By: James Parker
January 15, 2019

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 reworking of a bastardization of The Kalevala, Rune 33]

Woe, woe, Kullervo!
Back into your story we must go.

“Must we?”

We must.
To hear again how the malice of the
      blacksmith’s wife
destroyed your precious knife.
Get us in the mood, would you?
Sing us a song.

“I’ll sing my knife song.”

Perfect. Whenever you’re ready.

“The smith who made my little blade
fashioned and forged it so
by beating to silver stillness
his keenest woe.

Pessimism’s sharpest point,
the razor’s edge of rue —
however thick the hide, my blade
goes through.

My blade is aphoristic.
You will admire its wit.
It utters its one-liner
and you’re slit.

The bigger man, the stronger man,
with mighty muscles weft,
will find himself unsutured.
My blade is deft.

Where squeamishness equivocates,
there goes my little blade
into squinching organic darkness,

Existence hangs in gluey webs.
One thing sticks to another.
I cut the thread, make loose the mesh,
with my little blade, my brother.”


So there’s Kullervo, the herdsman,
in the middle of the hot afternoon.
Kullervo, the clammy malcontent,
bitten by midges,
perforated by yellow gorse,
taking a break with his milkers.
The animals stand around. The flies fizz.
The pats drop with terrible indifference.

“Bugger you cows,” says Kullervo,
groping in his sack for the small thick loaf
baked for him by the blacksmith’s wife.
He hefts it in his hand.
He enjoys its yeasty heaviness,
its lively lumpiness,
and draws his knife.

But when the knife goes in
something terrible happens.
With a twang, with a pang,
a black spark of dismay fissures out
from the fractured heart of the world,
a shock of bone-ache that runs up
      Kullervo’s arm
and shivers his brain.

Kullervo cries out.

Into the bread the blacksmith’s wife
has baked a stone. And it’s broken his

The raven alights. The branch bends
like a downtuned guitar string.
“Woe, woe, Kullervo!” croaks the bird.

“Who are you?” says white-faced Kullervo.

“I’ll tell you who I am,” says the raven.
My feet are from the Ice Age.
The future made my beak.
And the wolves and the bears all cover
      their ears
when I open my mouth to speak.

I grip the earth with dinosaur toes,
my power folded behind me,
or spread my wings and abandon all things
for a place no fucker will find me.

I float like a scab on the sunset.
I bounce at the side of the road.
And here I flew, because I knew
you were having an episode.”

“My knife!” cries Kullervo.

“It’s not the end of the world, Kullervo,”
      says the raven.
“And believe me, I know what I’m talking

Kullervo cries again: “My knife!”

“Woe, woe, Kullervo!” the raven says.
“For weeping you were made.
But stick with me, and together we
will avenge your broken blade.”


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