By: James Parker
June 18, 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 17, lines 1–98]

The cows come dithering down the lane,
moist, distractible ladies.
A turnip-puller in her plot
unplugs the mouth of Hades.

Merry merry now,
the bud is on the bough,
the rat’s nose titillates the snoozing sow.

Tend the flock, tickety-tock.
It’s that creaky country clockwork.
It’s slow prods with a two-pronged fork.
Ignore, unhear the birdies,
the dizzy birdies and their song so blithe,
and in your garden swing a sullen scythe.

Merry merry now,
the bud is on the bough,
the rat’s nose titillates the snoozing sow.

Lean on the fencepost for two beats,
while the she-dog with the plug-like teats
doddles by. She has over-whelped.
It can’t be helped.
The he-dog roars in the yard. His demesne
is the length of his chain.

Merry merry now,
the bud is on the bough,
the rat’s nose titillates the snoozing sow.

Old Vainamoinen, cosmogonic bard,
is munching damply on his own white
He’s pulling on his earlobes loose and long,
because his inspiration has gone wrong.
A luckless start, a morning of no verses,
of snatching at fugitive runes and vanishing
of snatching at the winking tails of rhymes.
Already he’s cleaned out his toolshed,
      sawed down a tree,
and thrashed Smüt the dog three times.

A passing shepherd eyes the poet
“Writer’s block?” he suggests.
“Cobblers,” says Vainamoinen. “No such

But inside his head is a voice that will not

You stooping, ball-drooping,
waxy-legged thing of failure, you.
You’re a mediocrity through and through.
The rocks, the trees, the lumps of matter,
have grown immune to your prizewinning
And what are you worth,
old man, if you can’t rouse the earth?
And what Muse, upon this dwindling
this you, Vainamoinen, would ever
      squander a poem?

He moans, and munches on his damp

“Listen,” says the shepherd.
“I’m no writer. Poetry? Not me.
But up in that wood,
right in the middle,
there’s sort of a hill.
Sort of a mound.
Sort of a hummock.
You might get some ideas there, I don’t

“What are you talking about, you enigmatic
      rustic?” says Vainamoinen.

“That hill,” continues the shepherd.
“That hill, some say, that mound,
      hummock, whatever,
is the dreaming body of Antero Vipunen.”

Vainamoinen’s ears prick up. Now he’s
“Antero Vipunen, the giant-poet?
The titanic shaman who got trapped in a
an earth-fugue he couldn’t get out of,
who sank into a reverie so gloopy-green
      and germinal
that it became terminal?”

“That’s him. Half-man, half-hummock.
There’s cow parsley growing out of his
His body would be full of poems, I reckon.”

“I am obliged to you, honest herdsman,”
calls Vainamoinen over his shoulder.
“The minute I get my mojo back,
I’ll write you an imperishable lyric!”

Over the wood the kestrel goes.
He loops, he makes his slow halos.
Below him Vipunen is stretched out in style,
and the mound’s contours are his
      dreaming profile.

Into the wood Vainamoinen creeps.
The giant sleeps, the giant sleeps.
His deep poetical secrets he keeps.
Not quite living, far from dead,
with hairy plants at his feet and head,
His slumberous bass vibrates the place
and when he snores — look there! —
he drugs the air with drifting spores.

Gingerly, avidly, Vainamoinen nears.
Wide awake he sees and hears:
the bee in the lavender, blind with love,
the maidenly woof of the wood-dove,
dockleaf and thistledown, bramble and
and the nettles, the nettles —
those venomous dirty-trousered old men,
huddling and nodding as if at a nasty joke.

“Wake up, old giant,” he says.
“Wake up, enormous dreamer.
I want your poems.”


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