Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Kalevala” as Want to Read:
The Kalevala
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview
Read Book

The Kalevala

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  2,591 ratings  ·  160 reviews
The national folk epic of Finland is here presented in an English translation that is both scholarly and eminently readable. The lyrical passages and poetic images, the wry humor, the tall-tale extravagance, and the homely realism of the 'Kalevala' come through with extraordinary effectiveness.
Paperback, 679 pages
Published May 13th 1999 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1835)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Kalevala, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Kalevala

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg LarssonPippi Longstocking by Astrid LindgrenThe Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg LarssonThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg LarssonHunger by Knut Hamsun
Best Scandinavian and Nordic Literature
31st out of 825 books — 795 voters
The Odyssey by HomerThe Iliad by HomerBeowulf by UnknownThe Divine Comedy by Dante AlighieriParadise Lost by John Milton
Best of Epic Poetry
11th out of 84 books — 137 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details

When Elias Lönnrot was born in 1802, Finland was a province of Sweden; by the time he came to compile the Kalevala in the 1830s and 1840s, it was part of the Russian Empire. ‘Finnishness’ was (and had been since the twelfth century) little more than a shared idea, and sometimes a dangerous one at that. So this epic is a part of that nineteenth-century fashion for literary and linguistic nationalism that also gave us curiosities like Pan Tadeusz in Poland or The Mountain Wreath in Serbia-Monteneg
This is a thought-provoking piece of majestic work. Thought-provoking because as I read it, an insane amount of questions kept coming to mind which I will try (completely incompletely) to compile here, although not with the mastery of Elias Lonnrot.

So, without further ado, three important lessons that I learned from The Kalevala:

Lesson 1: The Kalevala has fuck-all to do with Lord of the Rings.

Yes, yes, I know. Tolkien studied Finnish - an impressive feat because it holds the records for the mos
OUP edition, translated by Keith Bosley

"...the kind of excitement that palaeontologists felt on discovering a live coelacanth". Exactly! I'm not one of the scholars of early European epic Bosley is talking about in that paragraph of his wonderful introduction, just someone who once did a dissertation type thing on "pagan survivals" in late medieval (English) religion and sadly had to conclude that there was very little evidence for anything beyond the odd motif. But in Finland, there was an anc
Jul 12, 2008 Ammon rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ammon by: Jean Sibelius
Here's my trochaic rendition of my synopsis of the Kalevala:

Wainomainen, ancient minstrel,
Ilmarinen, magic blacksmith,
Lemmenkainen, reckless hero.
They get dumped by Lappish women.
Will they still the magic Sampo
With its lid of many colors?
You bet they will, motherfuckers.

Old woman of underground
soil-dame, earth-mistress
now set the sward pushing up
the strong earth heaving!
The earth will not want for strength
ever in this world
while there’s love from the givers
and leave from natures’s daughters.

This poem immerses you in physical and mythical Finland. Every page is filled with original, lyrical communion with the natural world. Every episode combines folk heroes, folk wisdom, fantastic shape-changing and song. Because above all else you understand Finland as a coun
Let me first clarify that the two-star rating is based solely on my experience with this book, and not on its overall quality.

There were two reasons why I started reading the Kalevala a while ago. Firstly, because it was one of Tolkien's major inspirations in his writing career. Secondly, because it seemed like a classical version of sword & sorcery mixed with old poetry. And that's amazingly enough just what it is.

The negative part is that the story is incredibly boring, filled with endless
National epic which is collected by Elias Lonnrot in the XlX century as part of the general trend of romanticism to keep orality in its pure form in the origins of childhood. The work of a national and romantic poet who compiled ballads into one unit from the beginning of creation of Finland and the first Man, Vainamonien, the hero, the poet the magician, who is the first man and the hero of the epic and the cultural hero of the Finns
Deborah Ideiosepius
I had never heard of the Kalevala, but recently I visited Finland for the first time (hopefully not the last) and it is everywhere; Go to an art gallery, or a historical house, or a museum and things based on the Kalevala are everywhere. Drive down the highway and there is a construction company named after a character in the Kalevala. So it soon became evident that if I wanted to understand anything about Finland I would have to read it. It proved to be no great effort; reading the Kalevala was ...more
Yiting Shen
I was inspired by the special Kalevala exhibition at the Atheneum Art Museum in Helsinki the past weekend. The paintings and sculptures drew me into the epic world.

The words have served as vivid memories for my short visit. The English translation is rather easy to read compared with the Homeric Iliad or Odyssey. More importantly, as I read close and loud into the lines, Kalevala has the light touch, and sense of humor. It's not as cold as you think - Finns are warm as I encounter, from the very
Being born and raised in the UP and of finnish descent I am interested in Finnish culture.

The Kalevala is the Finnish epic poem written by Lonnrot in 1839. He went around collecting runos (song poems) and he put them together (and added some) to create this poem.

My friends are reading a runo a week at lj at kalevala_1 year.

As a Finn, this epic speaks to my heart. I haven't finished the book--shameful--but the poetry and story are amazing. The Kalevala was the oral tradition of the Finns and this translation preserves that feeling.
Jeremiah Depta
Thank god for that charm against bears! I have yet to be eaten by one, so it must have worked. The book itself is very very very dry and very very very difficult to get through, but again, no more bears!
Berna Labourdette
(escribir en español) “Ni par toi ni par personne porte des croisements dans ma poitrine, ni je m'attache les cheveux avec seda” ;
(La pucelle noyée)
La Kalevala (qui signifie “Tierra de Héroes” ;) ils sont tu chantes épiques fineses réunis par le Dr. Elias Lönnrot, sous la forme d'un grand poème, premièrement de 12.000 vers, divisés 12 runos ou chansons (ce qui est qui ensuite se vaste à 22.793 chansons, divisées 50 runos). Ces poèmes ont été composés approximativement entre les siècles V à au XI
Brandon Pearce
Feb 09, 2008 Brandon Pearce rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Tolkien fans, Epic poetry fans
Shelves: epic
Fascinating Finish Fairytales. If you are a Tolkien fan you have to read the Kalevala as it was a major source of material for him. The Kalevala seems so bizaar at first blush but really has some interesting insights into pre christian bronze age life in Finland. There are certainly Christian elements that have been added to the Kalevala as Christianity reached Finland in the tenth century but this is pretty pure as far as pagan folklore goes. The iron charms portion of the book are of particula ...more

I read the teen version by Kirsti Makeinen Pirkko-Iiisa Surojegin & Kaarina Brooks

The Finnish creation story of ruins that were sung by elders was written down in the 1850’s and created a resurgence of the Finnish language, after Finland was occupied by Russia and Swedent. It is written in verse, very metaphoric and non rational with the classic themes of martyrdom, combat, magic, transformation, resurrection and immaculate birth. I loved the nature imagery of spruce, pine, aspen, sage, barl
Jkimballcook Cook
Awesome. The Finnish myths are so interesting. Interesting that they are much closer in tone and in theme to some of the Native American creation stories I've read than to the Scandinavian and other Northern European myths that I'm familiar with. (Though maybe I'm just thinking that because I'm subconsciously associating it with Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha since it has the same meter, but I think its more than that.)

The Kalevala is kind of a masterwork of folklore-preservation. Lonnrot basical
Dave Maddock
Oct 05, 2011 Dave Maddock rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Dave by: Mythgard Institute
Shelves: mythology
Read for a class at the Mythgard Institute. This might've been a 4-star review if not for the unevenness of the book. Since this is a loose collection of traditional Finnish folk songs compiled and edited into a roughly continuous narrative, perhaps this isn't surprising. Nevertheless, I felt that some episodes were much more skillfully composed than others. For instance, the earlier stories of Väinämöinen and Lemminkäinen and the interlude of Kullervo were my favorites while Ilmarinen's wedding ...more
Chaney Bicknell
Dec 23, 2008 Chaney Bicknell marked it as to-read
Recommends it for: people who like mythology or exceedingly long poems.
UPDATE: Once again "slowly chipping away at the behemoth" has morphed into "totally intimidated by the behemoth" and I've moved onto a different, less horrifyingly dense book. Honestly, I need to get more systematic with my note-taking before I tackle this monster.


Slowly chipping away at this behemoth. I'm reading ahead, then going back and re-reading so I can take decent notes. I'm 14 cantos deep, and I've taken notes on 10. There are 50.

So far I like it a lot. The roles of Vainamoinen, Ilmar
In fact i decided to read kalevala because one of my favorite band,Amorphis from Finland,writes music that deals with stories from this epic poem.Well,i did right,cause as a fan of worldwide Mythologies,Kalevala offered me all the things i just wanted to read.Gods,evil witches,heroes,battles and exciting,heroic,funny or tragic stories.Recommended to all people who like such stuff,by reading this you will also put yourself in a place comparing the stories with similar of other's Mythologies.One o ...more
A wonderful story but one of the worst translations I have ever read. Almost all of the way through I found the tale to be exhilarating, and only found myself bored when there was too much talk about weddings and whatnot. I'm sure there are some who love to hear of such things, but it's definitely not my cup of tea.

As for the translation, stay away from this one. I don't see why the translated felt it necessary to put in modern langauges and turns of phrase into a Finnish epic. The worst was whe
Cassandra Kay Silva
The prose is really beautiful, you pick up a lot on the way it would have come across orally as there is much in the way of repetitive moments to help the linguist remember the work. It is no Odyssey or Aeniad don't get me wrong, this focuses more on the home front, it features a lot of family orientations and moments with the elements or themes of bringing people back from the dead and getting married. It does have a lot of magical/mythical elements to it also and really the writing is very lov ...more
Dec 29, 2009 Laura rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kevin Catalano
Long my tale’s been in the cold
for ages has lain hidden:
shall I take the tales out of the cold
scoop the songs out of the frost
bring my little box indoors
the casket to the seat end
under the famous roof beam
under the fair roof
shall I open the word-chest
and unlock the top of the ball
untie the knot of the coil?
Brent Venton
Definitely a must read for epic poetry fans, even the English translation holds a lot of power and atmosphere. That said, get ready for repetition. These verses were passed down verbally for hundreds of years and so are formatted to help singers remember the words. If you can get past that, this is a unique and powerful story.
I read this as part of a project on Tolkien's influences, and I was not disappointed. The speed I had to read this at meant I was a little overwhelmed at times, but this is a real beauty of an epic poem (particularly at the beginning).

I had no idea of this folklore until I read The Kalevala, and I must admit I thought it really strange (but I guess most folklore/mythology is really weird... Ahem... Greek), however, it's wonderfully compiled and Elias Lonnrot did an amazing thing by bringing this
I have been reading this FOREVER (fortunately it's episodic and easy to pick up and put down).

I read Ovid's Metamorphoses and tore though it. So I know epic poetry doesn't have to be this hard to read. I wanted to love the Kalevala, but I'm afraid it's really only for the Nordic-obsessed.
The mother of all artificially constructed 19th-century transcribed Finnish oral epics. “But be that as it may,/I blazed a trail for singers,/blazed a trail, broke off tree tops,/broke branches, showed the way.”
Petteri Hannila
The Kalevala never ceases to amaze and intrigue me. The poems of ancient heroes and their deeds are a small glimpses to my ancestors' pasts, to their dreams and legends.
Nicki Markus
This is a wonderful piece of Nothern mythology and a great story. The translation flows nicely and is easy to read. Very entertaining and interesting
It's about time I finished this!

I'm still puzzling over the translator's note to his use of the name "Rocky Horror". :)
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Poetic Edda
  • The Sagas of Icelanders
  • Heimskringla: or, The Lives of the Norse Kings
  • Eirik the Red and Other Icelandic Sagas (World's Classics)
  • Seven Brothers
  • Hrafnkel's Saga and Other Icelandic Stories
  • The Unknown Soldier
  • Early Irish Myths and Sagas
  • Seven Viking Romances
  • Gods and Myths of Northern Europe
  • Maa on syntinen laulu
Elias Lönnrot was a Finnish philologist and collector of traditional Finnish oral poetry. He is best known for composing the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic compiled from national folklore.

Lönnrot was born in Sammatti, in the province of Uusimaa in Finland. He studied medicine at the Academy of Turku. To his misfortune the year he joined was the year of the Great Fire of Turku, burning down ha
More about Elias Lönnrot...
The Kanteletar The Kalevala (Volume 2); The Epic Poem of Finland Kalevala: The Land of the Heroes, Volume I (Dodo Press) The Old Kalevala and Certain Antecedents Vaeltaja - muistelmia jalkamatkalta Hämeestä, Savosta ja Karjalasta 1828

Share This Book

“Once to swim I sought the sea-side,
There to sport among the billows;
With the stone of many colors
Sank poor Aino to the bottom
Of the deep and boundless blue-sea,
Like a pretty son-bird, perished.
Never come a-fishing, father,
To the borders of these waters,
Never during all thy life-time,
As thou lovest daughter Aino.

Mother dear, I sought the sea-side,
There to sport among the billows;
With the stone of many colors,
Sank poor Aino to the bottom
Of the deep and boundless blue-sea,
Like a pretty song-bird perished.
Never mix thy bread, dear mother,
With the blue-sea's foam and waters,
Never during all thy life-time,
As thou lovest daughter Aino.
Brother dear, I sought the sea-side,
There to sport among the billows;
With the stone of many colors
Sank poor Aino to the bottom
Of the deep and boundless blue-sea,
Like a pretty song-bird perished.
Never bring thy prancing war-horse,
Never bring thy royal racer,
Never bring thy steeds to water,
To the borders of the blue-sea,
Never during all thy life-time,
As thou lovest sister Aino.

Sister dear, I sought the sea-side,
There to sport among the billows;
With the stone of many colors
Sank poor Aino to the bottom
Of the deep and boundless blue-sea,
Like a pretty song-bird perished.
Never come to lave thine eyelids
In this rolling wave and sea-foam,
Never during all thy life-time,
As thou lovest sister Aino.
All the waters in the blue-sea
Shall be blood of Aino's body;
All the fish that swim these waters
Shall be Aino's flesh forever;
All the willows on the sea-side
Shall be Aino's ribs hereafter;
All the sea-grass on the margin
Will have grown from Aino's tresses.”
“Words shall not be hid
nor spells buried
might shall not sink underground
though the mighty go.”
More quotes…