Book Impression – The Kalevala

The Kalevala: An Epic Poem After Oral Tradition by Elias Lönnrot, Translated from the Finnish with an Introduction and Notes by Keith Bosley and a Foreword by Albert B Lord

The Kalevala can be seen in the same light as the Eddas and the Illiad and Odessey as it is an epic collection of Finnish mythology. The translation which I read is part of the Oxford World Classics series and I found it to be very readable and enjoyable.

I did not know much about The Kalevala when I started reading it. Because of this reason I found the introduction and notes very helpful. For me the stories of The Kalevala held a fascination and the wonderful translation by Keith Bosley really brought them to life for me.

The internet also came in very handy when I wanted to hear how the musical instrument called the kantele sounds. I ended up coming across various videos and mp3s and these gave an extra layer of depth to the text when I read them. I also came across this video in which part of the text is sung in Finnish:

The stories of The Kalevala is filled with wonder and magic. The part of The Kalevala which really touched me – as I’m sure it does many other readers – is the resurrection of Lemminkäinen . He is killed and cut into a number of pieces and it is then his mother who searches for the pieces of her dead son and puts them together again.

If you are interested in the different mythologies and folklore of the world, I can highly recommend The Kalevala and then also this translation of the text. There are, however, also translations of the texts which is no longer covered by copyright and can be downloaded and read for free. See the links below. The Finnish text can also be found online.

Lonnrot, E. and K. Bosley. (2008). The Kalevala: An Epic Poem After Oral Tradition by Elias Lönnrot . Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Free translation


3 thoughts on “Book Impression – The Kalevala

  1. I own a copy of this poem, and I have heard the explanation that you have given in your thoughtful post. I like the meter (same as used by Longfellow in The Song of Hiawatha) and some of the imagery. On the other hand, I have also heard that this is a fabricated mythology that does not possess the assumed history of its creation. Since I am not a literary scholar, I don’t know where the truth really lies. Thanks for posting about a poem that isn’t discussed all that much.

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    1. Yes, it is fabricated (I’ve read) in that the poems and stories were placed into a specific order to give it an “epic poem” feel like that of the Illiad and that it wasn’t one epic that he collected and wrote down. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lönrott didn’t add a few bits in himself to make it read and flow better. But I must admit that I haven’t studied it enough to know all the details. I’ll have to read up on it some more…
      I wonder if the creation of the Younger Edda (which I know was to serve as a handbook for poets) did not do the same kind of thing where the mythology was put into prose to make it easier to understand and to follow, and I’ve also read that the compiler of the Elder Edda may have added in some bits (like the ending of Völuspá) to make it more palatable to his audience.
      But I guess that is also what makes the mythology so interesting to study (apart from the awesome stories)!

      Liked by 1 person

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