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The Kalevala: Or Poems of the Kaleva District [Paperback]

Elias Lönnrot , Francis Peabody Magoun
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

1 July 1985
The national folk epic of Finland is here presented in an English translation that is both scholarly and eminently readable. To avoid the imprecision and metrical monotony of earlier verse translations, Magoun has used prose, printed line for line as in the original so that repetitions, parallelisms, and variations are readily apparent. The lyrical passages and poetic images, the wry humor, the tall-tale extravagance, and the homely realism of the Kalevala come through with extraordinary effectiveness.

Product details

  • Paperback: 437 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (1 July 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674500105
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674500105
  • Product Dimensions: 3 x 15 x 23.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 918,282 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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This authoritative new translation of the Kalevala, together with the materials the volume contains relating the poetic style of the Finnish songs to the style of other orally composed poetry, is especially significant to students of European folklore...Both Professor Magoun and the Harvard University Press have placed many generations of folklorists in their debt. -- Robert Kellogg Journal of American Folklore Into the shifting of tone from lyrically tragic poems to those about warfare, from wedding lays to sheer horseplay, Magoun has infused the unmistakable speech rhythm and diction of our own language...The Kalevala is a monumental work. -- John Godfrey Christian Science Monitor The original sense [of the Kalevala] breaks through in a refreshing new way...The philologist and folklorist will welcome the new precision of thought and expression. For English students of Kalevala...this is an indispensable book...Dr. Magoun's re-appraisal of this museum piece from Finland brushes off some of the dust and helps us to see anew something of its originality and distinction. -- W. R. Mead Folklore What distinguishes this work from other Kalevala translations is the fact that Professor Magoun presents a prose translation of the national folk epic of Finland, a translation which is accurate and scholarly in every detail...The translator makes his translation agree line for line with the original; the result is that this translation makes readily apparent the parallelisms, the poetic images, and the wry humor as well as the homely realism of the Finnish original. The Scandinavian-American Bulletin Thanks to a...clear, accurate version by Francis Magoun, Kalevala is accessible to interested readers everywhere...The kaleidoscopic Kalevala opens with the creation of the world and the birth of the ancient hero, Vainamoinen, a being of supernatural origins. The work then turns to the relations between two communities: Kalevala ("Land of the Kaleva"--the poetic name for Finland), led by Vainamoinen, and Pohjola ("Land of the North"), ruled by Louhi, and old woman who can change into an avenging dragon...This...version, expertly...translated by Francis Magoun and recently issued by Harvard University Press, is probably the best translation readily available in English today. -- Donald V. Mehus and Thomas J. Martin Western Viking 20010413

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6 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars About The Kalevala 14 Oct 2001
This is a great book if u want to really know the story about old finnish history
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
127 of 129 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ian Myles Slater on: Two Reliable Versions 17 Oct 2004
By Ian M. Slater - Published on Amazon.com
If you have found this review appearing with the Magoun translation of "The Kalevala" -- that is a welcome paperback incarnation of a solid, reliable, standard translation, originally published four decades ago. I have reviewed the hardcover edition of this translation (see the variant title, "The Kalevala: Poems of the Kaleva District"), and also Magoun's similar rendering of the epic's first version, "The Old Kalevala," and will summarize my description of the Finnish "national epic," and its origin, here.

However, you may be seeing this review with the Keith Bosley verse translation of the (New) "Kalevala," another reputable version. Having found that the two translations seem inseparably linked in terms of reviews, I have revised and expanded an older posting to take fuller account of both; if this review seems familiar to you, that is probably why.

"Kalevala," variously translated as "Kaleva District" or "Land of Heroes," is a nineteenth-century compilation, revision, and expansion of narratives, spells and charms, and proverbial wisdom collected from the Finnish-speaking peasants and fisherman of areas of modern Finland and Russia. It is made up largely, but not entirely, of "runos," narrative songs which even then survived only in isolated, "fringe" areas; ballads with clear connections with other cultures also make an appearance. References to "The Kalevala" are usually to its second edition (1849), also distinguished as the "New Kalevala" in comparison to its shorter predecessor, the "Old Kalevala" (1835).

The material is, for the most part, clearly pagan in origin, with hints of roots in the Viking Age, if not earlier, but processed through centuries of Christianity, Catholic and Lutheran in Finland proper, Russian Orthodox in the Karelia district. Fortunately, Elias Lonnrot, the main collector, and the man responsible for this literary version, was also engaged in laying the foundations of the scientific study of folk traditions, and the collections he made or sponsored formed the basis of a major archive, the publication of which was only recently completed. In the meantime, his popularization had become a part of the world's culture, as well as that of Finland.

(As one example of its impact: the American poet Longfellow adapted a German translator's adaptation of the Finnish meter for his pseudo-Iroquois epic, "Hiawatha," with the paradoxical result that the original is sometimes described, in English, as being in Hiawatha-meter.)

The contents are various, but the main themes are the military and romantic adventures and misadventures of a handful of warrior-magicians, quite as quick with an incantation as with a sword. Vainamoinen, "the Eternal Sage," and a kind of demiurge who sings the Finnish homeland into being, is born an old man. His attempts -- always frustrated -- to find a young wife lead to the creation of the mysterious and wonderful "Sampo" by his friend, the smith Ilmarinen, as a kind of bride-price. However, Ilmarinen himself uses it in his own wooing -- and finds the bargain a bad one.

These two great heroes share the stage with the irresponsible Lemminkainen, a kind of combined Don Juan and Achilles, and the hapless Kullervo. Kullervo's story -- which you may know as a cantata by Sibelius -- is one of the underpinnings of Tolkien's tale of Turin in "The Silmarillion" and "Unfinished Tales," where it is combined with elements from the "Volsunga Saga." (When the "Silmarillion" first appeared, it seemed obvious that the Quest for the Sampo, and the Sampo's ultimate fate, was a direct source as well as a major inspiration for Tolkien; publication of his early drafts show that most of these resemblances emerged over time, in the course of endless reworkings, but they remain enlightening. Other resemblances include the creation of the sun and moon, and attempts to harm them, and the importance of trees. There are also some similar -- not identical -- names, and Tolkien's study of Finnish contributed to the development of a branch of Elvish.)

There have been a number of abridged or retold versions of "The Kalevala" in English, and two early complete versions in verse, that by Crawford (nineteenth-century, from a German translation; available on-line), and the 1907 W.F. Kirby translation, directly from Finnish (in -- if you will excuse the expression -- a version of Hiawatha-meter), which was Tolkien's introduction to the work. Magoun's translation (1963) filled a need for a more literal treatment, with more supporting information.

Since Magoun's prose translations, there have been two translations of the "New Kalevala" into English verse, by Eino Friberg (1988) and, as previously mentioned, Keith Bosley (1989), which many will find more appealing. But for those who want both the story and all of the details, but either don't care about, or don't care for, such things as meter and rhyme, Magoun's translation remains a first choice. For those who know the epic through other translations, it is still worth consulting.

It should be said that Magoun, despite translating as prose, marks the verse divisions. He follows some Finnish editions in presenting the verse form as a long line with a pause (caesura), instead of as twice as many short lines. His page count therefore is much shorter, even with abundant supplemental material, but he has omitted nothing.

Magoun's translation and critical apparatus, like his similarly-equipped English version of the "Old Kalevala" (which includes several earlier stages of composition as well), is extremely useful to the student, and answers many of the questions a reader is likely to have. There is no extended introduction; information is postponed to extensive appendices. It is well organized enough to be easy to use to find answers as questions arise, or be profitably consulted years later.

(A friend recently pointed out to me that, with their maps, appendices, and indexes and glossary, the Harvard University Press volumes even have a remarkable *physical* similarity to editions of Tolkien's works....)

Bosley, on the other hand, made an effort to produce a work of literature. This goes beyond translating verse as verse (which he does very well). Lonnrot's prose summaries of each *runo* (for this purpose, canto) are not translated; Magoun used them as "arguments" (in the manner of Milton's prose summaries for each book of "Paradise Lost"). For Bosley, nothing interrupts the flow of narrative and lyric, ritual and spell. The result is extremely engaging, far beyond Magoun's prosy rendition; a distinct plus.

There are, however, no glossaries or indexes to otherwise serve as a guide through the complex set of stories. Bosley offers just ten pages of brief (albeit extremely useful) notes. These are followed by a two-page appendix on "Sibelius and the Kalevala," which untangles the references -- and some non-references -- to the "Kalevala" in the titles of several of the Finnish composer's works. (A certain amount of garbling took place as his music publisher translated titles into German, and the German was turned into English without checking against the original meaning.)

Bosley's Introduction is excellent, and establishes the literary and cultural background of Lonnrot's work and the nature of the folk-poetry he collected, and makes useful observations about the structure of the completed epic. It is far better reading than Magoun's documentation. Of course, taking advantage of this synthesis means careful reading, ideally in advance of the story. The reader should take the time, but *should* is not *will.* Here, Magoun's formidable-looking book is actually more user-friendly.

The Magoun translation was available for decades as a hardcover (with endpaper maps), before being issued as an otherwise identical trade paperback. Either form should stand up to reasonable handling. (My copy of the 1975 hardcover third printing has suffered more from my marginal notes as a student than from later use or time; largely cross-references to the "Corrigenda," the list of corrections and revisions which he had included as a supplement in his "Old Kalevala" translation in 1969, and then added as Appendix E to reprintings of "Kalevala" proper. They have yet to be incorporated into the text.)

Bosley's translation apparently has been published in paperback only, in two different formats; first as a "World's Classics" mass-market paperback (1989), and then as a larger (but otherwise identical) "Oxford World's Classics" paperback in 1999. It is a very fat volume, over 700 pages long, due to Bosley's decision to treat the verse as short lines. Because of the different proportions of height and width to the binding, the slightly larger format of the OWC edition seems to me physically more stable, likely to stand up better to repeated readings and consultations; but I haven't heard of any problems with copies of the older World's Classics printings.

Lonnrot also published (1840-41) a collection of non-epic folk genres, including much material eventually absorbed into "Kalevala," as "Kanteletar" (roughly, "zither-daughter"). This has been under-represented in translation. Bosley translated a selection as "The Kanteletar," published in "World's Classics" in 1992, and currently out of print. It is an excellent companion to any "Kalevala" translation, but especially (of course) to Bosley's own. With luck, it will be reprinted sometime soon in the "Oxford World's Classics".
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great translation of the Finnish national epic poem 10 Nov 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
1999 will mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of Elias' Lonnrot's compilation - and Finland will be celebrating this event all year long. The Kalevala is a collection of folk-songs gathered from the traveling singers in eastern Finland, the region now known as Karelia.
The runos, or runes, cover the entire spectrum of early Finnish life - from the creation legends to proper courtship behavior to the daily grind of clearing an area for a farm. Of special interest are the charms, or more properly, the daily offerings made to the local spirits to keep harm away and protect loved ones, or influence an outcome.
As beautiful and powerful as these poems are in Finnish, the translator has done a wonderful job of conveying the meanings into English - a task that is not always easy with a foreign language. The translator has also included several appendices to help modern readers understand the life and times of the heros and heroines.
This book is a must-read must-own for all people of Finnish ancestry, especially those interested in understanding the uniqueness of being Finnish.
26 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars quite interesting 24 Aug 2003
By D. Dubei - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'm a big Lord of the Rings fan and I had learned that Tolkien was influenced greatly in his writing by the Kalevala legends, so I got this to learn more of that region's mythology. It's quite fascinating. I love the chants, especially the one to shut dogs up. :)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Kalevala: Or Poems of the Kaleva District 28 July 2013
By Gary Thompson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The translator, Francis P. Magoun received an award from the Republic of Finland for his work on this edition. Magoun was a great scholar and that shows in this edition of the Kalevala and his edition of the Old Kalevala.
1 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars NOT IMPRESSED 5 Jun 2013
By kevin schrammen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase

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