The beginning of the Kalevala. My translation.

My translation of the first few verses of the Kalevala, Finland’s national epic, which was compiled by Elias Lönnrot and first published in 1835. Lönnrot travelled through remote areas of eastern Finland to gather local folklore. The result was to be a nation-forming work that was mythological and concerned with the underworld, revenge and violence.

The Kalevala metre is famous. One often hears that it is impossible to reproduce in other languages. I disagree. It is a matter of recognising the initially stressed, three-, four- or five-syllable groupings that are combined to make line-halves of eight syllables. I believe the translator must also take the orthodoxy of initial stress in Finnish words with a grain of salt: although the first stress is the strongest, I think words such as “ajattelevi” have a significant secondary stress in the third syllable. The Kalevala would seem, then, to be mostly trochaic.

There is lots that I don’t understand. What tense, exactly, is represented by -evi? And what word is “noien” the genitive plural of? Is it simply a form of “nuo”? Comments are very welcome.

The Kalevala. The First Poem (an extract).

Mind of mine it is making me, brains of mine they are taking me,
Down the path to start my singing, to the lyrics they are bringing,
Family glories should be winging, lays of legend should be ringing,
In my mouth the words melt away, sounds of speech break up and decay,
Trip to tongue-tip tales of telling, but they break on teeth, untelling.

Brother dearest, friend of childhood, golden playmate of our pinewood!
Let’s go down the path to singing, as the lyrics us are bringing,
Joined as one by song word’s tether, we’ll the rocky wood trails weather.
Rarely do we get together, rarely flock as birds of feather
In these miserable borderlands, in these wretched, poor Northern lands.

Let us put hand in hand again, fingers resting in grip again,
So we can sing out well and true, well and true songs oh we can sing,
Listen to the golden dances, track the paths of wondrous fancies,
In the rising generation, in the just-awak’ning nation:
Words to receive from worded ones, verses to take from versed ones
From the belt of Väinämöinen, from the forge of Ilmarinen,
From the sword of Kaukomieli, Joukahainen’s bowstring steely,
From the fields of the Pohja land, Kalevala’s forested band.

Kalevala. Ensimmäinen runo (ote).

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.

Lyökämme käsi kätehen, sormet sormien lomahan,
lauloaksemme hyviä, parahia pannaksemme,
kuulla noien kultaisien, tietä mielitehtoisien,
nuorisossa nousevassa, kansassa kasuavassa:
noita saamia sanoja, virsiä virittämiä
vyöltä vanhan Väinämöisen, alta ahjon Ilmarisen,
päästä kalvan Kaukomielen, Joukahaisen jousen tiestä,
Pohjan peltojen periltä, Kalevalan kankahilta.

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