Poems of the Kalevala District

Stéphane Thibault >_

Again and again the Kalevala has been described as the national heroic epic of the Finnish people, a description which, at least outside Finland, has tended to do the work a certain disservice by raising expectations that the reader is not likely to find fulfilled, regardless of what else he may find that is richly rewarding at a poetical, folkloristic, or ethnographic level. Any talk about a national heroic epic is bound to evoke thoughts of the Greek Iliad and Odyssey, the Old French Chanson de Roland, or the Middle High German Nibelungenlied, all of which possess a more or less unified and continuously moving plot with actors who are wealthy aristocratic warriors performing deeds of valor and displaying great personal resourcefulness and initiative, often, too, on a rather large stage. The Kalevala is really nothing like these. It is essentially a conflation and concatenation of a considerable number and variety of traditional songs, narrative, lyrics, and magic, sung by unlettered singers, male and female, living to a great extent in northern Karelia in the general vicinity of Archangel. These songs were collected in the field and ultimately edited into a book by Elias Lönnrot, M.D. (1802-1884), in two stages. The first version appeared in 1835 and is now known as the Old Kalevala ; it contained about half the material in the 1849 edition […]. For the many poems added to this 1849 Kalevala, now the canonical version, Dr. Lönnrot was indebted to a younger song-collector, David E. D. Europaeus (1820-1884).

Lönnrot, Elias (1963 [1849]). The Kalevala or Poems of the Kalevala District, trad., intro. et annexes par Francis Peabody Magoun Jr., Cambridge — Londres, Harvard University Press, p. xiii.