By: James Parker
August 19, 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 6, lines 1–114]

The wide sea spreads,
tilting its surfaces,
sifting the infinite afternoon
for ingot blobs of light,
and Vainamoinen rides the blue elk,
escorted by an atomic stream of minnows,
iodine in his eyebrows,
wind in his white beard,
gripping the antler-base with senile
and on, on, riding at the horizon.

His mother, the sea, has promised him
willing farmgirls at the ocean’s end.

“With you, sweet elk, I will be candid,”
      he shouts.
“Skimming the level swell with printless
antlers aloft, alone, alert, aloof,
with you I feel I can be open-handed.
Across the open spume we zoom
and heaven is my megaphone.
So listen:
The fats of my youth are all consumed.
Now it’s just me and my roasted bones.
What was the fire?
Desire, desire.
Torque of the oak and tooth of the briar.
The gull insults a patch of sky
and the twang in my loins is the gull’s cry.
The wood-dove roars, he flusters the tree.
These are sexual sounds to me.
But I had no hope, no hope, no hope!
Disclosed to me by the heart’s wonky
were vistas of unfulfilment,
downward-shelving, tier upon tier
of lack-from-here-to-Brazilment.”

(HMMMMM, says the patient elk.)

“Do you know what that’s like?
You don’t know what that’s like.
Sadder than sad with my old-man spigot.
Can you dig it?
But now from the bolt-holes of my
I summon myself, I step forth.
To bury it all in a white, white bosom…
My needle withers toward that North.”

(HMMMMM, says the patient elk)

Vainamoinen spreads his arms,
gripping the elk with nutcracker thighs.
Look, no hands! A marvellous sight.
Who could fail to appreciate it?

Alas, I can think of someone.

Joukahainen the murky-minded,
humiliated in wizard-battle
and bereaved of his sister,
has sworn vengeance on Vainamoinen.
He’s been waiting for his moment,
for his shot,
lurking here, lurking there,
a monomaniac, a foreign object.
The universe coughs him up in odd places.
Out in the bay one day,
the fisherman heaves a netful into his boat,
lets it slump open,
and there’s Joukahainen among the
      fishes —
baby-bright, chilled to the marrow,
smiling secretly in his dream of revenge.
The farmer under the blankets
reaches dully for his wife
but who’s this between them,
denting the mattress, tousled and mute,
revealed in a noisy blue-white glare of
      midnight sheets?
Joukahainen again!
The girl leaving the milking shed,
forearms a-strain with two full buckets,
screams suddenly as she remembers
the flukey little chip of a face
that was smirking at her unnoticed from
      a corner.
It jolts her, she slops her milk.
(Joukahainen of course.)

And now, from behind a rock,
he squints at the faraway centaur shape
on the glittering wave
and caresses his little crossbow.

“Yonder rides that wanking wizard.
We’ll get him, we’ll get him.
We’ll knock him off his fancy elk
and in the drink we’ll set him.”


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.