By: James Parker
March 8, 2018

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 1]


I, Vainamoinen, fifty years a foetus,
spied on the heavens through the warm
The womb would not release me, I was
      being held back.
So I rolled out for myself night’s mad old
I saw Ursa Major, wintering there,
deep in the systems of his sleep,
and I cried aloud to the Great Bear.
The stars back then, they burned so close
you could hear the fat squeak.
Help me out, Great Bear, I cried.
I’m stuck in my mother. Get me outside!
Galaxies reeled, but his ear was sealed.
He did nothing for me.

I could not get born, you see.
Banged up in utero I aged unnaturally.
I was over-incubated. I was highly irritated.
Held by the sweating womb-walls
I grew querulous and whiskery.
Outside, meanwhile, the planet was
Peering out of the warm womb-crack
I witnessed the world’s beginnings,
the loose curds of pre-creation in their
      aimless swimmings.
And the sounds: bubbling baby words,
sweet gibberish abounding, I heard it all
through the hot womb-wall.

Nothingness formed a rind.
Bass tones bulged, there was a cello-grind.
Something nipped at something else,
      formed lips, slurped
on that junior something. A surface
      congealed and burped.
All rather haphazard, it seemed to me.
From a passing cloud a random spoke of
lanced a couple of slumbering proteins,
      and away we went.
Life! But still in the womb I was shuttered,
      still I was pent.

A doubtful delivery, a parturition uncertain,
at last I clambered out from behind the
      maternal curtain.
Ta-daa! I croaked. My knees were hurting.
No obstetrician’s ass-slap, no Big Bang
greeted Vainamoinen. My hungover wizard
emerged onstage alone, untrumpeted,
with dripping sleeve and trouser-flap.


Then I lived on a hill with a herd of heifers
and I wrote poems like Robinson Jeffers.
Then I went for a walk and I got lost
and I wrote poems like Robert Frost.

It was growing, it was growing.
The water was sudsy, the branches were
White whorls of brain-stuff, thought in
      leaping arcs,
empty bottles rolling in sad parks.
I spread my thin arms, I contended with the
      winds of the cosmos,
my ancient wiring buzzed and more hair
      fell out of my head.

I am Vainamoinen, I shouted, singer of
occasional bleeder, great field-seeder,
aged to a salty essence
but still capable of tumescence.
My behaviour out here will be disgraceful
and of humiliation I will get a faceful.


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.


Poetry, Read-outs