The Poem

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After his mother created the land, the sun, and the moon out of sea duck eggs, Väinämöinen is born, and with the help of Sampsa Pellervoinen he makes the barren land fruitful, sowing seeds and planting trees. By the time Väinämöinen is an old man, he gained great fame as a singer and charmer. When a brash young man named Joukahäinen challenges him to a duel of magic songs, Väinämöinen wins easily and forces the young man to give him his sister Aino for a wife. Aino is greatly saddened, however, at having to marry an old man, and so she drowns herself, to Väinämöinen’s sorrow. He looks all over the sea for her and finds her at last in the form of a salmon, but in that form she escapes him forever.

In time he hears of the beautiful daughters of Louhi in the far North Country, and he decides to seek them out. On the way to Pohjola, the land of Louhi, his horse is killed by the bold young man whom he defeated in the duel of songs, and Väinämöinen is forced to swim to Pohjola. Louhi, the witch, finds him on the beach, restores his health, tells him that he will have to forge a magic Sampo (a mill that grinds out riches) in order to win a daughter, and then sends him on his way.

Väinämöinen finds one of Louhi’s daughters seated on a rainbow and asks her to become his wife. She gives him three tasks to do. After completing two, he is wounded in the knee while trying to complete the third. The wound, which bleeds profusely, is healed by a magic ointment prepared under the directions of an old man skilled in leechcraft. Väinämöinen goes home and raises a great wind to carry Ilmarinen, the mighty smith who forged the sky, into the North Country to make the Sampo for Louhi. Ilmarinen forges the Sampo, but still Louhi’s daughter refuses to marry and leave her homeland. Ilmarinen, who is also in love with the maiden, goes sadly home.

A gallant youth, Lemminkäinen, is famous for winning the love of women. Having heard of Kyllikki, the flower of Saari, he determines to win her for his wife. When he arrives in Esthonia she refuses him, and he abducts her. They live happily together until one day she disobeys him. In retaliation he goes north to seek one of Louhi’s daughters as his wife. In Pohjola, Lemminkäinen charms everyone except an evil herdsman whom he scorns. Like Väinämöinen, he is given three tasks and performs the first two without much difficulty; but while trying to complete the third he is slain by the evil herdsman. Alarmed by his long absence, his mother goes searching for him, finds him in pieces at the bottom of a river, and restores him finally to his original shape.

Meanwhile, Väinämöinen is busy building a ship by means of magic, his third task for Louhi’s daughter; suddenly he forgets the three magic words needed to complete the work. He searches everywhere for them and is almost trapped in Tuonela, the kingdom of death. Then he hears that the giant Vipunen might know them. When they meet, Vipunen swallows him, but Väinämöinen causes the giant so much pain that the creature is forced to release him and reveal the magic charm. With the charm Väinämöinen completes his ship and again sets sail for Pohjola.

Ilmarinen, learning of Väinämöinen’s departure, starts after him on horseback. When they meet they agree to abide by the maiden’s choice. On their arrival at Pohjola,...

(This entire section contains 1775 words.)

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Louhi gives Ilmarinen three tasks to perform: to plow a field of snakes, to capture a bear and a wolf, and to catch a great pike. Ilmarinen performs these tasks. Since Väinämöinen is old, Louhi’s daughter chooses Ilmarinen for her husband. There is great rejoicing at the marriage. Väinämöinen sings for the bridal couple. A gigantic ox is slain and mead is brewed, and the bride and groom are both instructed in the duties of marriage. At last Ilmarinen takes his new bride to his home in the south.

Lemminkäinen is not invited to the festivities because of his quarrelsome nature, and he is therefore angry. Although his mother warns him of the dangers he will have to face on the journey and of Louhi’s treachery, he insists on going to Pohjola. With his magic charms he is able to overcome all dangers along the way. In Pohjola, Louhi tries to kill him with snake-poisoned ale, but Lemminkäinen sees through the trick. Then he and Louhi’s husband engage in a duel of magic that ends in a tie. Finally they fight with swords and Lemminkäinen slays Louhi’s husband. Lemminkäinen then turns into an eagle and flies home. In fear of retribution he takes his mother’s advice and goes to live for several years on an obscure island where the only inhabitants are women whose warrior husbands are away from home.

Forced to flee when the time comes for the husbands to return, Lemminkäinen sets out for his own land in a boat. The craft turns over and he is forced to swim to shore. Upon arriving home, he finds the country desolate and his mother missing. At last he discovers her hiding in the forest. Swearing to avenge himself on the warriors of Pohjola who desolated the land, he sets sail with Tiera, a warrior companion, but Louhi sends the frost to destroy him. Although Lemminkäinen manages to charm the frost, he and his companion are shipwrecked and forced to retreat.

The wife of Kalervo is carried off by her brother-in-law, Untamoinen, who then lays waste to Kalervo’s land. In the cradle, Kullervo, born to Kalervo’s wife, swears to be avenged on his uncle. Kullervo grows up strong, but so stupid and clumsy that he breaks or ruins everything he touches. He tries to kill his uncle and his uncle tries to kill him. Finally, the uncle gives him to Ilmarinen. Ilmarinen’s wife immediately dislikes the boy and gives him a loaf of bread with a stone in it. In return, while Ilmarinen is away from home, Kullervo has her killed by wild beasts. He then flees into the forest, where he finds his parents and lives with them for a long time. He performs all his chores badly. After a time he sets out on a journey. Two women having refused him, he rapes a third, only to learn that she is his sister. In anguish, she kills herself, and Kullervo returns home in sorrow. When his family rejects him, he sets off to attack Untamöinen. After killing his uncle he returns to find his family dead and the countryside desolate. He wanders off into the forest and kills himself by falling on his sword.

Ilmarinen, after weeping for his dead wife, makes up his mind to make another in his forge. He fashions a woman out of gold and silver, but she remains cold and lifeless; so Ilmarinen goes north again to Pohjola. When Louhi refuses to give him a wife, he abducts one of her daughters. This wife soon proves unfaithful, and in anger he turns her into a seagull.

Väinämöinen is thinking about the Sampo, that magic mill. Determined to steal it from Louhi, he builds a ship and Ilmarinen forges a sword for him, and the two heroes start for Pohjola. On the way Lemminkäinen calls to them from the shore and asks to accompany them. They take him along. During the voyage the boat strikes a giant pike. Väinämöinen kills the great fish and from its bones fashions a harp with which he sings everyone in Pohjola to sleep. With the help of an ox the three heroes take the Sampo and sail for home. When Louhi awakens, she sends fog and wind after the heroes. During the storm Väinämöinen’s harp falls overboard.

Louhi and her men follow in a war boat. The two boats meet in a great battle. Although Väinämöinen is victorious, Louhi drags the Sampo from his boat into the lake. There it breaks into pieces, most of which sink to the bottom. Only a few smaller pieces float to shore. After making violent threats against Kalevala, Louhi returns home with only a small and useless fragment of the Sampo. Väinämöinen collects the pieces on the shore and plants them for good luck; the land becomes more fruitful. Having searched in vain for his lost harp, Väinämöinen makes another of birchwood, and his songs to its music give joy to everyone.

Vexed because her land is barren after the loss of the Sampo, Louhi sends a terrible pestilence to Kalevala, but Väinämöinen heals the people by magic and salves. Next Louhi sends a great bear to ravish the herds, but Väinämöinen kills the savage beast. Then Louhi steals the moon and the sun, which came down to earth to hear Väinämöinen play and sing. She also steals the fire from all the hearths of Kalevala. When Ukko, the supreme god, kindles a new fire for the sun and the moon, some of it falls to earth and is swallowed by a fish in a large lake. Väinämöinen and Ilmarinen finally find the fish, and Ilmarinen is badly burned. The fire escapes and burns a great area of country until it is at last captured and returned to the hearths of Kalevala. Ilmarinen, recovered from his burns, prepares great chains for Louhi and frightens her into restoring the sun and the moon to the heavens.

Marjatta, a holy woman and a virgin, swallows a cranberry, whereupon a son is born to her in a stable. The child is baptized as the king of Carelia, despite Väinämöinen’s claim that such an ill-omened child should be put to death. Angered because the child proves wiser than he, Väinämöinen sails away to a land between the earth and the sky, leaving behind him, for the pleasure of his people, his harp and his songs.

Historical Context

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The Kalevala was a part of a project of independence, providing the social mandate of the nationalist period in Finland' s history (1809-1917).

In Search of a National Identity 1809 marked a turning point in Finland's history. Following the Napoleonic wars of 1808-09, Finland was annexed to Russia as an autonomous Grand Duchy, a distinct political entity with its own governing body, subject to the czar's ultimate authority.

Finland had been ruled by Sweden for 600 years prior to the annexation, and the people of the central Turku region were so heavily assimilated into the dominant foreign culture that many of them thought of themselves as Swedes. Though over 85% of population continued to speak Finnish, Swedish had long been the official language of Finland's administration, education, and literature. Suddenly cut off from their Swedish affiliation, and having little in common with the new Russian rulers, the intelligentsia of Finland experienced something of an identity crisis.

Ethnic self-definition seemed to be based, at this point, on little more than a process of elimination. As a saying of the time went, "we are not Swedish; we can never become Russians; let us therefore be Finns." Educated Finns yearned for a national identity that would earn them respect and put them on the same footing as the other civilized nations of Europe; however, with no literature of their own, no history, and scarcely any knowledge of their country's language and traditions, they had no basis for such a national identity.

Romanticism A band of University of Turku scholars, inspired by Romanticism, was already engaged in a quest to reconstruct a Finnish national consciousness. A school of thought associated with the German scholar Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803), Romanticism posited that culture is an organic unity that grows out of a people's interaction with their particular ecological surroundings. "Herder claimed that a people's character expressed itself in the form of folk poetry and other cultural systems, which thereby took on the aspect of a mirror of the national soul." (Friberg, p. 16) Thus Romanticism looked to the Folk—peasants living in the remote rural areas least touched by outside influences and modern developments—for the foundation of a national consciousness.

Herder's ideas echoed what Finnish professor Henrik Gabriel Porthan (1739-1804) had been teaching his students at the University of Turku. Believing that the essence of Finnishness was to be found in the oral traditions of the peasants, Porthan encouraged students to collect folklore in an attempt to recover the ancient cultural unity that had been dismembered and buried through the disruptions of history and foreign intervention. His teachings inspired a group of students to apply their linguistic and historical training to the project of cultural reclamation. One of these so-called "Turku Romanticists" was Elias Lonnrot, who would eventually compile the Kalevala.

Romantic nationalism had already begun to take hold among intellectual circles, but it was the uncertainty produced by the 1809 annexation that lent urgency to the scholarly quest for a Finnish national consciousness. "Following the establishment in 1809 of Finland as a Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire, Finnish interest in Herder's and Porthan's ideas grew in strength, and the cultivation of a national identity became a veritable duty for many educated Finns despite the fact that most of them scarcely understood Finnish at all." (Michael Branch, 1985)

A National Epic Ironically, when the first edition of the Kalevala was published in 1835, many Finns had to read it in Swedish translation. Nevertheless, they were aware of its importance and welcomed it for what it represented. At a stroke, Lonnrot's national epic gave Finns what they lacked: a rich and versatile literary language, an ancient and heroic past, and a link to the land. It provided an incentive to learn the Finnish language and fed the nationalist aspirations of "those who, fascinated as they were with the radiance and splendour of the ancient songs and ballads of our people, dared to believe in the talents of the Finnish nation, and who were bold enough to begin laying the foundations of an intellectually independent Finnish people." (236)

Towards Independence As one of the first books written in Finnish, the Kalevala gave the Finns a language not only worthy of literature, but also admired by foreigners, some of whom even attempted to imitate the meter of Kalevala poetry To "a nation yearning for self-expression" (Karner, p. 160), the Kalevala provided the model for an emerging literature. Literary works in Finnish, previously censored, began to be produced, and many of them had a nationalistic flavor.

The Kalevala was a spur to the Finnish Language Movement and helped foster national unity and democracy. If the peasants held the keys to ethnic identity, then the elites would need to learn Finnish in order to share in that cultural heritage. Previously, the social distinctions had been drawn along language lines; the upper and middle classes had become cut off from the peasants. The Kalevala, however, was something all Finns could share, including the rural people, who saw their own lives reflected in the poems. Thus, the Kalevala bridged both language and class barriers and reversed the prejudice that had held the Finnish language to be inferior. As "people of different social classes began to interact for the common goal of Finnish culture," liberal, democratic ideals of equality were also strengthened (Karner, p. 160).

During the middle years of the century, the Finnish Language Movement made significant strides, though it had to struggle against the pro-Swedish party, whose adherents claimed that the elite Swedish-speaking minority in central Finland constituted a separate nationality and that Swedes were racially superior to Finns. In 1858 the first secondary school to teach in Finnish opened. The Kalevala began to be taught in school, and in 1863 the czar was persuaded to elevate Finnish to equal status with Swedish as an official language of the Grand Duchy.

Russification and Resistance At first, the Russian authorities allowed and even encouraged Finland's budding nationalism, reasoning that it would weaken whatever remained of the Duchy's old ties to Sweden. In the 1890s, however, Czar Nicholas II reversed this policy of tolerance and instituted a program of Russification. His aim was the complete assimilation of all the provinces in the Russian empire, including Finland. With the February Manifesto of 1899, Russia usurped Finland's right to govern itself, declared Russian the official language of Finland, abolished the Finnish military, and made Finnish men subject to conscription into the Russian army.

The country was thrown into immediate turmoil. The Kalevala had helped generate European interest in Finland's independence, and the intellectuals of Europe showed their support for the nationalist cause with a petition to the Czar entitled "Pro Finlandia." Paradoxically, however, the epic had alienated the Finnish church. The clergy considered the Kalevala pagan and attempted to squelch the widespread fascination with folk poetry and pre-Christian myths. Because the nationalists drew so much of their inspiration from the Kalevala, the church opposed them and backed the czar's Russification efforts.

However, the decades spent building ethnic solidarity had prepared Finns to face the crisis of Russification. The achievements of this period, including universal suffrage and opening of higher education to Finnish language speakers, paved the way for the resistance. There followed violence, anti-Russian demonstrations, and a general strike, as the struggle against assimilation continued through World War I.

On 6 December 1917, in the wake of Russia's Bolshevik revolution, the Finnish Parliament declared Finland independent, and one month later Lenin recognized the fledgling nation. Over the course of a century and with the help of the its national epic, the Finnish nation had both discovered and invented itself.

For more information of the Kalevala' s role in the Finnish independence movement, see Tracy X. Karner's article, "Ideology and nationalism: the Finnish move to independence, 1809-1918," Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 14, No. 2, April 1991, pp. 153-169. See also Eino Friberg's introduction to the Kalevala (1988) and Lauri Honko, "The Kalevala Process," Folklife Annual 1986, pp. 66- 79.

Literary Style

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Compilation In 1835 Elias Lonnrot wrote, "Already while reading the songs previously collected, particularly those collected by Ganandre, I at least wondered whether one might not possibly find songs about Vainamoinen, Ilmarinen, and Lemminkainen 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. On his research trips, Lonnrot heard hundreds of individual short poems (a typical Finnish rune or epic song ranges from 50-400 lines and treats a single episode), which he judged to be imperfectly preserved. Bits had been forgotten, and in many cases Christian interpolations had replaced original names and themes. His wish was to take these distorted and corrupted poems and, by comparing as many variants as possible, attempt to reconstruct the truest versions.

In traditional Finnish rune-singing or chanting, two singers sat together with hands joined, while a third accompanies them on a kantele, a stringed musical instrument. The first singer sings one line, then the second responds, both of them swaying back in forth in rhythm with the music. During his researches, Lonnrot sat near the singers, copying down their words by hand.

Lonnrot did not compose the Kalevala from complete poems; in fact, researchers have determined that Lonnrot took no more than a few lines from each song variant. Contemporaries joked that he stitched these fragments together like a tailor (Lonnrot's father was a tailor). Others have compared him to a mosaic-maker. In fact, as Domenico Caparetti pointed out in 1891, Lonnrot's own technique was the same as that of the folk performers he was recording, but using pen and paper rather than voice or kantele to tell his stories.

Plot Structure Lonnrot imposed a thematic structure and coherence on the Kalevala to make it resemble existing works of epic literature. One plot device he introduced was the gradually mounting hostility between Pohjola and Kalevala. For the sake of unity, Lonnrot also substituted names and frequently combined several characters into one.

Lonnrot has been compared to the ancient Greeks who composed the Homeric epics; unlike the Aeneid, Iliad, and Odyssey, however, the Kalevala has an entirely earthly setting and a predominantly human cast of characters. Because Lonnrot was more concerned with human history than with the activities of the gods, he strengthened the historical, realistic elements in the poetry and reduced the Christian and mythological material.

Formulas and Repetition Although he recast the runes into an a single long work of literature, Lonnrot retained all the poetic characteristics of his oral material, including stock epithets and formulas, "oral fossils" which may date back as far as 2000 years. Formulas include frequently repeated phrases like the Iliad's "wine-dark sea" or the Kalevala's "Steady old Vainamoinen, Eternal Sage." A typical feature of oral composition, formulas help singers remember the poems and retain the poetic metre of their singing.

Repetition—particularly threefold repetition— is also characteristic of Finnish oral poetry. The Kalevala is filled with triads: there are three heroes, embodying three qualities: the wise old singer Vainamoinen, the diligent craftsman Ilmarinen, and the reckless young lover Lemminkainen. Each in turn courts ihe Maiden of the North, and their courtship tasks are always grouped in threes. Kullervo attempts to seduce three maidens on his way home; Louhi tries three times to destroy Kalevala, and so on.

Parallelism Repetition in the Kalevala often takes the form of parallelism: a line or verse followed by another line that repeats the same thought in slightly different wording: "Bring a trump from beyond, from / the pole of heaven yonder / bring a honey-trump from heaven / a mead-trump from mother earth." (32: 117-20) Repetition of this type lends to the cadences and echoes that make Kalevala poetry unique and difficult to imitate.

Lonnrot also employs a parallelism of motifs, which gives the entire work a certain symmetry and resonance. The sun and moon are blotted out in both the second and the second-to-last poems; the oak fragments in Poem 2 parallel the Sampo fragments in Poem 43, and Vainamoinen's birth at the beginning of the epic is balanced with his departure from the world at the end. Rhetorical techniques such as these contribute to the thematic consistency and unity of Lonnrot's epic and keep it from being a disconnected aggregate of poems.

Poetics Finnish folk poetry consists of eight-syllable trochaic lines (a trochee is a two-syllable foot, with stress on the first syllable). It is unrhymed, and like most oral poetry, it relies heavily on alliteration, as can be seen in the opening lines:

Mieleni minun tekevi, Aivoni ajaltelevi Lahteani laulamahan. Saa'ani sanelemahan, Sukuvinta suoltamahan, Lajivirlta* laulamahan

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

For more on the poetic devices used in the Kalevala, see Robert Austerlitz, "The Poetics of the Kalevala," Books from Finland, Vol. 29, No. 1, 1985, pp. 44-47. For more on Lonnrot's method of composition, see Domenico Comparetti, "Conclusions," in his Traditional Poetry of the Finns, translated by Isabella M. Anderton, Longmans, Green, and Co., 1898, pp. 327-59; reprinted in Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism, Vol. 6, Gale Research, pp. 219-227.

Compare and Contrast

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Kalevala Period (c. 500 B.C.-c. 1200 C.E.): The Finns lived in a largely classless society organized by tribe. Tribes (like the Kaleva and Pohjola tribes depicted in the epic) consisted of people united by geography, culture, kinship bonds, and often a patronymic ancestor. There was frequent contact among tribes.

1800s: In Lonnrot's day, Finland was ruled by a foreign power: the Swedes. Finnish society was split into two groups: an urban, educated class of people who spoke Swedish as their first language, and the rural majority, who still spoke Finnish.

Late twentieth century: Finland is a modern, independent, industrialized European nation, whose population is united by a common language and culture. Its government is socialist.

Kalevala Period: Independent tribes occasionally waged war on neighboring tribes, using sword and crossbow.

1800-1918: The Napoleonic wars made Finland a pawn in the conflict between Russia and Sweden. While still a part of Sweden, Finland was left to defend itself against advancing Russian troops. Later, when Finland became part of Russia, young Finnish men were routinely conscripted to serve in the Russian army. Finland struggled for many decades to achieve independence, which was followed immediately by a civil war between rival political factions.

Late twentieth century: Finland, a sovereign nation since 1917, is at peace.

Kalevala Period: In a rural, agricultural economy, women worked alongside men. The Kalevala reflects a society in which a woman was judged not by her beauty or manners, but by how well she performed practical daily tasks such as baking bread, preparing the sauna, or working in the fields.

1906: Finland became the first country to give its women full political rights, and nineteen women are elected to the Finnish parliament. Women had always worked in Finland, and with industrialization they moved into factory jobs (though at a lower wage than men).

Late twentieth century: More than 70% of Finnish women hold full-time jobs, and women make up 60% of the workforce in Finland's public sector. The Finnish 1987 Equality Act banned sex discrimination in the workplace. In Finland, as in America, the average woman's salary is still lower than a man's, even though women under 40 are better educated than men in the same age group. In 1987 the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church began accepting women for the priesthood.

Before 1000: The Finns were pagan, worshipping many gods and nature spirits and probably venerating dead ancestors as well. Spells and incantations were a part of daily life, used to ward off misfortune, protect cattle, make the crops grow, bless marriages, and appease the spirits of the natural world.

llth-13th centuries: Byzantine-Russian Orthodox Christianity reached Finland from the east, while Roman Catholicism penetrated from the southwest, and many of the Finns' pagan rites became integrated into Christian worship. The Catholic saints took over the role of local guardian spirits, or haltijat, who watched over buildings, localities, and economic activities.

1800s: Protestantism had replaced Catholicism in the sixteenth century, and most Finns were, like Lonnrot, devoutly Lutheran. Nevertheless, many of the ancient pagan rites persisted into the early twentieth century in rural Finland.

Late twentieth century: Finland is Lutheran but largely secular.

Media Adaptations

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The music of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) has introduced countless non-Finns to the Kalevala. Sibelius visited Karelia in the 1890s and was enchanted by the rune singers. He based many of his orchestras on Kalevala poems. An appendix listing his works can be found in Keith Bosley's 1989 translation of the Kalevala. Recordings of Sibelius's music can be found in the classical music sections of most music stores.

Though the Kalevala has inspired many Finnish film and television productions, most have not been translated for English-speaking audiences. The 1959 film The Day the Earth Froze is based on the Sampo cycle and Louhi's theft of the sun and moon (it is dubbed in English and available on videocassette from J & J Video, Wmtedstone, NY). A rather campy movie, The Day the Earth Froze is probably more familiar to American television viewers as episode #422 of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (produced by Comedy Central; original air date January 16, 1993).

Pathfinder, a critically acclaimed 1988 film from Lapland, is not based on the Finnish epic; nevertheless, it depicts a world similar in many ways to that of the Kalevala. It is the story of a young Laplander struggling to stop the marauding Tchude tribesmen who destroyed his village. In the film, which is based on a twelfth-century Lapp legend, one can recognize many cultural elements familiar from the Kalevala: the shaman with his rituals, the sauna, the use of skis and crossbows, and small arctic villages where people subsist by hunting and fishing. Directed by Nils Gaup; in Saami (Lapp) with English subtitles; 88 minutes; distributed by Fox Lorber Video.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources for Further Study Aaltonen, Hilkka (compiler). Books in English on Finland: A Bibliographical List of Publications Concerning Finland until 1960, Including Finnish Literature in English Translation. Turku University Library, Turku, 1964.

An exhaustive, unannotated bibliography on Finland. Now out of date, but some parts may still be useful.

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

Alfonso-Karkala examines the symbolism of Vainamoinen's quest to obtain three magic words and suggests a Jungian interpretation of the figure of Antero Vipunen.

Bako, Elemer (compiler). Elias Lonnrot and his Kalevala: A Selective Annotated Bibliography with an Introduction to the National Epic of Finland Second Edition, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, 19S5.

Published to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Kalevala, this twenty-nine-page bibliography is broken down by topic.

Books from Finland, Vol. 29, No. 1, 1985.

Books from Finland is a quarterly journal on Finnish literature. The first issue of 1985, subtitled "Kalevala 1935-1985," is entirely devoted to the Kalevala. It contains numerous articles and essays, beautiful illustrations, and suggestions for further reading.

Bosley, Keith (translator). The Kalevala. World's Classics Series, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1989.

Bosley's 1989 edition is the most recent English translation of the Kalevala and is readily available in paperback. In his introduction, Bosley discusses the Kalevala's literary and historical context, summarizes the plot, and explains certain episodes and relationships found in the poem.

Bradunas, Elena. "The Kalevala: An Introduction,'' Folklife Center News, October-December, 1984. Reprinted in Folklife Annual, 1986, pp. 64-65.

A two-page introduction to the Kalevala written in honor of the epic's 150th anniversary.

Branch, Michael. "Kalevala from myth to symbol," Books from Finland, Vol. 19, No. 1, 1985, pp. 1-8. Reprinted on the FINFO website [ html].

An excellent and easily accessible general introduction to the Kalevala.

Crawford, John Martin. The Kalevala, The Epic Poem of Finland, 2 volumes. John A. Berry & Company, New York, 1888.

The first complete translation of the Kalevala into English, Crawford's verse edition includes a still-useful preface on the myths, language, and culture of Finland.

DuBois, Thomas. Finnish Folk Poetry and the Kalevala. New Perspectives in Folklore Series, Vol. 1. Garland Publishing, New York and London, 1995.

A study of the folk poetry and oral traditions that lie behind and beyond Lonnrot's epic. This is a scholarly work, containing a great deal of sophisticated literary analysis and detailed discussion of particular poems.

"Elias Lonnrot," in Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vol. 53, pp. 304-341. Gale Research, Detroit, MI.

Contains biographical information on Lonnrot, an excerpt from his Preface to the Old Kalevala, a wide-ranging collection of reprinted modern criticism, some photographs, and an annotated bibliography.

FINFO: The Finland Information Pages [ html]

FINFO is part of the Virtual Finland Website []. It is produced by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland (Department for Press and Culture, Information Service Unit) and contains a wealth of information on all aspects of Finland, past and present.

The Finnish Literature Forum []

An internet magazine publishing Finnish fiction, essays, interviews, poetry, and reviews, all in English translation.

Finberg, Eino (translator). "The Kalevala, Epic of the Finnish People," Otava Publishing Company Ltd., Keuruu, Finland, 1988.

Recent verse translation of the Kalevala, with dozens of full-page color illustrations and three introductory essays on the epic's historical significance, structure, and translation.

Hollo, Anselm. "The Kalevala through my years," Books from Finland, Vol. 19, No. 1, 1985, pp. 12-15.

A personal and half-humorous reflection on what it was like to grow up with the Kalevala.

Honko, Lauri, editor. Religion, Myth, and Folklore in the World's Epics. Religion and Society Series, Number 30. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin and New York, 1990.

A collection of articles on epics from around the world Many of the articles focus on the Kalevala as epic literature, comparing it to epics from other countries such as Germany and China.

"The Kalevala Process," Folklife Annual, 1986, pp. 66-79.

Here and elsewhere, Honko argues that the Kalevala is not merely an individual work, but a poetic evolution which began long before the runes were recorded and continues as each generation re-interprets Finland's folk poetry to suit its own needs and purposes. The article is illustrated with paintings depicting scenes from the Kalevala (courtesy of the Finnish embassy) and contains maps of Finland showing Lonnrot's seven field trips.

Johnson, Aili Kolemainen (translator). Kalevala: A Prose Translation from the Finnish. The Book Concern, Hancock, Michigan, 1950.

A prose translation of the Kalevala, followed by brief notes and a glossary.

"Kalevala,'' in Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism, Vol. 6, pp. 206-288. Gale Research, Detroit, MI.

Contains an introduction to the Kalevala, reprinted excerpts of criticism by various authors from 1835 to 1989, some photographs, and an annotated bibliography.

Karner, Tracy X. "Ideology and nationalism: the Finnish move to independence, 1809-1918." Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 14, No. 2, April 1991. Pages 152-169.

A detailed socio-historical study of the Kalevala's role in Finland's emergence as a nation.

Kirby, W. F. (translator). Kalevala the Land of Heroes. 2 vols. Everyman Series, London, 1907.

One of the better verse translations, preserving the trochaic meter of the Finnish original. Each poem is preceded by a brief synopsis.

Lehtonen, Juhani U. "Finnish Folklore." Written for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland and published by FINFO []. May 1993.

A brief reflection on the way Finnish folklore has preserved the memory of rural life and old traditions in the modern age.

Lockwood, Yvonne Hiipakka. "Immigrant to Ethnic Symbols of Identity Among Finnish-Americans,'' Folklife Annual, 1986, pp. 92-107.

Lockwood discusses some of the symbols that give Finnish-Americans a sense of cultural identity: the sauna, Finnish food, the festival of Saint Urho, and the Kalevala.

Magoun, Jr., Francis Peabody (translator). The Kalevala or Poems of the Kaleva District. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1963.

Magoun supplements his prose translation with useful appendices, including Lonnrot's own introductions to the 1835 and 1849 editions of the Kalevala and a few scholarly essays on the epic.

The Old Kalevala and Certain Antecedents. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1969.

The so-called Old Kalevala (published in 1835) and the unpublished Proto-Kalevala represent earlier stages in Lonnrot's work and provide an interesting comparison to the more familiar 1849 version, which we call simply the Kalevala but which was known in its time as the New Kalevala. The book also includes part of Lonnrot's 1927 dissertation on Vainamoinen, photographs of his manuscripts, and a map of his travels.

"Materials for the Study of the Kalevala," in Ralph J. Jalkanen (editor), The Finns in North America: A Social Symposium. Michigan State University Press, Hancock, Michigan, 1969, pages 24- 45.

Contains a brief biography of Elias Lonnrot, an overview of the Kalevala's composition and publication, and notes for further research on its cultural significance.

Manninen, Merja. "The Status of Women in Finland." Written for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland and published by FINFO [ english/naiseng.html], 1996.

Surveys the history of women's rights in Finland from the beginning of this century to the 1990s.

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

Oinas examines the Kalevala as a shamamstic epic, discussing its themes and form, the stages of its composition, and the milieu out of which it sprang. He then summarizes Estonia's national epic, the Kalevipoeg.

Studies in Finnic Folklore: Homage to the Kalevala, Finnish Literature Society, Bloomington, Indiana, 1985.

Oinas's aim is to introduce English-speaking countries to the rich tradition of Finnish, Estonian, Karelian, and Ingnan folklore. The book contains fourteen separate articles, which survey various aspects of Finnic and Finno-Baltic poetry and provide a literary context for the Kalevala.

Pentikamen, Juha Y. "The Ancient Religion of the Finns.'' Written for the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland and published by FINFO [].

Pentikainen traces the history of Finnish settlement and examines the ancient traditions, rites, and beliefs of the Finns' ancestors.

Kalevala Mythology. Translated and edited by Ritva Poom. Folklore Studies in Translation Series, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana, 1989.

A clearly written, comprehensive study of the Kalevala, this book provides English-speakers with an excellent introduction to most aspects of Lonnrot's epic. Includes maps, appendices, chronologies, bibliography, and photographs.

Puranen, Rauni (compiler). The Kalevala Abroad: Translations and Foreign-language Adaptations of the Kalevala Suomalaisen Kirjallisuudenseura, Helsinki, 1985.

An indexed list of foreign-language versions of the Kalevala up to 1985. The list covers thirty-three languages, from Armenian to Yiddish.

Sawin, Patricia E. "Lonnrot's Brainchildren: The Representation of Women in the Kalevala." Journal of Folklore Research, Vol. 25, No. 3, 1988. Pages 187-217.

Sawin argues that Lonnrot deliberately inserted negative depictions of women into the Kalevala to further a nationalistic and patriarchal agenda. Men are the heroes of the epic whereas female characters are either self-sacrificing or evil.

Screen, J. E. O. Finland World Bibliographical Series, Vol. 31. Clio Press, Oxford and Santa Barbara, 1981.

An annotated list of sources on Finland up to 1981, broken down by topic, with some emphasis on history and art.

Timonen, Senni. "Lonnrot and His Singers," Books from Finland, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1985, pp. 24-29.

Timonen examines specific folk-singers' contributions to Lonnrot's epic, noting that the individuals who gave Lonnrot his raw material and inspiration are sometimes overlooked.

Wilson, William A. "The Kalevala and Finnish Politics," Journal of the Folklore Institute, Vol. 12, No. 2-3, 1975, pp. 131-55.

Williams examines how, in the earlier part of this century, Finland's political left and right wings both tried to re-interpret the Kalevala to suit their own ideological agendas.


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Ahokas, Jaakko. A History of Finnish Literature. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973. Demonstrates the importance of Lönnrot’s compilation of traditional Finnish folktales in giving the impetus for the formation of a Finnish literary tradition.

Honko, Lauri. Religion, Myth, and Folklore in the World’s Epics: “The Kalevala” and Its Predecessors. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1990. Collection of scholarly essays that takes a comparative and analytical focus. Occasionally difficult, but worthwhile for its illumination of how much intellectual reflection and debate the Kalevala is capable of inspiring among scholars.

Jones, Michael Owen. The World of the “Kalevala”: Essays in Celebration of the 150 Year Jubilee of the Finnish National Epic. Los Angeles: UCLA Folklore and Myth Publications, 1987. By far the best general book on the Kalevala. Provides a clear and cogent description of the story of the epic, as well as of its significance in Finnish literary history and cultural life.

Sawin, Patricia G. “Lönnrot’s Brainchildren: The Representation of Women in Finland’s Kalevala.” Journal of Folklore Research 25, no. 3 (1988): 187-217. A feminist exsmination of the epic. Examines such characters in the story as Aino, the daughter of Louhi, and Marjatta, and discusses the way they express and epitomize gender roles. Despite the overall domination of the epic by a patriarchal vision, Sawin isolates many occasions where women are able to assert themselves.

Vikis-Freiberg, Vaira. “The Lyrical and the Epical in Latvian and Finnish Folk Poetry.” Journal of Baltic Studies, Summer, 1986, 98-107. Examines how the formulaic techniques of the oral epic present an engrossing narrative interspersed with individual lyric moments.


Critical Essays


Teaching Guide