An Epic Poem after Oral Tradition by Elias Lönnrot

THE KALEVALA is an epic poem published in its final form in 1849, though much of its material goes back to the first millennium of our era. It is based on Finnish oral poetry, some of the richest and best-documented in the world. It begins with an account of the Creation from broken eggshells, and ends with a strange interpretation of the Virgin Birth; in between, a northern people's negotiation with its environment and the conduct of its affairs is set forth in a text that is by turns epic, lyrical, ritual, and magical. The poem's overall structure is the work of Elias Lönnrot, the most famous of the Finnish scholars who saw in their oral tradition an expression of national identity.

ELIAS LÖNNROT (1802-84) was both a scholar and a district health officer covering a wide area of north-eastern Finland. In 1835 he published the first edition of the Kalevala, and in 1840-1 the Kanteletar, a companion volume of lyrics still almost unknown to the English-speaking world; in 1849 he published the second and final edition of the epic, nearly twice the length of its predecessor. In Finland, a province of Sweden from 1155 till 1809, when it became a Grand Duchy of Russia, he was hailed as a national figure, and the Kalevala as the national epic.

KEITH BOSLEY has published several collections of poems, most recently A Chiltern Hundred (1987), and a good deal of translation, including From the Theorems of Master Jean de La Ceppède (1983), Camões: Selected Poems (1989) and Finnish Folk Poetry: Epic (I977), for which he received the Finnish State Prize for Translators.

ALBERT B. LORD worked with Milman Parry in the I930s, revolutionizing Homeric scholarship in the light of their study of oral epic among the South Slavs. He is now Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Slavic and Comparative Literature, Emeritus, in Harvard University.

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Rauno Lauhakangas