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The Kalevala

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  3,426 Ratings  ·  222 Reviews
THE following translation was undertaken from a desire to lay before the English-speaking people the full treasury of epical beauty, folklore, and mythology comprised in The Kalevala (the Land of Heroes), the national epic of the Finns. The Kalevala describes Finnish nature very minutely and very beautifully. Grimm says that no poem is to be compared with it in this respec ...more
Paperback, 794 pages
Published March 22nd 2010 by Abela Publishing (first published 1835)
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Susan Lynx I find this same question arises when I read the cultural and/or religious epics of just about any culture. The brother heroes of the Popul Vuh, for…moreI find this same question arises when I read the cultural and/or religious epics of just about any culture. The brother heroes of the Popul Vuh, for example, do an awful lot of killing and tricking. Ulysses was a famous trickster and not at all ethical by my modern standards. Tale of the Heike contains incredible stories of scheming and cruelty. And then there are the very "sinful" heroes of the Bible - King David is a good example. When Inanna/Ishtar visits the underworld, her own sister Ereshkigal dismembers her and hangs her up on meat hooks! My own interpretation is that the tales include the flaws so we can learn from them. Also that greatness can lead to hubris and breaking out of what is normal. I am pretty sure that the heroes are not to be simply "liked." They give us more of a total picture of the chaos that is human action, at the same time teaching how we "should" behave. (less)
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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
Sep 16, 2016 Brad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh my goodness, this is a real treasure!

I was expecting this classic Finnish mythos, this fantasy epic, to be kinda dense and worldly and weighty, but I didn't expect it to be totally readable, droll, classy, and exciting. I also didn't expect to see it as the source material for so many classics I adore, including most of the stories behind Tolkien's The Silmarillion and a good portion of his LoTR.

It reads like a fantastically mythical adventure from start to Finnish and it's no wonder, even i
Aug 10, 2011 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion, history, poetry
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
Jun 07, 2014 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Chances are that if you've heard of this work at all it's because it was the inspiration for Longfellow's Hiawatha, you've just heard about the publication of Tolkien's Story of Kullervo or you're some kind of expert in Epic Poetry. Which is to say it's fairly obscure outside it's native Finnland, where, by contrast everybody knows it because it's the National Epic, heavily influencing the development of a Finnish national consciousness.

(A brief aside on Tolkien: he used the Finnish language as
Jul 12, 2008 Ammon rated it it was amazing  ·  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.
Lada Fleur
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

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
Nov 23, 2015 Maaike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites, finland
This was great. I never expected I would ever finish it, it being over 600 pages of poetry, but I did, and I enjoyed every second of it.
We all know Greek, Roman and Norse mythology, but Finnish mythology is hardly ever heard of, which is a pity because it's now my favourite. By reading this epoch you can see how the lifes of Finnish people centuries ago was influenced a lot by nature. The nature in the story is alive, it speaks, thinks and feels. Birds, fish, bears and wolves all play a vit
I've never gotten into Finnish history or literature as much as I've followed the other Scandinavian countries. Although, let's face it: Finland is amazing. Not just because they drastically lowered their infant mortality rate by putting their babies in cardboard boxes, and have the best education system in the world. But also because no one knows where they came from! Their language and culture and even genes are very different from the rest of Scandinavia.

And so the Kalevala is also an anomaly
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
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
Bryan Alexander
Aug 07, 2015 Bryan Alexander rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lit, storytelling, poetry
Notes on reading the Kalevala:

I don't want to offer a scholarly analysis here. Instead I want to offer my impressions on first reading this work, and assume you all can fire up Google for more information. (This edition's introduction is excellent, and I recommend it)

I read the Kalevala because I was visiting Finland for the first time and wanted to dive into that nation's culture. I ended up staying in a Kalevala-themed hotel, which was fun.

It's an unusual work to read, mostly for formal reason
Mina Soare
Dec 03, 2016 Mina Soare rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mina by: Langfocus on Youtube
Kalevala is a national treasure to the Finns, a collection of mythology that is the more precious for containing both the creation myth as well as cultural insights into the Finnish culture. It stands in comparison with other such treasures as the The Poetic Edda , the Greeks' Theogony and The Illiad & the Odyssey and so on. What's more, its stories and the Finnish perspective on stories common all around the world color a vivid picture of their culture.

What sets Kalevala apart is that
May 18, 2016 Louisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Vainamoinen with harp
Väinämöinen with his harp

The Kalevala is a delight; a wonderful rendering of ancient Finnish mythology. The English translation by John Crawford (1888) reads beautifully and follows closely the Finnish cadence with eight syllables in every line. While the male heroes Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen and Lemminkäinen provide most of the action, I thought it was interesting to see how the Finnish world was created entirely by females; the Daughter of the Ether and a seabird that lays golden eggs on her knee
Marko Vasić
Epsko delo, po utisku; lirsko-epsko po strukturi. Budući da je stvarano nekoliko vekova, i da je obelodanjeno kao, uslovno rečeno, hrestomatija, zahvaljujući folkloristi prof. Elijasu Lenrotu, u ovom remek-delu finskog naroda objedinjeno je više elemenata koji se raspoznaju slojevito, kako su dodavani i menjani u toku nastajanja, a specifično boje ton i atmosferu čitavog epa. Tako sam prepoznavao tragove izvornih paganskih elemenata, tragove šamanizma, neke uopštene opise, i na kraju, vrlo usilj ...more
Aug 18, 2012 Panagiotis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 20, 2008 Rena rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 27, 2017 Arimo rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiktio
Arvostan Elias Lönnrotin sekä tämän avustajien ja kollegoiden työtä Kalevalan kokoamisessa. Kulttuurityönä Kalevala on merkittävä, mutta lukukokemuksena en antaisi kahta tähteä enempää.

Kalevalasta huomaa hyvin, ettei mitään yhtenäistä kansalliseeposta ollut olemassa ennen Lönnrotin kokoamistyötä. Monet tarinat tuntuvatkin tekosyiltä sulloa mahdollisimman paljon perinteisiä kansanrunoja ja loitsuja samoihin kohtauksiin. Esimerkiksi kirjan puolivälin hääjuhlat tuntuvat kestävän loputtomiin, kun vä
Yiting Shen
Jul 28, 2009 Yiting Shen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 23, 2017 Edy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oh, what a trip it was.
It's a book that you can't just rate easily. It gives you a lot of insight in Tolkien's work and I'm able to understand now where his fascination with Finnish folklore and mythology comes from. Also, Kalevala makes me want to read national epics from all over Europe.

I enjoyed it. It was weird, but not in a bad way. The characters, always present magic and the stories told by 'songs' - runos - were in fact very interesting.
I'm also kind of glad that I'm done with this boo
Theo Logos
Listening to The Kalevala can be a haunting experience. Its verse has a mesmerizing, sing-song quality that makes amble use of repetition. This has a certain beauty and charm, but what it lacked, for me, was the power of portraying its characters and their deeds with any kind of visceral reality. Though its heroes and villains are truly intriguing, the verse that described them kept me from fully immersing in their stories.
The heroes here are at once larger than life, god-like, yet full of huma
Chaney Bicknell
Dec 26, 2007 Chaney Bicknell marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 11, 2008 Othy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 27, 2014 Gwenhwyfar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, epics
This was absolutely beautiful. Read it for the poetry, not for the plot. The plot doesn't really exist, which makes sense since it was stitched together out of oral traditions. Since I obtained this from a library and therefore can't write in it, I kept scribbling down passages on whatever scraps of paper I had around just so I wouldn't lose the language.
Apr 13, 2007 teresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

Jeremiah Peter
Aug 11, 2011 Jeremiah Peter rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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!
Jkimballcook Cook
Aug 20, 2013 Jkimballcook Cook rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: folklore
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
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Medieval literature: The Kalevala 1 5 Nov 18, 2015 06:01AM  
  • The Saga of the Volsungs
  • Eirik the Red and Other Icelandic Sagas (World's Classics)
  • The Sagas of Icelanders
  • Heimskringla: or, The Lives of the Norse Kings
  • The Nibelungenlied
  • Seven Brothers
  • The Unknown Soldier
  • Gods and Myths of Northern Europe
  • Pessi ja Illusia
  • 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...

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“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.”
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