The beginning of the Kalevala



The Kalevala, Finland’s national epic, was compiled by Elias Lönnrot in the first half of the nineteenth century, when Finland’s oral tradition was in danger of being lost. The picture above shows the Jamanen brothers reciting poetry at the end of the nineteenth century – which aptly illustrates what follows below.

The biggest challenge any translator faces is the Kalevala metre, whose complexity defies accurate reproduction in English. I’ve opted here to use a regular trochaic tetrameter, which is the favoured approach of the existing English translations. I freely admit that the Finglish opening is deliberate.

It is so that mind is settled,
brain has thought idea fettled,
ballad shortly I’ll be singing,
I shall soon its change be ringing,
ancient song from people springing,
that’s the song that I’ll be singing.
Words are melting as I speak them,
speech is tumbling as it brings them,
tongue is rattling sense around them,
teeth are parting to disperse them.
Brother dear, beloved kinsman,
handsome brotherly companion!
Let’s begin now with our singing,
let’s begin with our change ringing
here together with each other
two together, dearest brother!
Rarely do we get together,
let’s sit down with one another
here upon these wretched borders,
Northern people’s poorer orders.


Mieleni minun tekevi,
aivoni ajattelevi
lähteäni laulamahan,
saa’ani sanelemahan,
sukuvirttä suoltamahan,
lajivirttä laulamahan.
Sanat suussani sulavat,
puhe’et putoelevat,
kielelleni kerkiävät,
hampahilleni hajoovat.
Veli kulta, veikkoseni,
kaunis kasvinkumppalini!
Lähe nyt kanssa laulamahan,
saa kera sanelemahan
yhtehen yhyttyämme,
kahta’alta käytyämme!
Harvoin yhtehen yhymme,
saamme toinen toisihimme
näillä raukoilla rajoilla,
poloisilla Pohjan mailla.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

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