The Kalevala (5)

By: James Parker
May 20, 2016

The Kalevala is a sequence of folkloric songs, runes and charms from the Karelia region of Finland, collected in the field and concatenated into epic form by Dr. Elias Lonnrot (1803-1884). The versions presented here are not translations or transliterations — they are respectful bastardizations, working from the 1963 English version of the Kalevala produced by the versatile and witty Francis Peabody Magoun Jr.



[being a bastardization of The Kalevala, Rune 5, lines 150–241]

In a chilly fog-pocket of Kaleva Bay,
at an uncertain time of day,
there wallows, sad to say,
our old friend Vainamoinen —
womanless, dogless,
boat a-tilt, white whiskers a-wilt,
and empurpled his chin
with drops of sloe gin.

“My dog Smüt,” he sings absently,
“that dog was a hüt.
He chased the bitches with his magic flüt…”

He pauses.
“Ah, dog-breath, fog-breath,
Why did you leave me, Smüt?
Why leave the old runesmith, your
      noble master,
and swim away with an escort of slimy

He sucks at his bottle. It’s empty.
“Gah. Blug. I know why you left me.”

He slings the bottle, underarm, high into
      the fog,
watches it disappear,
waits for the answering splash.
Which doesn’t come.
He continues to wait.
Nothing. No splash.
Just the silent crawling and curling of the
      fog on the water.

“Oh well that’s bloody perfect, that is,”
says the mighty sage at last.
“I mean that’s just great.
Now I know where I am.
I’m at the edge of the world!
Mere yards in that direction
the sea is shovelling itself over the rim
and into the everlasting abyss.

Should I let myself go, drift over the edge?
I know what happens if you do that.
The patient vacuum nibbles at your digits
then it sucks out your eyeballs.
You feel your personality crumpling
to the size of a dumpling
while at the centre of your brain
distance unwinds like a steel coil.
Memory departs in glittering flecks
as you find that what held it all together
was only some sentimentality, some
      silly notion.
Yes, I know what happens over there.
I’ll be disassembled. And why not?”

He falls backward into his wobbling coracle
and booms like an oracle.

“Ladies, come and get some,
before I’m turned into cosmic jetsam!
…Ah, but they come not.
No ladies for old Vainamoinen.
He grasps them too hard.
He wants them too much.
Too needy, too greedy,
with eyes beady and motives seedy.
He was all tangled up in his lechery trip,
and the magic fish popped from his grip.
Love gave him the slip, I’m afraid.
So it’s over the edge he goes.
Boat — shatter! Molecules — scatter!
There’s nothing the matter with

And gently he drifts towards annihilation.

But then — a love-wave, a throb of
      maternal care
from the heart of the ocean, repulses
      his boat,
pushing it back from the edge.
The sea, his mama, answers his lament.

“My white-whiskered boy, my doddering
the wrinkled apple of my blue blue eye,
do you think I would let you go out
      like this?
I, who birthed you on the billow
with tides for blankets and the swell for
      a pillow?
No, no, no. Be consoled.
This Aino was not for you. A mother knows.
Get yourself over to North Farm
where the girls are jolly and bucket-strong
and will not throw themselves off a rock
over every little thing.
Arise, Vainamoinen.
Summon your blue elk.”

And so he does, the deep druid,
refreshed by his mother’s care.
He puts two fingers in his mouth and
      supernaturally whistles.

And deep in the slumberous forest,
under swaying spires of pines,
bathed in honey-gold radiation,
the blue elk stirs. It rises.
It skims towards him across the water,
hooves above the waves,
antlers whining in the wind,
its packed muscles heavily shifting.

When the blue elk feeds,
it is the world consumed by fire.
When the blue elk pisses,
it is the confluence of rivers at
      high pressure.
When the blue elk finds a mate,
it is the thunder of generation.
When the blue elk snores,
it is the power-drone of love at the bottom
      of the universe.

The sun arrives, mops up the fog.
The sea glitters with heathen promise.
Vainamoinen mounts the blue elk
and grips with ancient nutcracker thighs.
He makes directional adjustments to
      the antlers.

“North Farm,” he says loudly. “Go!”


Series banner contributed by Rick Pinchera.

ALL INSTALLMENTS: INTRODUCTION: Laughter in the Womb of Time, or Why I Love the Kalevala | RUNE 1: “The Birth of Vainamoinen” | RUNE 2 (departure): “Vainamoinen in November” | RUNE 3 (1–278): “Wizard Battle” | RUNE 4 (1–56): “A Failed Seduction” | RUNE 4 (300–416): “Aino Ends It All” | RUNE 5 (45–139): “An Afternoon Upon the Water” | RUNE 5 (150–241): “The Blue Elk” | RUNE 5 (departure): “Smüt the Dog Praises His Seal Queen” | RUNE 6 (1–114): “Therapy Session” | RUNE 6 (115–130): “Joukahainen’s Mother Counsels Him Against Shooting the Wizard Vainamoinen” | RUNE 11 (1–138): “Introducing Kyllikki” | RUNE 17 (1–98): “The Dreaming Giant” | RUNE 23 (485–580): “The Bride’s Lament” | RUNE 30 (1–276): “Icebound” | RUNE 30 (120–188): “The Voyage of the Sea-Hare” (Part One) | RUNE 30 (185–188): “Losing It” | RUNE 30 (departure): “Across the Ice” | RUNE 30 (departure): “Song of the Guilty Viking” | RUNE 30 (departure): “The Witch’s Dance” | RUNE 31 (215–225): “The Babysitter” | RUNE 31 (223–300): “The Screaming Axe” | RUNE 33 (1–136): “The Cowherd” | RUNE 33 (73): “Song of the Blade: Kullervo” | RUNE 33 (reworked): “The Breaking of the Blade” | RUNE 33 (118–284): “The Cows Come Home” | RUNE 34 (1–82): “The Pipes of Kullervo” | RUNE 45 (259–312, departure): “The Wizard’s Secret”.

MORE PARKER at HILOBROW: COCKY THE FOX: a brilliant swearing-animal epic, serialized here at HILOBROW from 2010–2011, inc. a newsletter by Patrick Cates | THE KALEVALA — a Finnish epic, bastardized | THE BOURNE VARIATIONS: A series of poems about the Jason Bourne movies | ANGUSONICS: James and Tommy Valicenti parse Angus Young’s solos | MOULDIANA: James and Tommy Valicenti parse Bob Mould’s solos | BOLANOMICS: James traces Marc Bolan’s musical and philosophical development | WINDS OF MAGIC: A curated series reprinting James’s early- and mid-2000s writing for the Boston Globe and Boston Phoenix | CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM: J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT | EVEN MORE PARKER, including doggerel; HiLo Hero items on Sid Vicious, Dez Cadena, Mervyn Peake, others; and more.