on his long quest and when he finally arrives, he finds Antero Vipunen lying outstretched on the ground having become one with nature. Trees have grown all over him. Drawing his steel sword, Väinämöinen forces Vipunen's mouth to open wide with a view to awakening him to sing his songs. Instead, Väinämöinen slips, falls into Vipunen's mouth, and he is swallowed by the sleeping giant. Once inside Vipunen's stomach, Väinämöinen forges a smithy with his equipment, causing Vipunen tremendous pain and headache.

The awakened giant, finding some unfriendly intruder in his stomach, threatens in a long monologue to get rid of him. But on hearing no response, Vipunen finally threatens to kill himself to be rid of his sufferings. Then Väinämöinen announces himself from within the Giant's belly, and declares his purpose, namely that he will not stop torturing Vipunen until he teaches him all the charms and songs, and he, Väinämöinen, learns them in full. Vipunen agrees and recites all his store of knowledge and Väinämöinen learns everything gradually. When he has listened enough he jumps out of Vipunen's stomach, and the two bid goodbye to each other in good humour, Vipunen saying:

Good indeed has been your coming
Better it is when you depart.

Väinämöinen then goes away with all the new learning and completes his boat. (Runo XVII).

The questions that are posed by this episode are (a) who is Antero Vipunen, the wise old man, and is he dead or alive? (b) Where does Väinämöinen really go to get the knowledge, and how does he obtain it? In order to gain some understanding of the myth, it is necessary to enquire beyond the literal story and grasp, if possible, some of the symbolic meaning since these poems, we are told, were so regarded when they were sung with faith in their potency.

The Kalevala episode no doubt makes Antero Vipunen an enormous Gulliver-like figure lying down in deep sleep, or a kind of Kumbhakarna, the seasonal man who keeps awake for six months and sleeps for six months. The smith, Ilmarinen, points out to Väinämöinen that Vipunen has long since perished, and the source of the knowledge he is seeking is not in the living world. There are instances of heroes journeying to the land of the dead to get special knowledge, like Odysseus going to Hades to consult the spirit of Teiresias, or Aeneas going to the Infernal region to find out directions. Väinämöinen has already made such a journey to Tuonela and escaped from there without acquiring any knowledge. Yet the place where Antero Vipunen is lying on earth, almost dissolved in nature, and the kind of trees that are growing over him, suggest a typical burial place in the tradition of the Finno-Ugric people. Apparently, Antero Vipunen has ceased to exist, yet he is not dead, nor is he completely out of existence. Väinämöinen is able to revive a seemingly dead man on whose body trees have grown, and make him recite songs and charms from his living memory. The myth fails to explain this resurrection of Vipunen—or partial resurrection, if we stretch the literal interpretation. It appears we have to look for some other source of meaning, considering its symbolic and spiritual nature.

In the Finnish folk songs recorded in Suomen Kansan Vanhat Runot, among the various names used for this unusual being of immense learning are Ankerus (Unkari or Hungary) and Vironi (Viro or Estonia), these being the names of two other regions where people related to the Finns branched off in their pre-historic migration. What the poet seems to suggest in the personification of the primeval character of Vipunen is that Väinämöinen, perhaps, goes to the cumulative fund of ancestral knowledge of the Finno-Ugric people, and in fact, searches deep in the collective unconscious of the race in the Jungian sense. This includes not only the living, but also those people who have ceased to exist, but whose experience, knowledge, visions, and wisdom continue to live among the surviving members of the race. This is also supported by the view that Antero Vipunen is "a primeval giant or Titan whom some commentators suppose to be the same as Kaleva," the ancestor of the heroes of Kalevala, though Kaleva does not appear in person anywhere in the epic, except insofar as the heroes are sometimes referred to as Kaleva poika or Kaleva poijat, sons of Kaleva. As the collective unconscious of Kaleva and Kaleva poijat, Antero Vipunen is conceived partly as having ceased to exist since long ago, as Ilmarinen says, and yet partly as continuing to exist, capable of communicating the store of cumulative knowledge embedded therein.

If Antero Vipunen is a personification of the idea of collective unconscious, or a symbolic person, where does Väinämöinen really go to get the knowledge and how does he get it? The story suggests Väinämöinen undertaking a journey like Dante. Dante goes through the infinite possibility of action over a vertical scale of values in the human mind, oscillating from extreme evil to the highest state of grace; and in that symbolic journey in the interior landscape of the mind, he passes through Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso to be enlightened in the end in the Empireo Mobile. Väinämöinen is not shackled by such a theology, or organized hierarchy. Directed by a simple shepherd, he simply leaps over the points of women's needles, over the points of heroes' sword-blades, and comes to apprehend like a shaman in a state of trance, or like a yogi in a state of samadhi, that life is a continuing extension in Time and Space, from womb to womb, and seed to seed; that in such a continuing presence, Vipunen is neither dead nor undead, though over his physical body natural trees have grown; that the essence of life continues to express itself in changing forms. Whether Väinämöinen is entombed in the graveyard of Antero Vipunen or in the mental graveyard of his cultural experience, he listens to the voice of the wisest and most ancient one, and, like Jonah entombed in the belly of a fish by the chastising Jehovah, is enlightened. In such a burial or shrouding, the individual is not dead, but is temporarily suspended from life to scoop up ineffable experience, and is resurrected. In such a psychic hibernation, or state of pregnancy by the mothering entity, knowledge becomes transmitted, and the seeker gradually awakening to self-knowledge is reborn. This descent into the unknown and resurrection therefrom helps the hero to fulfil his task: so Jonah declares his message to Ninevah, Jesus delivers his New Jerusalem, Aeneas reaches his Promised Land, resourceful Odysseus, getting into a new boat, goes home to his wife, and vakaa vanha Väinämöinen goes home and completes his boat. . . .

[W]hat is common in these two myths is the secretive nature of the special knowledge and the unwillingness of the possessor of the knowledge to part with it. The only way to get this classified information is to get into the inner being of the person possessing the knowledge, and while thus entombed in the mothering person, the transfusion of knowledge takes place when the two minds are attentive to a single purpose; in other words, the myth seems to suggest that the knowledge becomes transmitted when two minds understand the same thing, at the same time, and in the same sense. Though there are few situations in which two minds totally understand each other, outside the art of telepathy (such as Michel de Montaigne and his friend Etienne de La Boétie, or Jalaluddin Rumi and Shamas), those myths suggest that the ideal condition for the natural transmission of secret knowledge is a state of pregnancy by the preceptor, when the seeker becomes conceived, and is twice born. In our days of Gutenberg culture and computer knowledge, one needs a vivid imagination to grasp the imagistic logic of the myth in which a seeker of knowledge enters the body of his preceptor and comes out enlightened or illumined!

Robert Harbison (essay date 1980)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1919

SOURCE: "Romantic Localism," in Deliberate Regression, Alfred A. Knopf, 1980, pp. 115-47.

[In the following excerpt, Harbison comments on the absence of a clear scholarly, idealistic, or artistic focus in the Kalevala]

[Elias] Lönnrot was a doctor who began to collect fragments of Finnish oral poetry on vacations and tours of medical inspection in rural Finland, without at first the idea of forming them into a whole. After his first publication, The Harp (1829-31), two skilled singers in an eastern district gave him a new conception of the songs' homogeneity, though the possibility of putting together a Finnish Ossian had been broached much earlier in an ethnic newspaper.

As he went on Lönnrot not only collected but embodied the folk tradition, becoming a singer who like peasant ones could recite from memory and improvise links and elaborations as he sang. He differed from peasant singers in using transcription to learn the songs, which helped him build a larger repertoire than any of them, while his knowledge of literary models like Homer undoubtedly influenced the way he exercised the singer's right to arrange his material, to reassign actions to different of the stock characters who recur through the poems. But if he is a more radical social type than the Grimms, a case of deep mimicry, he feels correspondingly less ideological commitment to folk literature, casualness in his relation which makes him less important than they in the history of ideas.

Like Runge whose transcription of The Fisherman's Wife in the language of fisherfolk fired the Grimms at an early stage in their research, Lönnrot cultivated unscientific closeness to his sources, entering a twoway relation with the informants from which the Grimms kept aloof. His doctoral dissertation had been about magic medicine and he became a popular instructor through medical and agricultural manuals for simple readers, giving them something in return for what he got and even contracting their diseases like typhus. As he lacks, in spite of various linguistic compilations including a Finnish grammar and dictionary, the Grimms' scholarly rigor, so he does the crusading ideology of immersion in a lower class one might expect of a Russian, though he cultivated simplicity and retirement—peasant clothes, a pipe, work at an ingenious desk he had invented, exercise, singing.

The Grimms' materials remain detectably on the scale they naturally occur, though massed differently. Lönnrot while scrupulous in preserving the specificity of his fragments—charms for catching bears hold up the narrative for four hundred lines—imposes on them a principle of coherence borrowed from another culture. Trying to make an epic from these desultory pieces he forges an unachieved Ossian, flat and centerless because he refuses to falsify the indigenous attitude toward his actors into heroism, and preserves even the genre of the components, including recognizable bits from south Finland which are more balladic because in that region singers are women. After the addition of an equal amount of new material in 1849 the Kalevala became even more a treasure trove or national display case which contained every single bit of information about the life of the early Finns Lönnrot could turn up. He was at pains to safeguard it from obsolescence with the claim that no new material was likely to appear because he and his assistants had scoured Finland and the songs were dying anyway from exposure to the air of national publicity. He is also concerned to show that odd usages in the poems like impossible tasks set for a suitor, a familiar motif in fairy tales, correspond to customs among the early Finns. He finds ingenious rationalizations of mythic beliefs, like that churches in Finland were built by giants and wrecked at night by demons, rationalizations which depend on the Finns taking their history from the downtrodden Lapps and then overlaying it with bits of their own contrary perspective. Thus giants are Finns as seen by Lapps, and demons Lapps seen by Finns.

A certain lack of the grandeur which the imported notion of epic demands prompted bizarre mythic interpretations Lönnrot confutes by noting prosaic inconsistencies—the character who represents the spirit of fire is afraid of it and gets burned, the spirit of the air is as much at the mercy of contrary winds as others. To imagine a slanging match early in the poem as a contest between water and snow, a pivot between winter and summer, or the voyage to steal back a prized grain mill, simply because the geography is uncertain, as occurring in the blue seas of heaven with the lynchpin of the universe as its goal, are efforts to enlarge the poems to match the scale of one's own biggest feelings. The characters are so obviously petty in themselves that somewhat on the model of Ossian one turns to the circumambient environment for intimations of something larger.

Lönnrot was immune to this need for transcendence which converted the poem's evident responsiveness to nature into an embracing nature cult. He argued instead that early beliefs were close to his own, founded on a single unspecific god. And he was content to lack a transforming vision, to collect pieces of shattered pots and to form them into a pattern but not to see it as the world-tree when he had finished.

The metric form of the original materials is also relaxed and uncomplex, consisting of paired lines, the second of which varies the language but repeats closely the matter of the first. Although the singing depicted in the poem does not take this form, as collected by Lönnrot it was usually sung by two, a lead and a support, one of whom directed its course, leaving the alternate line to be completed by his partner while he prepared the one to follow. They sang clasping each other's hands and rocking back and forth. As it comes through translation the motion of the verse is powerfully physical, and the particular proportions of sound and thought would probably feel much the same in any language, like heaving and then resting on the oars, except that the repeat is not dead calm but an effortless exertion.

Thus the larger motion of the poem no matter how long it dwells on a simple action never becomes involute or intricate but a continuous grooming or polishing. Even the eyes sift the page like shaking a basket of stones, motion which acts as a filter keeping back some of the sense. In formal procedure it is an extreme example, but perhaps typical of anonymous products seeking out the kind of action which is rolled up then comes unrolled, and thus largely performs itself, like the house that Jack built or the hiding of successive kernels in each other and then in successive fish which are then chased and successively cut open to find fire at the end again. Admittedly Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, though rude in its way and peculiar for its author's claims of illiteracy, is an extreme example of an authored poem, of a certain intricacy going with inexperience like a literary equivalent of Scandinavian or Celtic interlaced ornament. The professions of ignorance may be ironic adoptions of local coloration from the naïve hero, or licenses for eccentricity, for it is a poem which allows language to become contorted in following grotesque actions, but perhaps it only proves that any action is susceptible of gnarling as each one in Lönnrot is of smoothing. The comparison with Wolfram shows that there are certain kinds of wit and obscurity deeply individual and literary, however much he may pretend to be an oral poet, which could not be passed on by a group product like Kalevala, though the thought may feel animistic or mythical, so Wolfram conceives a battle as the struggle between the heraldic emblems on knights' shields instead of the knights themselves, between griffins and ostriches, on whose side a troop of anchors intervenes just as the conceit has begun to feel comfortable. Once he even splits one of these tribal totems between two groups, an army marked with the front halves of griffins joining a detachment identified by the rear halves.

Surprises on such a scale, of which Wolfram prepares large quantities, are impossible in an orally transmitted work like Kalevala with its liking for self-perpetuating chains such as the progress of Vainamoinen's tears in thirteen stages over various parts of his body, clothes, and possessions, running on to reach the lake and settle at its bottom from which they must be retrieved. Even a less automated example like the inquiry into the origin of iron touched off by Vainamoinen's wounding himself with an ax and needing to know how iron came to be, and especially how it came to be "bitter," or able to hurt its maker, in order to staunch the flow of blood—even this historical investigation is self-completing, burgeoning irresponsibly at the expense of the narrative which is always losing its way because it is a purposefulness largely imposed by Lönnrot. Nothing reveals better the difference between the efficiency of the fairy tales and the exiguous spinning-out of the songs than the idle quality of magic in the Kalevala, which has become a reflex to be elaborated, whereas in the tale it escapes conscious inspection.

Home feeling not magic runs deepest in the Kalevala, local sentiment tied not to geography but to certain usages, mostly connected with the husbanding of things or with cleanliness. This unadventurous meaning of local is well expressed in Gallen-Kallela's peasant interiors of dark wood painted in the 1890s, and more abstractly by his Kalevala illustrations which look hewn from wood, a moderate heroism of work. Some of the most poignant moments of the poem are the most obviously interpolated and substitutable, general instructions to brides on how to clean stoves, spoons not forgetting the handles, tables not forgetting the legs, with none of the Homeric feeling that a ritual significance still graces the act.

A nearer example than Homer of a naively materialistic world, the Nibelungenlied, lays over bare possession and maintenance a powerful mythology of waste. Expenditure is heroism there, sign of a craving within the limited confines for largeness. The Kalevala is remarkable for its sober contentment with cleanliness as a measure of civilization and for concentrating on its dark corner without pretending to prefer it to sitting by the window. Though an example of the higher Romantic valuation of custom and usage as concrete history, the sort of thing the eighteenth century had tried to call prejudice, the Kalevala is truly extraordinary in how little it presses the claim of its own uniqueness.

Senni Timonen (essay date 1985)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2890

SOURCE: "Lönnrot and His Singers," translated by Satu Salo and Keith Bosley, in Books from Finland, Vol. XIX, No. 1, 1985, pp. 24-29.

[In the following excerpt, Timonen examines the contributions made to Lönnrot' s conception of the Kalevala by some of the principal singers of Finnish folk poems from whom he collected his material.]

In the winter of 1834, when the Kalevala was taking shape, on Elias Lönnrot' s desk there were 27,900 lines of folk poetry, as yet unpublished, each of which had been taken down from private citizens. Most of these singers and wise men (tietäjät, literally 'knowers', possessors of magical powers) were still alive and breathing the frosty air of the same winter in their villages far away across the eastern border of the Grand Duchy of Finland. Lönnrot was drawn to these singers, not only because they were his contemporaries, but also because he had direct contact with them. On his five collecting trips of 1828-34, he had personally sought out most of them after journeys of hundreds of miles on foot, on skis, by rowing-boat, on horseback and by sledge, and he had noted down in his own hand most of the material which would form the Kalevala. On his journeys, in addition to the texts, he had received other essential building material for the Kalevala: firsthand experience of the hunting culture which had kept the old poems alive, and of the people to whose daily life and worldview these songs had belonged.

Earlier collectors seldom mentioned singers. It was poems they were after; the singers were felt to be mere vehicles. The few singers we know of must clearly have been impressive personalities or outstanding performers. Even Lönnrot, who was one of the first Finnish travel writers to portray ordinary people, speaks about only a few singers, and then for the most part only in passing. This is why, of the singers who left their mark on the first edition (1835) of the Kalevala, only about twenty can be identified. As far as the formation of the Kalevala is concerned, these early singers are interesting; they can be truly called the singers of the Kalevala. They played an active part in Lönnrot' s creative process. In what follows we shall look at those who, as well as adding to the text, can be seen as representing, even initiating, the various, sometimes contradictory dimensions of the final edition (1849) of the Kalevala.

1. The magical: Juhana. On 28 June 1828 Lönnrot arrived in the parish of Kesälahti in Finnish Karelia (about 30 miles east of Savonlinna). It was a Sunday. He walked six miles from the church in pouring rain and at dusk reached the Kainulainen house, whose master had been praised as a singer to him. Juhana was away floating logs, and Lönnrot had to wait two days. But the time did not drag. 'On the contrary, I took an inexplicable delight in walking in the forest where Kainulainen's father had so often said his prayers to the forest gods and goddesses, and where in former times the "maids of Forestland" had appeared to their favourites. It should be remembered that old Kainulainen had in his day been one of the best hunters in the area and that his good luck in hunting, according to the superstitious belief of the time, depended in large measure on the favour of the forest gods, whom he, better than others, could persuade with his songs.'

On Tuesday the 40-year-old Juhana arrived home, and in the evening Lönnrot heard him sing; he had inherited his father's songs and spells. But Juhana decided that on Wednesday he must go tree-felling with his brothers. On Thursday Lönnrot paid the brothers to hire a replacement for Juhana, who sang all day from morning till evening and declared that his songs had never before come in so handy. Next day the brothers were working indoors, and Juhana was able to continue singing while he worked. The result was 49 poems in all, including spells.

Juhana Kainulainen was the first great wise man, healer and hunter Lönnrot met. Although he also sang good epic poems, the spells he performed were quite clearly more important for the development of the Kalevala, as can be seen particularly in the spell scenes of the final edition, for example when Lemminkäinen sets out to subdue the Demon's elk with spells (canto 14). Here, as in many other spell and prayer sequences, many individual lines derive from Juhana. But more important than these is the message that Juhana and singers like him transmitted to Lönnrot, an increasing certainty about the essential function of spells in the epic as a whole. As the Kalevala developed, Lönnrot wove more and more spells in among the epic poems. With them he strove to create a picture of a way of life in which contact with the Beyond is continuous, living, sensitive.

2. The heroic: Ontrei and Arhippa. On 17 June 1833 Lönnrot was for the second time across the border in Archangel Karelia, in the remote village of Vuonninen (100 miles north-east of Kajaani). He writes: 'In the morning Ontrei seing for me. I would have liked him to stay with me for the afternoon too, but he was indispensable for fishing, so he could not stay. I wished him a good catch after making a deal with him that, if they caught a certain amount of fish, he would undertake to sing all the following day; he agreed.' Although the catch was not large, the next day Ontrei Mahnen sang a few more poems. Lönnrot took down from him nine long narrative poems complete. The most important was one of 366 lines about the forging and plundering of the mysterious Sampo, the future central theme of the Kalevala, which Lönnrot now heard for the first time. He had now come within reach of heroic epic.

Next spring, in 1834, in the village of Latvajärvi in Archangel Karelia (about 25 miles south-west of Vuonninen) he found the best of the heroic epic singers, old Arhippa Perttunen. For Lönnrot Arhippa performed about sixty mostly narrative poems, amounting to over 4000 lines. Many of the subjects were already familiar to Lönnrot, but he had nowhere heard or read poems so full and clear. Poems apart, Arhippa was himself a powerful experience for Lönnrot, who gives an exceptionally long description of him in his travel journal and at the same time provides information about the life of epic poetry in Karelia. He speaks, for instance, about the singing-matches which often arose at festivals. The criterion was sheer abundance; it was the custom to bet on one's own 'hero': 'Arhippa said that his village used to put him forward, and he did not remember ever being beaten.'

Arhippa's account of the occasions in his childhood when poems were performed and taught on the shore of Lake Lapukka nearby is a precious document:

In those days, taking a rest by the camp fire on the shore of Lake Lapukka during fishing trips, that's where you should have been. We had a helper, a man from Lapukka, a fine singer, but not up to my old father. They often sang all night hand in hand by the fire, and the same poem was never sung twice. I was a little lad then, and I listened to them, so bit by bit I learnt the best songs. But I've already forgotten a lot. Not one of my sons will be a singer after I'm gone, as I was after my father. People don't like the old songs any more, as they did in my childhood, when they had pride of place, whether we were working or gathering in the village in our spare time.

As he spoke thus of his father, Lönnrot adds, Arhippa was on the point of tears. (In fact, Arhippa's son 'Blind' Miihkali was to become a great singer.)

In the poems of Ontrei and Arhippa, Lönnrot met the highest achievement of popular Finnish-Karelian heroic epic that was to be found at the time. The folk poetry scholar Mariti Haavio's characterisation of Ontrei's poems is equally applicable to Arhippa: 'Their pace is steady, thorough, even slow; they tell almost sullenly of great and shocking events .. . In them are battles and displays of wisdom. They are poems whose every line seems to await a Homer, a weaver of epic.' (Finnish scholars traditionally regard Homer as a compiler, like Lönnrot.)

3. The elegiac: Martiska and Matro. On 17 April 1834, in the village of Lonkka in northern Archangel Karelia (about 30 miles north of Latvajärvi) Lönnrot found the well-known reindeer breeder Martiska Karjalainen. Martiska drank rum as he sang, and to Lönnrot' s disappointment he got poems mixed up, but on the other hand he composed poems himself. His autobiographical poem about reindeer-rustling and his consequent imprisonment is a compilation in which passages borrowed from traditional lyric alternate with clumsy do-it-yourself efforts. The poem is at its most touching when it describes Martiska's homesickness in prison:

I know well where I was born every place where I grew up but I do not know the place where death faces me here at these strange doors on these unknown ways . . .

We know that Martiska died in prison in 1839.

From these years Lönnrot does not mention many women singers by name, with the exception of one he met soon after leaving Martiska. He came to the large village of Uhtua (now renamed Kalevala by the Soviet authorities, some 45 miles east of Lonkka), where he says he took down a wealth of songs which both men and women could sing. He continues: 'A certain widow, Matro by name, distinguished herself above the others. After she had sung for a day and a half while knitting socks, others took her place . . .'

It has not been possible to establish Matro's identity. It is thought that she was a beggar. She performed lyrical wedding poetry and above all what is called 'women's epic', narrative poetry of a lyrical nature, usually about women and family relationships. The most important of Matro's songs, as regards the Kalevala, was 'The Hanged Maid', which Lönnrot had not heard before. The song tells how an unknown man approaches a girl called Anni in the forest. Anni runs weeping home, where her mother tells her to go to the shed and put on her best clothes. In the shed Anni hangs herself with her bridal belts. The mourning mother's tears produce rapids, on their banks trees grow, on the treetops cuckoos settle and sing.

Lönnrot seized as one inspired on this extraordinary song, and fitted it into his heroic epic scheme: Anni became Aino, pledged against her will to the aged wise man Väinämöinen; he changed the gruesome hanging into a dreamlike gliding into water. Thus the great Aino poem of the Kalevala was born. Lönnrot' s evident bias towards elegy and a classical grace can be seen by comparing his raw material with the Kalevala text. Matro concludes her poem with what the cuckoos are saying:

The third called 'love, love'
to the nameless child
the first called 'joy, joy'
to the joyless child
the second 'love, love'
to the loveless child
the third called 'joy, joy'
to the child with no father. (Finnish Folk Poetry: Epic, 104: 111-118)

The lack of sequence, typical of oral poetry, is adjusted in the Kalevala, and the whole is amplified:

The first called 'love, love!'
the second 'bridegroom, bridegroom!'
the third called 'joy, joy!'
That which called 'love, love'!
called out for three months
to the loveless girl
lying in the sea.
That which called 'bridegroom, bridegroom!' alled out for six months
to the sweetheartless bridegroom sitting and pining.

That which called 'joy, joy!'
called for her lifetime
to the mother without joy weeping all her days.
(Kalevala 4: 490-504)

The Kalevala version adds a moving epilogue spoken by the mother, who recalls that the song of the cuckoo announces the renewal of life to everyone but her: 'Let no poor mother/listen long to the cuckoo!'

Martiska and Matro were not great epic singers, but they and singers like them broadened Lönnrot' s horizon and hence the scope of the epic. Lönnrot was clearly fascinated by Martiska's lyricism, individuality and detachment. As far as the Kalevala is concerned, Martiska's way of incorporating a snatch of lyric elegy into a living epic whole is indicative: by skilfully developing this very technique Lönnrot finally produced an epic that is exceptionally tender and lyrical. He received the material for the lyrical episodes in the Kalevala from innumerable singers who have remained anonymous, most of them women: let them be represented here by the old beggar-woman Matro who knitted socks.

4. The illusion of unity: Vaassila. On the evening of 17 September 1833, after Ontrei Malinen had gone fishing, Lönnrot crossed the strait to meet Vaassila Kieleväinen. The poems Ontrei had sung about Väinämöinen were fresh in his mind; everything connected with Väinämöinen excited him, for he was working out a sequence around this wise man who is one of the principal figures in the epic. By now he had a great number of separate poems about Väinämöinen: his problem was how to fuse them together.

Vaassila was very old and he suffered lapses of memory: he could no longer keep whole poems in his head. But Lönnrot was not disappointed: 'Nevertheless, about Väinämöinen and various other mythological characters he told me many things I had not known before. And when it turned out that he had forgotten something I knew about, I questioned him more closely. Then he remembered, and thus I learned all Väinämöinen's exploits one after another . . .'

Scholars have made clear that, although the beginning of Lönnrot' s Väinämöinen sequence is in fact based on Vaassila, the final Kalevala has departed from him to the extent that Vaassila's influence can no longer be substantiated. Something important, however, has remained from Vaassila's ideas. For example, Vaassila's remark in prose 'Then the wedding was held', to which other singers have not referred, made Lönnrot realise that after an epic wooing poem an extensive account of a wedding could be put together out of lyrical wedding poems, such as cantos 20-25 of the Kalevala. Of particular interest is the fact that Vaassila suggests ways of combining poems more freely than Lönnrot had until then dared envisage: Vaassila cheerfully combined Väinämöinen poems with poems that did not mention him at all.

Since old Vaassila now viewed the poems from a greater distance than before, he saw that nothing was separate, that all belonged together—Creations, wooings, weddings, Kullervos, Väinämöinens, Golden Brides. . . . It did not matter to Lönnrot that Vaassila's vision might be but an illusion of unity, a momentary structure. The point of that evening was that whoever seeks a new order must be capable of departing from tradition, must be able to forget.

The closer Lönnrot got to the final version of the Kalevala, the more he distanced himself from the performances or variants of individual singers. For example, the conclusion of the Lemminkäinen sequence, his resurrection, was based in Lönnrot' s early attempt at compilation (1833) on Juhana Kainulainen's performance of 52 lines, that is, almost entirely; but in the final version (1849) Kainulainen's contribution to this passage consists of only 15 lines. Similarly in the final scene of the Sampo story Lönnrot used 42 lines by Ontrei Malinen in 1833, but only 13 lines in 1849. These figures outline the process whereby Lönnrot, in his own oft-quoted words, gradually 'became a soothsayer/and turned into a singer' that is, he freely took it upon himself to 'arrange' the material in his own way. Meanwhile the further Lönnrot distanced himself from the texts of his singers, the more clearly he was able to combine into a whole the dimensions represented by the various types of singer, of which some of the most important have been characterised above.

Already in the late 1830s, but above all in the 1840s, Lönnrot and his successors found many new singers and new singing regions. Beside Orthodox Archangel Karelia, both Lutheran and Orthodox Finnish Karelia, as well as Ingria on the southern side of the Gulf of Finland, proved just as fruitful in their way. The women's contribution grew, and enough lyric poetry accumulated to constitute a new work: the Kanteletar appeared in 1840. The most notable lyric virtuoso, who brought to fullness the dimension foreshadowed by Matro, was Mateli Kuivalatar, who lived in the parish of Ilomantsi in Finnish Karelia (35 miles east of Joensuu). The epic dimension was expanded by many Finnish Karelian male singers, most notably by Simana Sissonen of the same parish. By the end of the century, singers had come to be regarded with a piety that was not far from worship: they became the object of pilgrimages, they were idealistically portrayed in travel writings, literature and art, they were seen as the last noble representatives of a vanished golden age.

Kai Laitinen (essay date 1985)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2770

SOURCE: "The Kalevala and Finnish Literature," translated by Hildi Hawkins, in Books from Finland, Vol. XIX, Ño. 1, 1985, pp. 61-64.

[In the following excerpt, Laitinen examines the influence of the Kalevala on the development of Finnish literature and of a Finnish national identity.]


Finnish literature began with the Kalevala.

That statement is at the same time more and less than the truth. A fair amount of literature had been published in Finland before the Kalevala appeared in 1835. Bishop Mikael Agricola, who brought Lutheranism to Finland in the sixteenth century, gave a start to Finnish-language literature when he translated the Bible into Finnish, and Swedish-language literature had had a number of distinguished representatives, such as Frans Michael Franzén (1772-1847) and the poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg, who made his debut five years before the Kalevala appeared. All the same, it is true to say that it was the publication of the Kalevala that gave Finnish-language literature its basis and its sense of importance. It is also arguable, with only a little exaggeration, that within only a few years the Kalevala had brought about yet more: the creation of a Finnish national identity.

As we now know, the extraordinarily direct influence of the Kalevala was in large part based on two misconceptions. The first of these was put forward by Elias Lönnrot; it was the notion that the folk poetry of which the Kalevala is made up actually gave an account of the history of the Finnish people. This belief was echoed by many others. And a nation with its own history, so the argument went, had the right to its place among the independent nations.

The other misconception was the belief that the Kalevala was part of a huge, fragmented national epic. Lönnrot was supposed to have reconstructed a portion of it from the fragments he collected from ballad singers. Lönnrot himself abandoned this idea fairly early, but it was still current until long after the Second World War. Studies of the way in which the Kalevala was put together—especially the work of Professor Väinö Kaukonen—have demonstrated that there is no truth in the notion of a great, lost national epic: it is now clear that Lönnrot constructed the Kalevala we know today piece by piece from a number of widely differing sources. But at the time when the Kalevala first appeared, the idea of a national epic served its purpose. It reinforced the national identity by demonstrating that Finland was capable of creating a work as impressive as the Kalevala. It had not only its own history, but its own ancient culture.

For literature and all the other arts, too, the Kalevala formed an important foundation stone: it created a national mythology. The importance of this was recognised in learned circles in Mikael Agricola's time: the foreword to his 1551 translation of the Psaltar acknowledges that 'Väinämöinen hammered hymns.' In his Mythologia Fennica of 1789, Christfrid Ganander characterised Väinämöinen as 'Finland's Apollo,' its 'excellent Orpheus', and identified Ilmarinen with Aeolus. The records of folk poetry that survive from before Lönnrot' s time mention many other demigods or heroes; it is clear that Finnish mythology was not unknown even then. But it was forced to compete on the one hand with Christian ideology and on the other with Classical mythology. The former was represented by the church, which was quick to condemn folk poetry as 'pagan'; the latter was dominant in the circles of the learned devotees of secular poetry.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century Danish influence brought a new subject into Nordic poetry: Nordic mythology. It replaced Classical subject-matter and the symbolic language that went with it; or at least, it won an honourable place alongside the Classics. In Finland the same phenomenon was more clearly marked than elsewhere, thanks to the Kalevala. Finnish mythology had certainly already been studied and presented (Agricola, H. G. Porthan, Christfrid Ganander) and used in poetry (Jaakko Juteini), but it was only with the appearance of Lönnrot' s Kalevala that it received a unified, organised form.

In the old folk poems there was little continuity in the characters from one poem to the next; often the protagonists could be interchanged at will. Their names, too, appeared in many variants. With the compilation of the Kalevala, however, the characters became clearly delineated. Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen, Lemminkäinen, Kullervo, Louhi and the rest became clear, definite literary figures with their own individual histories and destinies. Finnish mythology, in the popular and artistic meaning of the word, was well-established. The heroes of the Kalevala and their deeds could now be used as universally recognisable symbols. They could become the bearers of all kinds of nationalistic, ideological and social values. Lönnrot himself had hinted at this possibility in the final verses of the Kalevala, in which it is possible to read a demanding programme of national and cultural advancement.

Before the Kalevala there was only one universally known work to which it was possible to allude in the certainty that one would be understood. This was the Bible. The appearance of the Kalevala changed all this. It offered the young literature of Finland inspiration on two counts: on the one hand subject matter, situations, dramatic confrontations and, above all, powerful characters, and on the other stylistic stimuli in the form of an original and essentially Finnish poetic metre, together with similes, proverbs and metaphors. But the indirect possibilities it offered were equally important. Even today, in works that have nothing whatsoever in common, in subject-matter or form, with the Kalevala, one still encounters references to it. A single name, an almost imperceptible allusion, is enough: everyone knows at once what is being referred to.


The literature of different periods has used the Kalevala and its subject-matter or stylistic devices in different ways. The ways in which writers have treated its heroes and stories reflect the changes that have taken place in Finland's cultural and political climate.

The earliest significant works with subjects taken from the Kalevala appeared in the 1860s, when Finnish-language literature was developing rapidly. The subject of Aleksis Kivi's Kullervo is taken straight from the Kalevala (verses 31-36), but Kivi adds his own characterisation of the hero and an explanation and discussion of the motives for his actions. Like the Kalevala hero, Kivi's Kullervo is an implacable avenger who destroys the supposed killer of his parents, and his victim's family. At the same time it is made clear that the cause of Kullervo's rage is oppression and his subjugated position—the 'mark of the slave' is often cited as the origin of his violence. The cause of his destiny and his tragedy lie in himself as well as in his external circumstances. His character is deeper, more complex and more unpredictable than that of his original in the Kalevala.

Kullervo has attracted the attention of more than one writer. In a play written in 1895, the poet J. H. Erkko presented the same figure as a social rebel, even a revolutionary. As Raoul Palmgren has pointed out, 'by opposing the landowners and the landless, free men and slaves, the writer has turned the Kullervo story into a social tragedy'. The Väinämöinen character makes no secret of the play's political nature. 'In the strong working class/are the original people of the Kalevala.' His later play Pohjolan häät ('The Northland wedding')—it, too, based on a story from the Kalevala—also touches on the politics of the day, this time the conflict and internal contradictions caused by the period of Russian oppression that began at the end of the nineteenth century.

It has generally been Finnish-language authors who have been drawn to the Kalevala, but there are exceptions. Zacharias Topelius, who wrote the first Finnish historical novel and gained the status of a classic children's story writer, was fascinated by the Kalevala, and drew the character of the Don Juan figure of his Prinsessan av Cypern ('The princess of Cyprus', 1860) from the Kalevala's Lemminkäinen. In this fairy-story play Topelius links north and south, Finland and Greece, in a surprising way: the island on which the events take place becomes Cyprus, where Lemminkäinen arrives to seize a bride for himself. Topelius also reserved space for the Kalevala in his later, hugely popular, book Boken om våri land ('The book of our land', 1875), in which he gives a knowledgeable account of the contents of the Kalevala and stresses the work's quality and significance.


J. H. Erkko's Kalevala-inspired plays belong to a new period of Finnish literary history, known as national neo-Romanticism. One could equally well call it national symbolism, for in it love of the Kalevala and the Karelian landscape in which the poems were collected combines with enthusiasm for the motifs with which Karelian houses, textiles and household objects were decorated, and European symbolism and Art Nouveau. It reached its high point in the last five years of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, when many writers and artists made the journey to Karelia (the phenomenon is, indeed, sometimes known as Karelianism). It took with it writers who had begun as realists and social critics, like Juhani Aho, whose historical novel Panu (1897) describes the struggle between Christianity and paganism in a remote part of eastern Finland and makes free use of 'national Kalevala material and sometimes also of its characteristic modes of expression.

The most significant representative of the new school, and at the same time and interesting writer in terms of the direct influence of the Kalevala, was the poet Eino Leino. The lyrical poem-drama Tuonelan jousten ('Swan of Tuonela'), a youthful work, takes its subject from the Kalevala and its timbre from the world of European symbolism. Verlaine's direction 'De la musique avant tout chose!' was clearly very much in Leino's mind, and the Kalevala, with its alliteration, vowel harmony and parallelism, lends itself to such treatment. Leino drew from the same material again in his play Sota volosta ('War for light', 1902), whose theme is political, the defence of a national culture against an external threat.

Later, however, Leino came to the conclusion that using the Kalevala as a direct source was not very fruitful: its characters 'are already, just as they are, complete, crystallised works of art, and as such they do not need extension or polishing at the hands of literature'. All the same, the Kalevala remained close to him in many ways: he adapted it for the theatre in 1911—the quotation is from his foreword—but above all, he used its stimuli in a new way. The result was Leino's most powerful work, the collection of poetry entitled Helkavirsiä, published in 1903. A second volume appeared as late as 1916. (A selection of the poems appeared in English in 1978 in a translation by Keith Bosley, with a foreword by Michael Branch, under the title Whitsongs.)

Helkavirsiä uses the stylistic apparatus of the Kalevala—its metre, the way in which the characters express themselves, metaphors in the Kalevala style—but not its subject matter. Leino creates his own myth in the spirit of the Kalevala. For his heroes are mythical, growing to a poetic stature; most often they are defiant figures, whose destinies show the qualities of Nietzche's Übermensch or a kind of tragic optimism. They defy their enemies, society, convention, even death—and die unbowed, open-eyed, unafraid of their fates. The poems of Helkavirsiä contain the most memorable of Leino's characters. In the second series of ballads, defiance has softened to resignation, the tone has become more melancholy and the scope widened to include cosmic visions and myths.

Eino Leino's work shows how an artist of genius can best make use of the Kalevala: not by copying it, or following it closely, but by developing the stimuli it gives in the artist's own direction. Leino modified the style of expression, reducing the number of repeated verses, varying the rhythm and using more concise and immediate language. His poems are, in their origin and inspiration, close to the Kalevala; but they are not overshadowed by it—their strength gives them an independent life.


Since Eino Leino, many writers have used subjects from the Kalevala or tried to adapt its style for themselves, but few of them have achieved such impressive results. In the end the enthusiasm for the Kalevala resulted in a retreat from it. In newly independent Finland more writers avoided it than followed its inspiration. There are very few subjects taken from the Kalevala, for instance, and no Kalevala style or metre whatsoever, in the work of V. A. Koskenniemi, the leading poet of the time. This reaction is also apparent in prose. Joel Lehtonen's novel Kerran kesällä ('Once in summer', 1917) has a character named Bongman who quotes the Kalevala at all times and in all places, worships all things nationalistic with such enthusiasm that the description of him inevitably turns to parody.

Nevertheless, the Kalevala was not entirely abandoned. It had earlier been used in the aims of realism and social criticism (J. H. Erkko) and in the spirit of Karelianism and symbolism (Eino Leino), so it is hardly surprising that it should also become involved with the new current of expressionism. This happened in Lauri Haarla's play Lemmin poika ('Lemmi's son', 1922), in which the Kalevala's carefree youth develops into a tragic hero. Later, too, Haarla used subjects connected with the Kalevala or attempted an imagined 'ancient Finnish', pathetic style; but he was almost alone in his time. Only a very few poets succeeded in combining patriotic fervour and the Kalevala. In ceremonial speeches and newspaper articles between the two World Wars, of course, this combination did appear, and often; but in literature it proved difficult to achieve.

The Kalevala made its reappearance in Finnish literature much later, and from an unexpected quarter, in the work of Paavo Haavikko, the leading poet of the lyrical modernism of the 1950s. Some of the same subject matter is to be found in the work of contemporary prose writers (Anu Kaipainen, Erkki Mäkinen), but Haavikko was the writer who really brought the Kalevala back as a living inspiration for literature. His early works show a keen interest in motifs from Russian history and Byzantium. The subject of his extended poem Kaksikymmentä ja yksi ("Twenty and one', 1974) is nothing more nor less than the Kalevala story of the stealing of the Sampo. The Sampo is a mysterious object of power which dozens, perhaps hundreds, of theories have attempted to explain. In Haavikko's hands it receives a new interpretation with an economic slant: the Sampo is a Byzantine coin-minting machine that the men of the north steal in the belief that it will bring them prosperity and happiness.

Later Haavikko returned to the Kalevala in his work Rauta-aika ('Age of Iron', 1982), which also formed the script for a television series that attracted a great deal of attention in Finland. It began with this exhortation: 'Forget! Forget the Kalevala, its heroes, words, phrases, forget what you have heard about them, the pictures you have seen.' But at the same time out of the work grows a new, suggestive variation, a picture of the characters and events that we know from the Kalevala stressed and coloured in a new way. At the end of the work the characters are tired and resigned; they have had enough of life. Ilmari says, 'It wasn't a bad life. . . . It's certainly taken back everything it's given. We're quite. . . . Let death do its work now. I want to sleep, well and long.' The powerful heroes of the Kalevala, shamans who know the secret forces of existence, have become people again; weak, uncertain, tired—people like ourselves.


The Kalevala at first provided the belief in the right of the Finnish people to their independent existence, created for it a rich history and the illusion of a splendid cultural past. Later it became a fruitful source of material for other artists. Each of them found in it something different: Kivi his Kullervo, Erkko his social problems and differences, Leino his myth-creating fantasies, Haavikko his demythified anti-heroes. The Kalevala has been a mirror in which each time has seen, in the light of its own interests, that which it has found most interesting and absorbing: itself.

Without the visions to which the Kalevala, directly or indirectly, gave birth, Finnish-language literature would be very different from what it is today. It's even worth asking whether it would exist at all?

Keith Bosley (essay date 1985)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2212

SOURCE: "Translating the Kalevala: Midway Reflections," in Books from Finland, Vol. XIX, No. 1, 1985, pp. 30-33.

[In the following essay, written while he was in the process of translating the Kalevala into English, Bosley reflects on the special challenges and responsibilities inherent in that task.]

Ilmarinen the smith, eternal craftsman,
forges a fiery eagle, a wivern
of flame: the feet he hammered out of iron,
of steel the talons, wings of a boat's sides.
Up on the wings he clambered, on its back,
the eagle's wingbone tips, there he sat down,
there he commanded: 'Eagle, pretty bird,
fly where I bid you—to the sluggish river
of Death's dark lord, into the fateful gully!
Pounce on the Pike, the scaly monster, smite
the fish that, though well fed, can dart and dodge!' . . .

Nel mezzo del cammin: the half-way point of any long journey is critical. Can we continue as we began? Knowing now what we did not know at the outset, and having invested so much time and effort already, are we still sure of our way? Or must we start all over again? Even God had second thoughts and sent the Flood. In such august company, the translator is a humble clerk. He has his text, at least: he is not creating, he is interpreting—though this lesser endeavour demands its measure of creativity. He is devoting precious years (it may be) to bringing a foreign text to life in his own tongue: is his author still with him as an inspiring presence? If so, are author and translator still worthy of each other? If not, who has slipped from grace?

Such agonisings are inevitable and even appropriate half way. Half way through translating the Kalevala, I find myself no less committed to it and no less confident (or, to put it more accurately, no more unconfident) in what I am doing. But can I do it better?

This question prompted the lines above. Ilmarinen the smith must perform three tasks to win the hand of the Maid of the North. He has ploughed the Viper-Field, he has tamed the bear and the wolf of Tuoni, the lord of the dead: now he must catch the pike of Tuoni without a net. This is indeed the stuff of epic; but what is the sound of epic, in English?

Him the Almighty Power
Hurld headlong flaming from th'Ethereal Skie
With hideous ruine and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In Adamantine Chains and penal Fire,
Who durst defie th'Omnipotent to Arms.

Before the Virgilian thunder of Milton there was the Renaissance grace of Spenser, sounding like his Italian models; there was Chapman, making Homer sound like a ballad—to the delight of Keats:

This said, he reacht to take his sonne,
 who (of his armes afraid,
And then the horse-hair plume, with which
 he was so overlaid,
Nodded so horribly) he clingd
 back to his nurse and cride . . .

A century later, Pope lent the same passage a more 'Classical' elegance:

Thus having spoke, the illustrious chief of Troy
Stretch'd his fond arms to clasp the lovely boy.
The babe clung crying to his nurse's breast,
Scared at the dazzling helm, and nodding crest.

In English, then, epic has many sounds—the various music of the Renaissance, the homespun, the urbane talk of the Enlightenment, to say nothing of the tubthump of Anglo-Saxon, the earnest rhapsody of latter days . . .

To an English translator of most Finnish poetry and prose, such considerations are irrelevant. But the translator of the Kalevala takes on a tradition that goes back beyond the beginnings of Finnish literature proper and lays the foundations of a whole culture, which he (we have all been men so far) can approach either as an anthropologist or as a humanist. The anthropologist will study resemblances to and differences from the productions of other Noble Savages; the humanist will look for artistic achievement to compare with that nearer home. The present translator is a humanist: that is why he wondered whether the Kalevala might not be more fittingly rendered into English blank verse.

There is nothing more dignified than the speech of Shakespeare's kings, or of a great poet who finds he has been plagiarised:

As a three-pronged arrow craftsman-carbed in horn
flies above the smooth star-glittering ice
my song had slipped away down the spreading river.

The river is the Ob; the lines are from a folk poem which Peter Sherwood and I translated from Vogul, a Siberian language related to Finnish. The translation of folk poetry from the Finno-Ugrian languages for the forthcoming anthology The Great Bear (Finnish Literature Society) reminded me that poetry is universal: the work of an illiterate peasant not only comes from the same organ as that of Baudelaire but can also be usefully compared with it—though, of course, not all illiterate peasants need apply. This is why some of the Great Bear translations sound surprisingly Western, like these lines from a poem in Ostyak, another Siberian language:

My children have grown up: my son's a hunter
catching all he can—
foxes and squirrels as he roams the forest.
I don't need a man.

Folk poetry presents the same variety of register as 'literary' poetry, but the variety is less apparent: in a phonetic text whose layout was largely the whim of the collector, we find here the swing of lyric, there the towering syntactic structure of epic, the song of origins and mysteries. This is where the Kalevala has its roots; but for the translator there is another consideration.

The further west Finno-Ugrians migrated, the more concerned they were with what we would call poetic form. Language maintained throughout a more or less uniform complexity, but the structure of their poetry acquired an increasing sense of a music not dependent on grammar. For the Voguls and their neighbours the Ostyaks, poetry was little more than speech heightened by occasion and intensified by parallelism; something similar has been said of the earliest Hebrew poetry. But for the Zyryans, on this side of the Urals, something else was beginning to happen. Here are the opening lines of a lament:

Of your days you are lying the last day of your hours you are lying the last hour . . .

In English these lines are exactly parallel, but in the original the words 'day' and 'hour' are of different length, and the lines differ in a way that grammar does not require. This can only be a metrical requirement: the tune to which the lament was sung (for metre always derives ultimately from song) was making its own demands. Poetry was taking off from rhetoric: in the Baltic area—amoung the Finns, the Ingrians, the Estonians and the rest—metre became a formal principle, with the added device of alliteration. Sound was evolving its own laws, independent of sense: poetry was coming, as Mallarmé told Degas, to be made of words rather than of ideas.

This is why the tradition behind the Kalevala is such a challenge to the translator. He does not need to dignify it with blank verse or make it swing with a folk song metre: it has its own sophisticated music. So has Homer, of course; but his translator works within a tradition of his own—that of his distinguished predecessors—and no one thinks less of Homer if his latest translator makes a mockery of him. On the other hand the translator of Finnish folk poetry, and especially of the Kalevala, has a responsibility. Because he is taking his readers into largely—or even totally—unfamiliar territory, they have to trust him; they are going to make their judgement in the light of his performance, rather like a concert audience hearing a new work. If he makes a mess of it, they will conclude at best that the Kalevala is a curiosity, at worst that the nation is wretched indeed which accords such a work pride of place in its heritage. If the epic has suffered at the hands of its English translators, it is in no small part because they have failed to appreciate its music. The plain prose of Francis Peabody Magoun Jr (1963) makes no pretensions, but before him both John Martin Crawford (1889) and William Forsell Kirby (1907) were seduced by the crude parody of Kalevala metre which Longfellow used for Hiawatha; he in turn was seduced by Schiefner's German translation, which was doubtless influenced by Goethe's attempt at reproducing the original metre in his 1810 version of a Finnish folk lyric (Kam der liebe Wohlbekannte). The great heresy in the art of verse translation is the urge to reproduce the original metre; it is like trying to wear someone else's shoes. This heresy flourishes most when a translator is working from an 'exotic' language, like Finnish, for which a common culture does not suggest equivalents—the Italian hendecasyllable, the French alexandrine, the English iambic pentamer. The 'exotic' metre, like any other, has its irregularities, and here the heretic takes a tumble: with his uncertain footing, he must play safe and stick to his 'rules'. Meanwhile, of the millions of lines of Finnish folk poetry collected, it has been estimated that about half are 'irregular', and the tension thus created is an essential ingredient. To translate it therefore into Hiawatha metre is to reduce it to light verse, and its mythology to fairy tale.

The Kalevala has many voices, from a cosmic scorn that recalls the Book of Job:

Neither were you seen
neither seen nor heard
when this earth was made
when the air was formed
when the air's pillar was fixed
when the sky's arch was fastened
when the moon was steered
when the sun was helped when the Great Bear was stretched out
when the sky was filled with stars.

—all the way down to advice to a bride:

Begin sweeping the floor-joints
take a broom to the floorboards:
throw water upon the floor—
don't throw it over a child!
If you see a child upon the floor
even if 'tis sister-in-law's child

lift the child on to a bench
wash its eyes and smooth its hair
put some bread into its hand
spread some butter on the house
put a wood-chip in its hand!

There is the alternation of narrative and spell, when the action stops and the language bursts into flower, rather as in classical opera a recitative leads into an aria:

Hold, blood, your leaking
and gore, your rippling
on my head slopping
spraying on my breasts!
Blood, stand like a wall
stay, gore, like a fence
like an iris in the sea
stand, sedge among moss
a boulder at a field edge
a rock amid steep rapids!

These quotations demonstrate one translator's working solution—it can be no more than that—to the main problem in translating the Kalevala into English: there is no cultural equivalent. Oral tradition, in which the Kalevala is rooted, is central to Finnish culture but peripheral to English. The greatest figures in Finnish literature—men like Arhippa Perttunen and his son Miihkali, women like Larin Paraske—could not read or write, and yet they commanded a repertoire running to thousands of lines: the English translator needs to invent a style to convey that richness without sounding 'literary'. I have had to unlearn the vocabulary of my education and remember the earthier speech of my relatives, who always 'answered' but never 'replied', yet relished a vivid turn of phrase that would be lost on my friends: in Hampstead Garden Suburb no one is 'on short commons'. I have also, unexpectedly, found Scottish terminology useful, though on reflection this is not so remarkable: in many ways the Finns have more in common with the Scots than with the English. So the troublesome linna (in modern Finnish 'castle', in oral tradition a fortified settlement) becomes 'burgh' rather than the larger 'town' or even 'borough'; penkerelle, pänkerelle becomes 'to its banks and braes', and kana as a term of endearment is literally rendered 'hen' because that is how the Glaswegian addresses his lassie—Magoun's equally demotic 'chick' is simply not affectionate enough. Unlike many of my immediate countrymen, I am aware that the language we call English has boasted two literary dialects since the Renaissance, when Gavin Douglas produced the first translation of Virgil into our 'rurali vulgar gros'.

The English translator of the Kalevala needs also to invent a metre. Which is absurd; but Hiawatha just won't do. It trots; the Kalevala dances. The metre I arrived at by trial and error for Finnish Folk Poetry: Epic over ten years ago seems to work for the Kalevala, which is reassuring. It is a line of seven, sometimes of five, occasionally of nine, syllables, thus cutting across the English grain of an even number of syllables divided into 'feet', so that the rhythm is always shifting; French, Welsh and Japanese poets would recognise it. Any attempt at imitating the original alliteration would lead me too far from a text full of concrete particulars; I discovered that long ago too. So I shall continue as before, translating line for line; the more cavalier blank verse with which I began these reflections is for the next translator, who will have me to build on.

Senni Timonen (essay date 1989)

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SOURCE: An introduction to "Kanteletar: Women's Voices," in Books from Finland, Vol. XXIII, No. 3, 1989, pp. 159-61.

[In the following excerpt, Timonen briefly reviews the content and organization of the Kanteletar and describes Lönnrot's role in compiling the collection.]

Kanteletar's core is the individual's relationship with others and with the environment: the village, small, crowded, besieged by poverty, shackled by its prejudices. At the same time it reflects the world: the presence of the encircling forest and the cycle of nature; and the human condition: joy, sorrow and longing. Kanteletar complements Kalevala, and equals it in its own genre.

Elias Lönnrot had gathered the basic material for the book—around 17,000 verses of lyrical folk songs—himself on numerous, wide-ranging field trips in eastern Finland and Karelia from 1828 onwards. For Kanteletar, just as for the Kalevala, Lönnrot used not only his own material but also verses collected and published by earlier travellers. The final result contains 652 poems, made up of 222,201 lines. Kanteletar, in other words, is almost as long as the Kalevala.

Lönnrot derived the collection's name from the kantete, an ancient Finnish five-stringed musical instrument. By adding the feminine ending, -tar, however he used the folk tradition to create a concept foreign to that tradition: the idea of a muse of the kantete, who for him meant the symbol of lyric song.

Kanteletar is divided into three sections. Into the first Lönnrot put the songs that he regarded as being sung by everyone—men and women, young and old. He grouped the poems according to the situations in which they were sung: lamentation, slavery, weddings, shepherd songs, and so on. For instance, 'A plank of flesh' belongs to a group of songs about orphans and slaves, and 'Don't propose on a Sunday' to a sequence of folk wisdom, while 'The dance' is one of a series of dance songs.

The songs of the second section are grouped according to the gender, age and social standing of the singer. There is a large number of girls' songs, about love and guessing the identity of their husbands to be ('The irresistible', 'Daydreams' and 'Grinding song'). There are women's songs, with thematic focuses in the comparison between married and unmarried life, children's futures ('Lullabies') and the characters of husbands ('The cripple's wife'). There are men's and boys' songs which also deal with love and marriage ('Deceived', 'Against widows', 'Marrying in haste'); but, in reflection of men's social role, the songs also open up the world outside the home, with subject matter including hunting, war, and so on.

Lönnrot devoted the third section to narrative poems and ballads—most of them belonging to the sphere of women's life—whose subjects approach the general themes of poetry (sexual roles, moral problems, examination of human relationships, expressions of women's viewpoints; compare 'The thoughtful dragon').

Scholars have confirmed that in compiling Kanteletar, Lönnrot underwent an artistic liberation, in which a more aesthetic perception of folk poetry opened up to him. One of the contributing factors to this new freedom was the nature of the lyrical folk poetry itself, another came from European influences: the period also saw the publication of a number of corresponding collections of the folk poetry of different nations. The collection of Serbian folk songs published by Vuk Karadžić as early as 1814-15, which made its way to Finland in a German translation in the 1830s, appears to have been particularly inspirational; it is known that Lönnrot thought highly of it.

Lönnrot' s vision of folk poetry is clearly expressed in his extensive introduction to Kanteletar. It is considered one of the most important texts of the Romantic movement in Finland. In it, Lönnrot contrasts art poetry and folk poetry, particularly lyric folk poetry, and forcefully champions the latter. Learned poems are made through thinking, whereas folk poetry 'creates itself from itself,' says Lönnrot. 'Playing and singing are like another, more sacred human language, which to itself or others communicates its desires and thoughts; which, better than this ordinary, everyday language, declares its joys and exultations, its sorrows and worries, its happiness and its contentment, its rest, its peace and the other aspects of its existence.'

Thus it is clear that Lönnrot sees folk song—which he believes to be of ancient origin—as a better and more accurate vehicle for the innermost thoughts of the individual than any other form of verbal expression. He emphasises the communal nature of folk poetry; even the concept of a named author is, for him, foreign to the nature of the genre. This idea, together with the quotations from Herder's famous folk song collection, demonstrates that the native land of the ideas Lönnrot adopted was Romantic Germany. As a result of his profound first-hand knowledge of folk poetry and the conditions in which it was born, he was able to make an unusually concrete and original synthesis of Romantic ideas and both his own work and Finnish folk poetry.

In many of its basic characteristics, Kanteletar really is a genuinely faithful reflection of folk poetry. It follows the same four-foot trochaic rhythm; it is pervaded by the same organic connection with nature, the same concrete, realist and melancholy qualities. Lönnrot kept individual poems separate, and roughly at the same length as they were recorded; here, unlike in the Kalevala, in other words, he did not try to knit them together into a coherent narrative.

Nevertheless, his creative editorship is also discernible in Kanteletar. He handled the great majority of the poems with such force that they can no longer be regarded as genuine examples of folk poetry. According to Professor Väinö Kaukonen, five different levels of intervention can be discerned in Lönnrot' s work: 1) simple technical, linguistic editing, with some standardisation; 2) complementing a text with lines from variants of the same poem; 3) collation of a text from two or three completely different, but thematically related, poems; 4) collation of a text from line material from between 10 and 15 different poems; and 5) creation of a new poem in the folk style.

The majority of the Kanteletar poems fall into the second and third groups, in which Lönnrot, to a greater or lesser degree, freed himself of the structures of folk poetry in order to create new poems of his own. To simplify, Kanteletar was born as follows: the original lyrical folk poetry fragmented in Lönnrot' s mind into elements which he then incorporated as parts of a completely new whole; gaps, unevennesses and illogicalities were filled in and corrected in the style of folk poetry. He himself was not conscious of creating anything new, only of improving his material. The technique is almost the same as in the Kalevala, but the length—most of the poems are very short—and discrete nature of the Kanteletar poems, together with their faithfulness to the dimensions of the original folk songs, make them at least apparently closer to the original material.

In collating the poems, Lönnrot attempted to give as lively and many-sided picture of the world they describe as possible. This portrait is, nevertheless, drawn entirely from his own vision of the poems' world.

Although Kanteletar, therefore, is not 'genuine' folk poetry, it does represent an interpretation by the best available expert of what the genuine Finnish folk tradition was like. Because this expert did not write reports but poetry, Kanteletar is, in the last analysis, guaranteed by the conception of poetry and the world of its author, the writer and poet Elias Lönnrot.

Further Reading

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Last Updated on February 6, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 725

Bixby, James T. Review of the Kalevala. Unitarian Review XXXI, No. 4 (April, 1889): 309-27.

Examines various mythological aspects of the Kalevala.

Branch, M. A. Introduction to Kalevala: The Land of Heroes, translated by W. F. Kirby, pp. xi-xxxiv. London: Athlone, 1985.

Identifies four layers of style characteristic of the Kalevala and other Finnish folk poetry of its type.

Comparetti, Domenico. "Conclusions." The Traditional Poetry of the Finns, translated by Isabella M. Anderton, pp. 327-59. London and New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1898.

Analysis of various aspects of the Kalevala which concludes that it is not comparable to ancient national epics like the Iliad.

Crawford, John Martin, editor and translator. Preface to The Kalevala: The Epic Poem of Finland, Vol. 1, pp. v-xlix. New York: John B. Alden, Publisher, 1888.

Views the Kalevala as "a contest between Light and Darkness, Good and Evil," and describes it as "one of the most precious contributions to the literature of the world."

Honko, Lauri. "The 'Kalevala' Process." Folklife Annual (1986): 66-79.

Examines the poetic evolution that produced the oral poetry collected by Lönnrot and other scholars and the codification of that poetry in the Kalevala.

Kerényi, C. "The Primordial Child in Primordial Times." Essays on a Science of Mythology: The Myth of the Divine Child and the Mysteries of Eleusis, by C. G. Jung and C. Kerényi, translated by R. F. C. Hull, Bollingen Series XXII, revised edition, pp. 25-69. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969.

Examines the tragic figure of Kullervo from the Kalevala in terms of the mythological "divine child," a child deity comparable to Dionysus or Hermes in Greek mythology.

Krohn, Julius. Letter to F. Max Muller. The Athenaeum 2, No. 3182 (October 20, 1888): 519-20.

Discusses the evolution of the Kalevala and the process used by Lönnrot in assembling the poem.

Lang, Andrew. "The 'Kalevala'." Homer and the Epic, pp. 413-19. London and New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1893.

Argues that the Kalevala cannot be considered an epic, particularly because of its lack of unity.

Lönnrot, Elias, ed. The Kalevala; or Poems of the Kalevala District, translated by Francis Peabody Magoun, Jr. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963, 410 p.

One of the best modern translations, its introduction and appendixes provide background information about Lönnrot's life, Finnish poetry, and the compilation of the Kalevala.

Nyland, Waino. "'Kalevala' as a Reputed Source of Longfellow's 'Song of Hiawatha.'" American Literature 22, No. 1 (March, 1950): 1-20.

Examines the contention that the Kalevala is a direct source of Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha (1855).

Oinas, Felix J. "The Balto-Finnic Epic." Heroic Epic and Saga: An Introduction to the World's Great Folk Epics, edited by Felix J. Oinas, pp. 286-309. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1978.

Briefly explores the composition, form, and influence of the Kalevala.

Rexroth, Kenneth. "The Kalevala." Classics Revisited, pp. 24-28. New York: New Directions, 1968.

Finds that the Kalevala "succeeds and endures because it expresses a national consciousness, but the consciousness of the kinship of a race of men with all living creatures about them."

Schoolfield, George C. The Kalevala: Epic of the Finnish People, translated by Eino Friberg. Helsinki: Otava Publishing Company, 1988.

Includes an English translation of the Kalevala as well as critical materials analyzing the structure of the compilation and its significance for the development of Finnish language, national identity, and culture.

Sealey, Raphaël. "Appendix: The Structure of the 'Kalevala'." Revue des Etudes Greques LXX, Nos. 331-33 (July-December, 1957): 352-55.

Finds in the Kalevala a unity of structure evidenced through the interweaving of themes, the variation of mood, and the arrangement of the narrative.

Setälä, E. N. "The Centenary of the 'Kalevala': The National Epic of the Finns." The Slavonic and East European Review 14, No. 40 (July, 1935): 36-43.

Compares initial critical reactions to the Kalevala with conceptions of it on the poem's centenary, and notes its importance to Finnish nationalism.

Stephens, Anna Cox. "The Kalevala." Music II, No. 2 (June, 1892): 133-43.

Praises the Kalevala" s rich use of fantasy and magic and its delicate portrayal of sentiments.

Turunen, Aimo. "Folk Epic to National Epic: Kalevala and Kalevipoeg." Folklorica: Festschrift for Felix J. Oinas, edited by Egle Victoria Žygas and Peter Voorheis, pp. 277-89. Bloomington, IN: Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, 1982.

Discusses the influence the Kalevala has had on subsequent Finnish music, literature, and art.

Additional coverage of the Kalevala is contained in the following source published by Gale Research: Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism, Vol. 6.

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