1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kalewala

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

KALEWALA, or Kalevala, the name of the Finnish national epos. It takes its name from the three sons of Kalewa (or Finland), viz. the ancient Wäinämöinen, the inventor of the sacred harp Kantele; the cunning art-smith, Ilmarinen; and the gallant Lemminkäinen, who is a sort of Arctic Don Juan. The adventures of these three heroes are wound about a plot for securing in marriage the hand of the daughter of Louhi, a hero from Pohjola, a land of the cold north. Ilmarinen is set to construct a magic mill, the Sanpo, which grinds out meal, salt and gold, and as this has fallen into the hands of the folk of Pohjola, it is needful to recover it. The poem actually opens, however, with a very poetical theory of the origin of the world. The virgin daughter of the atmosphere, Luonnotar, wanders for seven hundred years in space, until she bethinks her to invoke Ukko, the northern Zeus, who sends his eagle to her; this bird makes its nest on the knees of Luonnotar and lays in it seven eggs. Out of the substance of these eggs the visible world is made. But it is empty and sterile until Wäinämöinen descends upon it and woos the exquisite Aino. She disappears into space, and it is to recover from his loss and to find another bride that Wäinämöinen makes his series of epical adventures in the dismal country of Pohjola. Various episodes of great strangeness and beauty accompany the lengthy recital of the struggle to acquire the magical Sanpo, which gives prosperity to whoever possesses it. In the midst of a battle the Sanpo is broken and falls into the sea, but one fragment floats on the waves, and, being stranded on the shores of Finland, secures eternal felicity for that country. At the very close of the poem a virgin, Mariatta, brings forth a king who drives Wäinämöinen out of the country, and this is understood to refer to the ultimate conquest of Paganism by Christianity.

The Kalewala was probably composed at various times and by various bards, but always in sympathy with the latent traditions of the Finnish race, and with a mixture of symbolism and realism exactly accordant with the instincts of that race. While in the other antique epics of the world bloodshed takes a predominant place, the Kalewala is characteristically gentle, lyrical and even domestic, dwelling at great length on situations of moral beauty and romantic pathos. It is entirely concerned with the folk-lore and the traditions of the primeval Finnish race. The poem is written in eight-syllabled trochaic verse, and an idea of its style may be obtained from Longfellow's Hiawatha, which is a pretty true imitation of the Finnish epic.

Until the 19th century the Kalewala existed only in fragments in the memories and on the lips of the peasants. A collection of a few of these scattered songs was published in 1822 by Dr Zacharius Topelius, but it was not until 1835 that anything like a complete and systematically arranged collection was given to the world by Dr Elias Lönnrot. For years Dr Lönnrot wandered from place to place in the most remote districts, living with the peasantry, and taking down from their lips all that they knew of their popular songs. Some of the most valuable were discovered in the governments of Archangel and Olonetz. After unwearied diligence Lönnrot was successful in collecting 12,000 lines. These he arranged as methodically as he could into thirty-two runes or cantos, which he published exactly as he heard them sung or chanted. Continuing his researches, Dr Lönnrot published in 1849 a new edition of 22,793 verses in fifty runes. A still more complete text was published by A. V. Forsman in 1887. The importance of this indigenous epic was at once recognized in Europe, and translations were made into Swedish, German and French. Several translations into English exist, the fullest being that by J. M. Crawford in 1888. The best foreign editions are those of Castren in Swedish (1844), Leouzon le Duc in French (1845 and 1868), Schiefner in German (1852). (E. G.)