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The Kalevala

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  3,879 Ratings  ·  254 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, Oxford World's Classics, 679 pages
Published May 13th 1999 by Oxford University Press (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)
Ian At least two other translations are in the running.

The second English translation, the first made directly from Finnish, was by W.F. Kirby (1907), and…more
At least two other translations are in the running.

The second English translation, the first made directly from Finnish, was by W.F. Kirby (1907), and reprinted endlessly in an Everyman's Library edition in two volumes).

Kirby's rendering is the form in which J.R.R. Tolkien read it. It inspired him to learn Finnish, which had a profound effect on one of his Elvish languages, and it also provided a model for his earliest efforts in constructing a mythology. He approved of parts of Kirby's version (such as the "invention of beer" -- he thought that it was even funnier than the original), but didn't consider it fully satisfactory. (He didn't consider his own translations of Old and Middle English literature to be fully satisfactory, either).

It is important to remember that the Kirby translation is in stressed trochaic tetrameter, an English adaptation of the original meter. (Also known to some as Hiawatha-meter; Longfellow got it from a German translation of Kalevala). Some people find this tiresome, others greatly enjoy it; the use of it admittedly limited Kirby's accuracy.

It is available as a free Kindle Book (via Project Gutenberg): and in a lot of other on-line and print editions.

The third English translation, by the distinguished medievalist Francis P. Magoun, Jr., appeared in 1963. It is in prose and, again, some people like this, while others are disappointed. It comes with maps, character indexes, and the like. It got high marks for accuracy -- and later printings have an additional appendix, meticulously giving corrections to various passages that weren't quite right.

(A friend once pointed out to me that, with its appendices, etc., the Magoun translation physically resembles "The Return of the King," and some other Tolkien volumes.)

Magoun also translated the first edition of Kalevala, as "The Old Kalevala," and included additional documentation. It is important not to confuse the two when trying to order a copy.(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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, poetry, religion
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
Finnish Pronunciation
Select Bibliography

--The Kalevala

Appendix: Sibelius and the 'Kalevala'
Jun 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 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.
Aug 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing

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
Deborah Ideiosepius
Jul 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Mieleni minun tekevi,
aivoni ajattelevi,
lähteäni laatimahan,
arviota arpomahan,
kun sain kirjan katsotuksi,
kaikki lehdet luetuiksi.
Kauan emmin aloitusta,
pitkään kirjaan tarttumista.
Vaiti vuotti hyllyssänsä,
odotellen ottajaansa
ukkikullan kirjastossa,
vaarivainaan varastossa.
Luin mä päivän, luin mä toisen,
luinpa kohta kolmannenkin.
Kului viikko, kului toinen,
kului kotvan kolmattakin,
päivää kaksikymmentäkin,
kunnes pääsin loppuun saakka,
aivan takakanteen asti
eepokseni ennättelin.

Vaka vanha Väinämöinen,
That 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 unfortunately very unheard of. By reading this epoch you can see how the lives of Finnish people centuries ago were 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 vital role in the tale, the god-heroes a
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
Biblio Curious
The backstory of how this epic came to be is also fascinating & is riddled with language awesomeness. Women have important roles to play. And sometimes, men are simply buffoons. It's such a wonderful change of pace from these old epics to see women hold their own so well. In the early parts, among my favourite are when the man is newly created, he actually takes time to stop and think. He reflects on what he should do. When he stops thinking, that's when everything falls apart for him. There ...more
Bryan Alexander
Aug 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, lit, storytelling
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 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
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 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a revised version of an Amazon review of two “Kalevala” translations, originally written and posted in 2004, and greatly enlarged in 2012.

For its appearance in Goodreads, I’ve made some additions (and omissions), briefly discussing two other, and readily available, older translations, which I had originally just mentioned.

One thing I learned from the original version of this review is that a reviewer proposes, but only Amazon disposes. (A lesson repeated frequently during the last couple
Michael Haase
Nov 04, 2017 rated it liked it
The Kalevala is without a doubt the most insanely hilarious and absurd epic poem or collection of epic poems I've ever read. It's really quite difficult to put to word just how ridiculous the story of The Kalevala truly is. In this book, you'll find a man peeling a rock and crafting a boat out of yarn, a man being born on top of a pile of burning charcoal with a pair of miniature smithing tools in each hand, a single bee going on a vast journey to collect special honey to be used as healing oint ...more
May 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Jeremiah Peter
Aug 11, 2011 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!
Apr 20, 2008 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 rated it it was ok
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
Débora Viegas
Feb 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yiting Shen
Jul 28, 2009 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
Sep 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Matching Soundtrack :
Just A Poke - Sweet Smoke
Oct 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ancient-world, poetry
The Kalevala is Finland’s epic. The title comes from Karelia, a region that straddles Finland and Russia and is where the stories come from. Elias Lonnrot collected these oral stories and stitched them together to write The Kalevala, published in 1835. Lonnrot’s project is part of the nineteenth-century interest in the folk (think ballad revival and the Grimm’s fairytales). Lonnrot’s Finnish work is also regarded as Finland’s national epic and a work of nation-building. First a province of Swede ...more
Clarissa Feio
Oct 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasia, literatura
It is such a shame that not many people know about this book, as it is truly a hidden treasure.

I came to read the Kalevala because I am a Tolkien fan, and I wanted to get to know what was one of his favorite books and main sources of inspiration.

It is surprisingly easy to read if you have into account that it is an epic poem. I was immersed in this strange and fantastical world, and in the tragedy and poetry that it conveys. From what I saw in this poem, Finish mythology is very different from
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Medieval literature: The Kalevala 1 9 Nov 18, 2015 06:01AM  
  • The Saga of the Volsungs
  • Eirik the Red and Other Icelandic Sagas
  • 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
“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…