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european kalevala

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kalevala by:
Sylvia Petter


Austria tried Europe to lead
but the peoples kick’d and scrambled.
Now Suomi grasps the torch to
light the way to fuller union.
One by one each country takes the
helm to keep the hatchet buried.
When the peoples play their own games
countries would do well to listen
to the windsong in the poplars
so that trees a wood can become.

comment by teacher

Bit puzzled by language. «Kick» – if used in the American sense of "moaning about" - fine. Otherwise would it not need to take an object?
«scramble», used as a noun means a «fight», but if used as a verb means « climbing». Intended here? I am all for ambiguity in poetry, but…

One suggestion: «kicked against the pricks» -if it fits the metre and rhythm.

The conscious use of mixed (plus hackneyed, dead) images works quite well here by joining the nouns through alliteration.
Though you seem to be building your text on hackneyed phrases I don´t quite see how the «games that peoples play» are connected to the «windsongs.»

«Countries» should be «states» – poetic licence is fine but doesn´t mean to jettison semantic precision. I do see the metrical difficulties with «states» instead of «countries». But see my notes on stress, accent and syllables further down.

I suggest you re-write the first line – it is not just the grammatical distortions, it is the metre too that makes one (me) wince.
Though I am aware one cannot imitate the metre of the original (study my notes below) for too long stretchs, I think some kind of rhythm should be discernible – otherwise why not write prose? Verse 5 is an extreme example of a rather bumpy ride.
The last line, starting with the logical connector «so that», is again rather prosaic.
Again: I recognise (and appreciate) the method of employing a cliche – so keep the cliche but get rid of the «so that», at the same time keeping a recognisable – basic - metrical scheme.

Suggestion: Use material (ideas, content and your basic strategy of mixing images – so as to reflect diversity of nations and nations´, and indeed states´, interestes???), and re-write the text, this time concentrating on metre and rhythm.

The main stress in Finnish in speech is always on the first syllable of the word.
Now I am not suggesting you imitate the Finnish metre, a feat doomed to ridicule and failure, and should the effort be carried out for more than 10 lines it would be a bore,a s can be seen in Longfellows long poem ”Hiawatha”.

In my own contribution, I opted for a basic trochaic meter, with basically, i.e. not always, four syllbles in each verse. I was hoping to signal my awarness of the silliness of the metrical undertaking both by calling it a mock-heroic poem and, of course, by the content and by some self-reflexive lines.

What I therefore - should you intend to carry on - suggest is:

Reacreate in English some of the typcical features of the original:
- Remember its foundation in popular speech
- Playing with verbs, using synonyms or near-synonyms, for stylistic effects
- What could also be imitated to great effect is the ”winnowing principle”, whereby longer words gravitate towards the end of the line.

You may particularly find helpful the strategy employed by Keith Bosley, and expounded by him in his foreword to his translation of the Kalevala (Oxford Classics, 1989; 1999, second edition).
He based his translation on syllables rather than feet. He uses lines of seven syllables, ”often less, occasionally more.” He eventually arrived at ”seven, five, and nine syllables respectively” using the odd number as a formal device and letting the stresses fall where they would.

Find here, first in a nutshell, then in more detail, some basic differences between Germanic (English or German) and Finnish accent. I shoul assume that the general intro is required reading.
It is then up to your resourcefulness to find a way to either try to imitate the original or adopt Keith Bosley´s solution. In the first case you might have to find a way to suggest you are speaking tongue in cheek.

The Finnish original cannot help but use alliteration, it is almost impossible to avoid. Lönnrot´s ”ordinary Karelian Finnish” has only eight vowels and twelve consonants. English alliterative verse was deemed ”uncouth” already some 500 years ago – and a device used ad nauseam in headlines of the British gutter press.
There is no need to employ alliterations to ”kalevalize” your contribution, though you might use it for humourous effects. I found it quite tempting myself.

Unlike Germanic with its stress accent, Finnish has a tonic or pitch accent - languages with a tonic accent tend to use it as a metrical feature: If quantity is functional, they use that, like ancient Greek and Latin; if it is not they count syllables, like modern Greek or the Romance languages.
The Kalevala poetry is quantitative, which makes it sound irregular to Germanic ears, and, I have been told, even to most modern Finnish ears, who have been subjected to English, or, in former times, with educated readers, to German poetry.
Roughly half of all known Kalevala poetry consists of ”broken lines”, i.e. lines that do not scan accentually. An example given by Finnish scholars is the beginning.

The Kalevala metre, in more detail:

When sung, a line in Kalevala metre consists of four consecutive trochaic feet. Usually it contains eight syllables: vaka / vanha Väinä/möinen - laski / laule/len ve/siä

In the Kalevala metre, if the first syllable is long, containing a long vowel or diphthong (siika, laula) or a short vowel followed by one or two consonants (itse, virsta), it can occur only in the rising part of the foot:

suku/virttä / suolta/mahan
sanat / suussa/ni su/lavat
Only in the first foot a long first syllable can occur in a falling position (jo päi/vänä / kolman/tena), in other feet it is not possible (incorrect: hajoo/vat ham/pahil/leni).

A short syllable with a main stress (containing a short vowel, before which a consonant can occur) can occur in a rising part only in the first foot (sanat / suussa/ni su/lavat), but not in the other three rising positions (incorrect: laula/mahan / laji/virttä).

A short syllable with a main stress can occur only in the falling parts (not in the rising part) of the second, third and fifth foot:
sanat / suussa/ni su/lavat
aivo/ni a/jatte/levi

A syllable without a main stress (neutral syllable) can occur anywhere in a line. An interesting feature is the freer syllabic system of the first foot, in which three, or even four syllables can occur:
surma jo / suutan/sa a/vavi
vaski oli / hattu / harti/oilla

A word consisting of a single syllable can occur anywhere in a verse, except at the end.
This rule naturally implies that a single-syllable word can neither be used as the second-last syllable of a verse. One-syllable words are relatively easy to use, since they need not adhere strictly to the main rule of syllable lengths. Nevertheless, it is recommandable to put longer one-syllable words in a rising position:

Niin on / kuin sa/noi e/monsa
Vaan jos / sitte / siit' ei / huoli
Mink' on / niitti / sen ha/ravoi
Mela/tar on / mieli/vaimo
Himme/ne nyt / Hiien / hurtta.

A four-syllable word (excluding compound words) may not occur in the middle of a trochaic verse, i.e., the second and third foot may not consist of a single four-syllable word,

tätä nuorempata miestä
laiha lappalainen poika
pidä itsestäsi huolta

tätä / miestä / nuorem/pata
lappa/lainen / laiha / poika
laiha / poika / lappa/lainen
pidä / huolta / itses/täsi

The last syllable of a verse must not contain a long vowel.

tuho / tulkoon / tieto/verkkoon
piru / PC:n/sä pe/riköön
saapui / kerran / korven / kolkkaan
suhdet/tansa / Suomen / luontoon
taisi / muuttaa / Lappeen/rantaan.

The 'flinger' law
Despite its name, the flinger law is only a recommendation: the heaviest elements, i.e., the longest words, tend to get flung to the end of the verse: 'maille ristimättömille' rather than 'ristimättömille maille'.

If one obeys the flinger law strictly, the following verses were not possible:

odotellessani teitä
amerikkalaisten haave.

There are two main types of Kalevala line: a normal trochaic tetrameter, in which the word-stress and foot-stress fall on the same syllable (vaka / vanha / Väinä/möinen) and a broken trochaic tetrameter, in which at least one syllable with the main stress occurs in the falling part of the foot (laski / laulel/len ve/siä, sano / jo to/et to/tiset, ja kai/ken e/lon vä/hyyttä). As stated above that broken syllable has to be short (except in the first foot). In the broken syllables there is a tension between verse rhythm and speech rhythm. This is characteristic of the Kalevala metre differing totally from the Germanic languages. The number of broken lines is about 50 %.

Kalevala poetry is characterized by alliteration:

Siitä/pä nyt / tie me/nevi,
ura / uusi / urke/nevi
laajem/mille / laula/joille,
runsa/hammil/le ru/noille
nuori/sossa / nouse/vassa,
kansas/sa ka/sua/vassa.
[Source: Aulis Rintala, (]

Here´s the beginning of the “The Kalevala, by Elias Lönnrot”, translated by John Martin Crawford [1888]:

IN primeval times, a maiden,
Beauteous Daughter of the Ether,
Passed for ages her existence
In the great expanse of heaven,
O'er the prairies yet enfolded.
Wearisome the maiden growing,
Her existence sad and hopeless,
Thus alone to live for ages
In the infinite expanses
Of the air above the sea-foam,
In the far outstretching spaces,
In a solitude of ether,
She descended to the ocean,
Waves her coach, and waves her pillow.
Thereupon the rising storm-wind
Flying from the East in fierceness,
Whips the ocean into surges,
Strikes the stars with sprays of ocean
Till the waves are white with fervor.
To and fro they toss the maiden,
Storm-encircled, hapless maiden;
With her sport the rolling billows,
With her play the storm-wind forces,
On the blue back of the waters;
On the white-wreathed waves of ocean,
Play the forces of the salt-sea,
With the lone and helpless maiden;
Till at last in full conception,
Union now of force and beauty,
Sink the storm-winds into slumber;
Overburdened now the maiden
Cannot rise above the surface;
Seven hundred years she wandered,
Ages nine of man's existence,
Swam the ocean hither, thither,
Could not rise above the waters,
Conscious only of her travail;
Seven hundred years she labored
Ere her first-born was delivered.
Thus she swam as water-mother,
Toward the east, and also southward,
Toward the west, and also northward;
Swam the sea in all directions,
Frightened at the strife of storm-winds,
Swam in travail, swam unceasing,
Ere her first-born was delivered.