Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2283
Creation (poems 1-2)
The world is young and empty, and the Air-daughter, weary of being alone, steps down into the ocean. Impregnated by the wind and sea, the Air-daughter/water-mother floats for seven centuries without giving birth. A sea-bird nests on her knee and lays seven eggs. When they begin to hatch, the water-mother jerks her knee, scattering the eggs into the water and smashing them to pieces. From the egg fragments are formed the earth and the heavens, the clouds and the stars, the moon and the sun. The water-mother shapes the shoreline and seabed. Finally she gives birth to Vainamoinen, who floats to shore.
Finding himself in a treeless land, Vainamoinen has the boy Sampsa Pellervoinen plant all kinds of trees. Only the oak refuses to sprout. A creature arises from the sea, burns a pile of hay, and sows the acorn again in the ashes. This time the oak grows so tall that its branches overshadow the whole earth, blocking out the sun and moon. Vainamoinen calls upon his mother, who sends a tiny sea-creature to cut down the oak with three strokes of his axe. Those who gather fragments of the fallen oak are blessed with magic, happiness, and love.
Now the sun and moon shine once more. Birds sing and berries ripen, but the barley does not grow. Vainamoinen cuts a great clearing in the forest but leaves one birch tree standing so that the birds will have a place to rest. The eagle, grateful for this kindness, strikes a fire to help Vainambinen burn the clearing. Vainambinen plants his barley in the ash-rich soil, prays to the earth and the clouds, and comes back a few days later to find that the barley has taken root.
Aino (poems 3-5)
Vai'nambinen's fame as a singer and wise man spreads to the Northland, arousing the envy of a young Lapp named Joukahainen. Heedless of his parents' warnings, Joukahainen sets off for Kalevala to challenge Vainambinen. Vainamoinen easily defeats the young upstart, backing him into a swamp. As Joukahainen sinks up to his neck in the mire, he offers his sister Aino to Vainamoinen as a bride. Vainamoinen releases Joukahainen, who flees back north and tells his family the story. Though his mother is overjoyed at the prospect of having such a famous son-in-law, Aino is miserable.
Vainamoinen encounters Aino while she is out cutting leafy birch twigs to use as whisks in the sauna. When he asks her to be his wife, she tears off her jewelry and ribbons and runs home weeping. Her mother urges her to cheer up. Tearfully insisting that she does not want to be the wife of an old man, Aino runs off and loses her way in the woods. Finally she reaches the sea, where she goes for a swim and drowns. Her mother mourns.
Vainamoinen, also distraught at Aino's death, goes to the water to search for her body. He catches a strange fish and is about to cut it open when it leaps back into the water and reveals that it is Aino. He begs her to come back into the boat, but she refuses, leaving the old man disconsolate. Vainamoinen returns home, wondering aloud how he will get over his grief. His mother speaks from beneath the waves, advising him to travel northwards and woo the maidens of Pohjola.
The Forging of the Sampo (poems 6-10)
Aino's resentful brother Joukahainen lies in wait with a crossbow and tries to shoot Vainamoinen, but the arrow hits Vai'nambinen's horse instead. Vainamoinen falls into the water and is washed out to sea.
Vainamoinen drifts for many days. An eagle spots him and, remembering the birch tree that Vainamoinen spared, carries him to the shores of Pohjola. The Mistress of the Northland (Louhi) receives him well, but Vainamoinen is homesick for Kalevala. Louhi promises she will return him to his homeland and give him her daughter in marriage if he will forge a Sampo for her. Vainamoinen pledges he will send the master smith Ilmarinen to make the Sampo, and Louhi sends him home in her sleigh.
On his way, Vainambinen meets Louhi's daughter and asks her into his sleigh. She assigns him several seemingly impossible tasks, which he performs without difficulty. The maiden then challenges him to carve a boat out of pieces of her spindle and launch it into the water without touching it. When Vainambinen begins carving, his axe slips and cuts a deep gash in his knee. Unable to remember the charm for healing wounds made by iron, Vainambinen limps away, bleeding heavily, and eventually finds an old man who can heal him. Vainamoinen sings about the origin of iron, and the old man weaves this information into a charm that stops the flow of blood.
Vainambinen returns home and tries to convince Ilmarinen to go to Pohjola and forge a Sampo. When Ilmarinen refuses, Vainambinen sings up a wind to carry the unwilling smith to Pohjola. Ilmarinen forges the Sampo, a bright metal mill that magically produces salt, money, and endless bins of grain for the people of the North. When he asks to marry Louhi's daughter, though, the maiden says she has too many tasks at home and cannot leave with him. Dejected, Ilmarinen sails back to Kalevala.
Lemminkainen's Adventures (poems 11-15)
The wanton young Lemminkainen goes to woo the island maiden Kylhki, who has refused all suitors. He gets work as a herdsman on the island and manages to seduce all the other women living there. Kylliki is the only maiden he cannot charm, and he finally abducts her. Kylliki weeps, saying she does not want a husband who is forever going off to war. Lemminkainen swears he will not go to war as long as Kylliki refrains from visiting the village.
When Kylliki forgets her oath and goes down to the village, Lemminkainen deserts her in a rage and goes north to court the Maiden of Pohjola. His mother tries to stop him, and Lemminkainen throws down his comb, saying that blood will run from it if he is killed. Arriving in Pohjola, Lemminkainen sings his way past the guard dog and casts a spell over all the men except for one herdsman whom he sneeringly dismisses. Insulted, the herdsman runs off to the river Tuoni to prepare an ambush for Lemminkainen.
Lemminkainen demands one of Louhi' s daughters, and Louhi assigns him several tasks to perform. He catches the Demon's Elk and bridles the Demon's foam-jawed horse, but when he goes to the nver of Tuoni (Death) to shoot the swan, the herdsman kills him and throws him into the water, where Tuoni's son cuts him to pieces.
Lemminkainen's mother and wife know he is dead when blood drips from the comb. His mother rushes to Pohjola, where Louhi tells her what has happened. Lemminkainen's mother searches the river Tuoni for pieces of her son's body, which she reassembles and sings back to life with charms and ointments.
Vainamoinen's Adventures (poems 16-17)
Vainamoinen builds a boat by chanting but cannot remember the three words for getting it into the water. His search for the words takes him to Tuonela, the land of the dead. Tuonela' s inhabitants try to trap him there with nets, but he sings himself into a snake and slips away.
Vainamoinen goes to get the words from the sleeping giant Antero Vipunen. When Antero swallows him, Vainamoinen hammers at the inside of his stomach and refuses to leave until Antero relents and reveals all his magic songs.
Courting the Maiden of Pohjola (poems 18-19)
Vainamoinen finishes building his boat and sails northward to court the maiden of Pohjola. On the way he passes Ilmarinen's sister Annikki, who rushes off to warn her brother of Vainamoinen's plans. Ilmarinen bathes and sets off for Pohjola on horseback. Seeing the two suitors approach, Louhi advises her daughter to choose Vainamoinen for his wisdom and wealth, but the maiden says she prefers Ilmarinen, the handsome forger of the Sampo.
Louhi tells Ilmarinen he can have her daughter only when he has plowed a field of vipers, captured Tuoni's bears and wolves, and caught the pike from Tuoni's nver. Ilmarinen succeeds with the maiden's help, and Vainamoinen returns home, filled with regret that he never married in his youth.
Ilmarinen's Wedding (poems 20-25)
Preparations are made for the great wedding feast in Pohjola: a giant ox is slaughtered, beer is brewed, and guests are invited, but Louhi warns her servant not to invite Lemminkainen because of his reputation for picking fights. Wedding guests sing songs of celebration and praise as well as laments for the bride who must leave her home.
Bride and bridegroom journey to Ilmarinen's home. There is another feast at which Vai'nanioinen sings their praises. On his way home, Vainamoinen's sleigh breaks down, and he has to fetch a spike and a drill from Tuonela to repair it.
Lemminkainen's Second Journey to Pohjola (poems 26- 30)
Enraged at not being invited to the wedding, Lemminkainen storms off towards Pohjola, disregarding his mother's warnings about the dooms that await him on the way. He chants his way past many perils, barges into the hall, and engages the Master of Pohjola in a contest of spells and of swords.
Lemminkainen slays the Master and flees from Louhi and her soldiers.
Lemminkainen's mother directs him to an island where he can take refuge. True to form, he seduces all the women and eventually has to flee from the island men who want to kill him. He survives a shipwreck and swims home only to find that the armies of Pohjola have burnt his house down. Believing his mother to be dead, Lemminkainen wanders off weeping, but he soon finds her hiding in the woods.
Lemminkainen takes his old friend Tiera and sets out to fight against Pohjola. Louhi sends the Frost to freeze them, but Lemminkainen banishes Frost with spells. Tiera and Lemminkainen wander around wretchedly for a while before finally heading homeward.
Kullervo (poems 31-36)
Untamo wages war on his brother Kalervo, slays his people, and takes his infant son Kullervo. Kullervo grows into a troublesome boy, and Untamo sells him to Ilmarinen as a slave. Umarinen's wife hides a stone in Kullervo's bread before sending him to watch the herd. The stone breaks Kullervo's knife, and in vengeance he sends bears and wolves disguised as cattle to kill Ilmarinen's wife.
Kullervo flees and learns that his family is still alive. He finds his parents, who tell him his sister was lost long ago. When Kullervo proves inept at most tasks, his father sends him to pay taxes. On his way home he meets and seduces a young woman who turns out to be his lost sister. She drowns herself in shame. Ever vengeful for the mistreatment he has suffered in his life, Kullervo destroys Untamo's farm before killing himself as well.
Ilmarinen's Second Journey to Pohjola (poems 37-38)
Ilmarinen mourns his dead wife. After an ill-considered attempt to forge a new wife out of gold and silver, Ilmarinen returns to Pohjola to ask for Louhi's other daughter. When he is rejected, he abducts the maiden. She complains and insults him until he becomes angry and turns her into a seagull.
The Theft of the Sampo (poems 39-42)
Ilmarinen tells Vainamoinen about the great prosperity Pohjola enjoys thanks to the Sampo. The two friends set out to retrieve the Sampo for Kalevala, and Lemminkainen joins them. On the way, their boat becomes stuck on an enormous pike's back. They manage to kill the pike, and Vainamoinen makes a kantele (a harp) out of its bones. Many try to play it, but only Vainamoinen succeeds; his music is so beautiful and moving that all the creatures in the world come to listen.Tears roll down Vai'nSmoinen's cheeks and turn into pearls when they hit the water.
When the three arrive in Pohjola, Louhi refuses to share the Sampo. Vainamoinen plays her soldiers to sleep with his kantele, and the three heroes steal the Sampo. Louhi awakes and sends a storm after their ship, causing the kantele to fall overboard.
War Between Pohjola and Kalevala (poems 43-49)
Louhi pursues the heroes, and there is a great sea battle, during which the Sampo is broken. Defeated, Louhi returns to Pohjola with only the Sampo's lid; Vainamoinen gathers the other fragments and plants them joyfully.
Unable to find his pikebone kantele, Vainamoinen makes a new one of birch. Louhi curses Kalevala with plague, but Vainamoinen heals the people with charms and ointments. Louhi then sends a bear to destroy Kalevala's herds, but Vainamoinen kills the bear and there is a great feast, at which Vainamoinen sings songs sweet enough to bring down the sun and moon.
Louhi then captures the sun and moon, hiding them in a mountain and putting out the fires of Kalevala. Ukko (God) kindles fire for a new sun and moon. The fire falls to the ground, and Ilmarinen and Vainamoinen go to find it. They release the fire from a fish that has swallowed it, and it burns out of control, injuring Ilmarinen and destroying many lands before the heroes can subdue it. Ilmarinen uses it to forge a new sun and moon but cannot get them to shine. He journeys to Pohjola and compels Louhi to release the sun and moon.
Marjatta (poem 50)
The virgin Marjatta swallows a lingonberry, which causes her to conceive and bear a son. After some dispute, the boy is baptized and declared King of Karelia. Vainamoinen departs from Kalevala, leaving behind his birch kantele and his songs and prophecying that he will return someday when the people need him.