The Kalevala

In 1835, Finnish philologist (the study of language in oral and written historical sources) Elias Lönnrot (1802-1884) published the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala (the Land of Heroes). The first edition was not as well received as the second edition, which was released in 1849. The second edition is also referred to as “The New Kalevala”. The second edition or “New Kalevala” became the most used version and is the version used for study in Finnish schools.[1]  The Kalevala is a collection of stories based on authentic Finnish mythology and folklore texts sung by rune singers.[2] Rune singers did not keep records of their verses, instead, runes were passed down orally and would adapt and change over time. Nonetheless, after compiling rune singer’s verses over a 15-year span, Lönnrot’s publication of the Kalevala came to be the most important Finnish publication.

The Kalevala had a profound impact on Finnish Nationalism during a time Finland sought to build a national identity.[3] Prior to the Kalevala being published, there was almost nothing published in Finnish.[4] The characters and stories of this work have been adopted into theater and music. Famous fantasy novels have also drawn inspiration from the Kalevala including the famous book series created by J. R. R. Tolkien, “The Lord of the Rings”.

Other than being one of the only Finnish publications at the time, the Kalevala also displayed the unique essence of Finnish poetry with the use of alliteration. Alliteration occurs when the same sound occurs in repetition across several words. In the Kalevala alliteration is seen across the line of texts and used as the start of a new sentence. For example, “Avaroilla autioilla” (“In those far-extending deserts”) and “Laskeusi linehille” (“After this the maid descending”) are lines of the poetry which contain alliteration within the same line of text. The lines “Niin silloin veen emonen, Nosti polvea lainehesta” display alliteration occurring at the beginning of each sentence. These approaches to alliteration can be seen throughout the text of Luonnotar even with Sibelius’s alterations.

[1] Sunders, Songs of the Kalevala, p. 15

[2] Pentikäinen, Kalevala Mythology, p. 2

[3] Pentikäinen, Kalevala Mythology p. 221

[4] Ibid, p. ix

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