Kalevala: Väinämöinen and the Mistress of Pohjola

This story is part of the Kalevala unit. Story source: Kalevala by Elias Lönnrot, translated by W. F. Kirby (1907).

Runo 7: Väinämöinen and the Mistress of Pohjola
Väinämöinen, old and steadfast,
Swam upon the open ocean,
Drifting like a fallen pine-tree,
Like a rotten branch of fir-tree,
During six days of the summer,
And for six nights in succession,
While the sea spread wide before him,
And the sky was clear above him;
Thus he swam for two nights longer,
And for two days long and dreary;
When the ninth night darkened round him,
And the eighth day had passed over,
Sudden anguish came upon him,
And his pain grew ever greater;
From his toes his nails were dropping,
And the joints from off his fingers.

Then the aged Väinämöinen
Spoke in words like those which follow:
"Woe to me, unhappy creature,
Overburdened with misfortune!
I have wandered from my country,
And my ancient home abandoned.
'Neath the open sky for ever,
Driven along in sun and moonlight,
Rocked about by winds for ever,
Tossed about by every billow,
On the wide expanse of water,
Out upon the open ocean,
Here I live a cold existence,
And 'tis painful thus to wallow,
Always tossing on the billows,
On the surface of the waters.
Now, alas, I know no longer
How to lead this life of sadness
In this everlasting trouble,
In an age when all is fleeting.
Shall I rear in wind a dwelling,
Build a house upon the waters?
If I rear in wind a dwelling,
Then the wind would not sustain it;
If I build a house on water,
Then the waves will drift it from me."

Came a bird from Lapland flying,
From the north-east came an eagle,
Not the largest of the eagles,
Nor was he among the smallest,
With one wing he swept the water,
To the sky was swung the other;
On the sea his tail he rested,
On the cliffs his beak he rattled.
Slowly back and forwards flying,
Turning all around, and gazing,
Soon he saw old Väinämöinen
On the blue waves of the ocean.

"What has brought you here, O hero,
Wandering through the waves of ocean?"

Väinämöinen, old and steadfast,
Answered in the words which follow:
"This has brought the man to ocean,
Plunged the hero in the sea-waves:
I would seek the maid of Pohja,
Woo the maiden of Pimentola.
On my journey swift I hasted,
On the ocean's watery surface,
Till about the time of daybreak,
Came I, after many mornings,
Where is Luotola's deep embayment,
Hard by Joukola's rapid river,
When my horse was shot beneath me,
By an arrow launched against me.
Thus I fell into the water,
In the waves I plunged my fingers,
And the wind impels me onward,
And the billows drift me forward.
Then there came a gale from north-west,
From the east a mighty tempest,
Far away the tempest drove me,
Swimming from the land still further,
Many days have I been floating,
Many days have I been swimming,
On this wide expanse of water,
Out upon the open ocean,
And I cannot now conjecture,
Cannot guess, nor e'en imagine,
How I finally shall perish,
And what death shall overtake me
Whether I shall die of hunger,
Or shall sink beneath the waters."

Said the bird of air, the eagle,
"Let thy heart be free from trouble;
Climb upon my back, and seat thee,
Standing up upon my wing-tips,
From the sea will I transport thee,
Wheresoever thou may'st fancy,
For the day I well remember,
And recall a happier season,
When fell Kaleva's green forest,
Cleared was Osmola's famed island,
But thou didst protect the birch-tree,
And the beauteous tree left'st standing,
That the birds might rest upon it,
And that I myself might sit there."

Then the aged Väinämöinen
Raised his head from out the water,
From the sea the man sprang upward,
From the waves the hero mounted;
On the eagle's wings he sat him,
On the wing-tips of the eagle.

Then the bird of air, the eagle,
Raised the aged Väinämöinen,
Through the path of wind he bore him,
And along the east-wind's pathway,
To the utmost bounds of Pohja,
Onwards to the misty Sariola,
There abandoned Väinämöinen,
Soared into the air, and left him.

(700 words)

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