Myth-Folklore Unit: Kalevala

Overview. This unit contains episodes from the Kalevala, an epic poem of the Finnish people which was compiled in the 19th century by Elias Lonnrot based on the oral poetry he collected from traditional epic singers in Finland and Lapland. The selections that you will read here focus on the exploits of the "first man," Väinämöinen, who is a culture hero and wizard. You will read about Väinämöinen's competition with the young man Joukahainen, his tragic love for Joukahainen's sister Aino, and also his role in the forging of the magical Sampo. The Kalevala singers used a trochaic tetrameter form, and the English translation follows the Finnish meter and style, allowing you to experience the use of "oral formulaic composition" in the songs. There is an audiobook version available, and I would strongly recommend that you listen to at least part of the story read out loud in order to get a sense of the dense and complex repetitions that this oral formulaic style of poetry relies on: the effect can be very powerful!

Language. This is translation of the Finnish epic poem into English verse that closely imitates the style of the Finnish original which is strongly oral epic verse. It's quite different from the sort of poetry you might have read in English class before, so take a look and see what you think: it is highly rhythmic and full of repetitions, as is typical of oral poetry.

Story Length. This is a continuous story, narrating Väinämöinen's adventures in a series of episodes where one episode leads to the next.

Navigation. You will find the table of contents below, and you can also use this link to see the story posts displayed on two pages total: Kalevala. Click "Older Posts" at the bottom of that page to see the second page.


  1. I remember reading this and I found it interesting but it didn't really stick with me the way some other collections of tales have.

  2. I'm worried that, as with the Indian Epics, students may get put off by the totally unfamiliar names, so I was going to make up a list of characters to go with it, and also use as many illustrations as I can find. I am guessing I will be able to find a pretty good selection of Kalevala art online, although I have not started looking yet. My main motivation to include this was Hiawatha being part of the course also, plus wanting to build up the epic options (finding ways to work with epic in this class is hard, but the episodic nature of the Kalevala helps make that work; I was able to include a whole big chunk here of the opening runos that focus on Väinämöinen).


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