Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Kalevala

AG: Does anybody know the Finnish epic, “The Kalevala”. Has anybody ever read any of that? – I’d like to read a few pages of that. It’s an epic poem which was originally in oral form, and (was) written down in the nineteenth-century by a Swedish [sic] scholar, Elias Lönnrot, [Editorial note - Lönnrot was actually a Finn] and translated (fantastically) by Francis Peabody Magoun and published by (the) Harvard University Press. It’s called “(The) Kalevala” – K-A-L-E-V-A-L-A, and in the chapter, or poem, three, that I’m going to read from, this old bard, who has had lots of discipline and lots of experience and is an old dog, finally (old dog, incidentally, is one of the characteristics of tantric mind) – old dog, like an old dog that no longer jumps up (and) barks excitedly when it hears an egg drop.

So, Väinämöinen the old dog bard, meets Joukahainen, a young punk bard coming up the road, and their chariots pass (but) can’t pass each other in the road because there’s a too-narrow road, and so comes “a contest of bards” between the older and the younger. They’ve heard of each other, but finally they’re meeting (at least Joukahainen has heard of Väinämöinen

"..Steadfast old Väinämöinen   lives his days/ on those clearings of Väinämöinen's district,  on the heaths of Kalevala district./ He keeps singing these songs,  keeps singing, goes on practicing his art,/ Day after day he sang,  night after night, he recited/ recollections of ancient time   those profound origin songs/ which not all children sing   not all men understand/ in this dreadful time   in this fleeting age/ Far away the news is heard   the tidings spread quickly/ of Väinämöinen's singing,  of the man's skill./  The tidings spread quickly to the south,  the news reached the north country./  Joukahainen was a young,   a scrawny, Lappish lad./  Once he was gadding about;   he heard that remarkable charms,/ magic songs, were being rattled off,  better ones  intoned/  on those burned-over tracks of Väinämöinen's district on the heaths of Kalevala District/ - better than what he himself knew,   had learned from his father/. That he took greatly amiss,  constantly envied/ Väinämöinen being a singer  better than himself.." 

So there are a  few verses where he sets out to meet the older guy:

"..Steadfast old Väinämöinen,  eternal sage,/ was driving on his way,  covering ground/ on those clearings of Väinämöinen's district,  the heaths of Kalevala District./ Young   Joukahainen came along,  he was driving on the road in the opposite direction./ Shaft caught in shaft,  trace got tangled in trace,/ hames became fast in hames,  shaft-bow in butt of shaft-bow./ Therefore they then stop,   stop deliberate;/ water poured from shaft-bow,     vapor steamed from the shafts."

As you'll notice, the formulaic aspect of this is - you make a statement and you modify it, make a statement and you modify it - two halves, one line.

"..Old Väinämöinen asked:  "Of what clan are you/ to come along foolishly,  recklessly onward./ You break the bent-wood hames,  the sapling shaft-bows./ you splinter my sleigh to pieces, my poor sleigh to bits."/ Then young Joukahainen/   uttered a word, spoke thus: "I am young   Joukahainen/  but name your own clan;/ of what clan are you,  of what crew, miserable creature?"/ . Then steadfast old Väinämöinen   now told his name./ Then he managed to say:  If you are young Joukahainen,/ pull over to the side.  You are younger than I"

"Then young Joukahainen   uttered a word, spoke thus:/ "A man's youth is small matter,   his youth, his age./  Whichever of two men is better in knowledge,   the stronger in memory,/  let him indeed stay on the road,  let the other get off the road./  If you are old  Väinämöinen, eternal singer,/  let us begin to sing, start to recite magic./ one man to test the other, one to defeat the other"/. Steadfast old Väinämöinen uttered a word, spoke thus:/ - "What can I really do as a singer,  as an expert!/  I have always lived my life  just on these clearings,/ on the edges of the home field,  again and again have listened to the cuckoo by the house./ But, be this as it may, speak, so that I may hear with my ears:/ what do you know about most about,  understand beyond other people?"/  Young Joukahainen said:  "I indeed know something!/ This I know clearly,  understand precisely:  "A smoke hole is near a ceiling,  a flame is near a fireplace./ It is pleasant for a seal to live, for a pike, dog of the water, to roll about;/ it eats the salmon around it,  the whitefish beside it./ A whitefish has smooth fields,   the salmon a level ceiling./ A pike spawns in the chill of night, the slobberer in bitter cold weather./ Autumns the timid, obstinate perch,  swims deep./ summers it spawns on dry land,  flaps about on shores./ "If this may be not enough,  I have still another bit of knowledge,/ understand a certain thing:/  "The North ploughs with a reindeer,/  the South with a mare, remotest Lapland with an elk./ I know the trees of Pisa's Hill,  the tall evergreens on Goblin's Crag,/ tall are the trees on Pisa's Hill, the evergreens on Goblin's Crag/. There are three strong rapids,  three great lakes,/ three high mountains  under the vault of this sky./ In Hame is Halla-whirlpool,  in Karelia Loon Rapids./ none exceed the Vuoksi rapids  (which) surpass those of Imatra" . Old  Väinämöinen said:  "A child's knowledge, a woman's power of memory! / It is neither that of a bearded man  nor indeed of a married man./ Speak of profound origins,   of unique matters."/  Young Joukahainen   uttered a word, spoke thus:/ "I know the origin of the tomtit,  I know the tom-tit is a bird,/  the hissing adder a snake,  the roach a fish of the water/, I know iron is brittle,  black soil sour,/ boiling-hot water painful,  being burned by fire bad./ Water is the oldest of ointments,  foam of a rapids oldest of magic nostrums,/ the Creator himself is the oldest of magicians,  God the oldest of healers./ The source of water is from a mountain, the source of fire is from the heavens/, the origin of iron is from rust,  the basis of copper is a crag./ A wet tussock is the oldest land,  the willow the first tree,/ the foot of a tall evergreen the first habitation,  a flat stone the first wretched cooking vessel."/ Steadfast old Väinämöinen  uttered these words:/  "Do you remember anything more  or has your foolish talk now come to an end?"./ Young Joukahainen spoke: "I remember a little more. /I remember indeed that time when I was plowing the sea,/ hoeing out the hollows of the sea,  digging deep spots for fish,/ deepening the deep places in the water,  putting the lily ponds in place./ overturning hills,  heaping up blocks of stone./ I was already the sixth man,  seventh person/, when they were creating this Earth,  fashioning the sky/, erecting the pillars of the sky,  bringing the rainbow,/ guiding the moon, helping the  sun,/ arranging the Great Bear, studding the heavens with stars"./ Old  Väinämöinen said: "You are certainly lying about this./ No one saw you  when they were ploughing the sea,/ hoeing out the hollows of the sea,  digging deep spots for fish,/ deepening the deep places in the water,  putting the lily ponds in place./ overturning hills,  heaping up blocks of stone,/ Nor were you probably seen, /probably neither seen nor heard,/ when the earth was being created,  the sky fashioned,/ the pillars of the sky erected,  the rainbow brought,/ the moon guided,  the sun helped,/  the Great Bear arranged,  the heavens studded with stars."/ Young  Joukahainen then uttered these words: "If I do not happen to have intelligence,  I will ask for intelligence from my sword./  O old Väinämöinen, big-mouthed singer!/ Proceed to measure off our swords,  set out to fight a duel"./  Old Väinämöinen said:  "I don't think I'm very much afraid/ of those sword of yours, your intelligence,  your ice-picks, your thoughts./ But be that as it may,  I will not proceed to measure swords/ with you, wretch,/  with you, miserable fellow"./ Then young Joukahainen  screwed up his mouth, twisted his head around,/ clawed at his black beard.  He uttered these words:/ "Whoever does not proceed to measure swords   nor set out to fight a duel,/ him I will sing into a swine,  change into a pig with lowered snout./ Such men I enchant, one thus, the other so. /strike dead onto a dunghill,  jam into the corner of a cattle shed"./ Old Väinämöinen got angry,  then got angry and felt shamed./ He began to sing,  got to reciting,/ the magic songs are not children's songs,  not children's songs, women's jokes;/ they are a bearded man's  which not all children sing,/ nor half the boys indeed,  nor one bachelor in three/ in this dreadful time,  in this fleeting final age"./ Old Väinämöinen sang.  Lakes splashed over, Earth shook/, copper mountains trembled,  solid slabs of rock split,/ the crags flew apart,   stones on the shore cracked./ He bewitched young Joukahainen.  He sang sprouts onto his shaft-bow,/ a willow bush onto his hames,  sallows onto the ends of his traces./ He bewitched the lovely basket sleigh.  he sang it into a pond as fallen trees./ He sang the whip with the beaded lash  into shore reed of the sea./ He sang the horse with the blaze  to the bank of the rapid as a rock./ He sang the gold-hilted sword  to the sky as flashes of lightning;/ then he sang the ornamented shaft of the crossbow  into a rainbow over the waters/ then his feathered arrows into speeding hawks, / then the dog with the undershot jaw,  it he sang onto the ground as rocks./ He sang the cap off the man's head  into the peak of a cloudbank./ he sang the mittens off his hands  into pond lilies./then his blue broadcloth coat  to the heavens as a cloud patch/ the soft woolen belt from his waist  into stars throughou the heavens/ He bewitched  Joukahainen himself,/ sang him into a fen up to his loins,/ into a grassy meadow up to his groin,  into a heath up to his arm-pits./ Now young Joukahainen indeed  knew and realized./ he knew that he had got on the way,  got on the route to a contest,/ a contest in magic singing  with old Väinämöinen. /He keeps trying to get a foot free;  he could not lift his foot./ However, he tried the other;  here his shoe was of stone./ The young Joukahainen  indeed becomes anguished,/gets into a more precarious situation. He uttered a word, spoke thus:/  "O wise Väinämöinen, eternal sage!/ Reverse your magic charm,  revoke your enchantment,/ Free me from this predicament,  get me out of this situation./ I will indeed make the best payment,  pay the most substantial ransom"./ Old Väinämöinen said: "Well, what will you give me/ if  I reverse my magic charm, revoke my enchantment,/ free you from this predicament, get you out of this situation?"/  Joukahainen spoke, "I have two vessels,  two lovely boats. /One is swift in race the other transports much.  Take either of these. / Old Väinämöinen spoke, "I do not really care about your vessels.  I will not select any of your boats./ These I too have with every rower hauled up,  every cove piled full,/ one steady in a high wind,  the other that goes into a head wind".. He bewitched young Joukahainen,  bewitched him still deeper in./ Young Joukahainen said, "I have two stallions,  two lovely steeds./ One is better for racing, the other lively in the traces.  Take either of these"./ Old Väinämöinen said, "I don't care about your horses.  Don't bother me about white fetlocked horses./ These too I have, with every stall hitched full,  every stable full,/ with fat as clear as water on their backbones,  a pound of fat on their cruppers"./ He bewitched young Joukahainen,  bewitched him still deeper in./ Young Joukahainen said,  "Old Väinämöinen, reverse your magic words,  revoke your enchantment./ I'll give you a high-peaked hat full of gold pieces,  a felt hat full of silver pieces got by my father in the war, brought in from battle"./ Old Väinämöinen said, "I don't care about your silver pieces.  I have no need, wretch, for your gold pieces./ These  too I have with every storehouse crammed,  every little box fully stocked./ They are gold pieces as old as the moon,  silver pieces the age of the sun". /He bewitched young Joukahainen, bewitched him still deeper in. /Young Joukahainen said,  "O old Väinämöinen , free me from this predicament,  release me from this situation. /I'll give you my windrose back home,  surrender my fields of sandy soil to free my own head, to random myself". / Old Väinämöinen spoke, "I don't want your wind rose, useless person,  nor your fields of sandy soil./ These too I have, filled in every direction, windrose in every clearing./ My own are better fields,  my own windrose finer"./ He bewitched young Joukahainen, kept bewitching him further down./ The young Joukahainen at last, however, grew desperate  when he was up to his chin in the mud, up to his beard in a bad place./up to his mouth in a fen, in mossy places, up to his teeth behind a rotten tree-trunk. /Young Joukahainen said, "O wise Väinämöinen, eternal sage,  now sing your song backward./ Grant me yet my feeble life. Set me free from here./ The current is already dragging at my feet,  the sand scratching my eyes./ If you will reverse your magic words, leave off  your magic spell,  I'll give you my sister, Aino,  to rinse out the wooden firkins,  to wash the blankets,/ to weave fine stuff,  to bake sweet bread."/ Then Väinämöinen was exceedingly delighted  when he got Joukahainen's girl to provide for his old age./ He sits down on a song stone,  sits himself on a song rock./ He sang once, he sang twice,  he sang a third time too./  Young Joukahainen got free, got his chin free of the mud,/ his beard from a bad place, his horse from being a rock in the rapids,/ his sleigh on the shore from being a rotten tree-trunk in the water,  his whip from being a shore reed./ He climbed slowly into his basket sleigh,  He set out in a sorry state of mind with heavy heart  to his dear mother's, to his esteemed parents."

Student: When was that written?

AG: Well, the oral tradition is old, maybe two, three, four, centuries.. It was written down mid nineteenth-century, not long ago, (17), perhaps (18)47. Lönnrot went around to Lapland and other places on field trips collecting these tales and has composed them into an epic. Here's Lönnrot out on his field trip looking for epics (from an 1847 illustration). 

(A) great book - Harvard University Press

So it's one assertion, or one, say, magisterial mind. 

[Some sections of the above (Allen reading from the Kalevala) can be heard here, beginning at the beginning of the tape and concluding approximately four-and-three-quarter minutes in]


  1. Elias Lönnrot was a Finnish physician, not Swedish

    1. Thanks, Anon - Allen's misperception, as you'll see, has been duly noted.