The Many-Colored Cover
There is a mill which grinds by
itself, swings of itself, and scat-
ters the dust a hundred versts
away. And there is a golden pole
with a golden cage on top which
is also the Nail of the North.
And there is a very wise tomcat
which climbs up and down this
pole. When he climbs down, he
sings songs; and when he climbs
up, he tells tales.
Tale of the Ostyaks of the lrtysh
THE KALEVALA is vaguely known by the general public as the national epic of Finland. It is a tale of wild fancy, enticing absurdity and wonderfully primitive traits, actually magical and cosmological throughout. It is all the more important in that the Ugro-Finnic, tradition has different roots from Indo-European ones. Until the 19th century the epic existed only in fragments entrusted to oral transmission among peasants. From 1820 to 1849, Dr. Elias Lonnrot undertook to collect them in writing, wandering from place to place in the most remote districts, living with the peasantry, and putting together what he heard into some kind of tentative sequence. Some of the most valuable songs were discovered in the regions of Archangel and Olonetz in the Far North, which now belong again to Russia. The 1849 final edition of Lonnrot comprises 22,793 verses in fifty runes or songs. A large amount of new material has been discovered since. The poem has taken its name from Kaleva, a mysterious ancestral personage who appears nowhere in the tale. The heroes are his
three sons: Vainamoinen, [n1 The name is Vainamoinen, due to vowel harmonization, but we had pity on the typesetter.] "old and truthful," the master of magic song; Ilmarinen, the primeval smith, the inventor of iron, who can forge more things than are found on land or sea; and the "beloved," or "lively," Lemminkainen, a sort of Arctic Don Juan. "Kullervo, the Hamlet-like one whose story was told earlier, fair-haired Kullervo "with the bluest of blue stockings," is another "son of Kaleva," but his adventures seem to unfold separate1y,they tie up only at one point with Ilmarinen, and seem to belong to a different frame of time, to another world-age.
It is time now to deal with the main line of events. The epic opens with a very poetical theory of the origin of the World. The virgin daughter of the air, Ilmatar, descends to the surface of the waters, where she remains floating for seven hundred years until Ukko, the Finnish Zeus, sends his bird to her. The bird makes its nest on the knees of Ilmatar and lays in it seven eggs, out of which the visible world comes. But this world remains empty and sterile until Vainamoinen is born of the virgin and the waters. Old since birth, he plays the role, as it were, of "midwife" to nature by causing her to create animals and trees by his magic song. An inferior magician from Lapland, Youkahainen, challenges him in song and is sung step by step into the ground, until he rescues himself by promising Vainamoinen his sister; the lovely Aino. But the girl will not have Vainamoinen, he looks too old. She wanders off in despair and finally comes to a lake. She swims to a rock, seeking death; "when she stood upon the summit, on the stone of many colors, in the waves it sank beneath her." Vainamoinen tries to fish for her, she swims into his net as a salmon, mocks him for not recognizing her, and then escapes forever. Vainamoinen decides to look for another bride, and embarks upon his quest. His goal is the country of Pohjola, the "Nonh country," a misty land "cruel to heroes," strong in magic, vaguely identified with Lapland. Events unfold as in a dream, with surrealistic irrelevance. The artlessness, the wayward charm and the bright nonsense suggest Jack and the Beanstalk, but behind them appear the fossil elements of a tale as old as the world--at least the world of man's consciousness--whose meaning and thread were lost long ago. The pristine archaic themes remain standing like monumental ruins.
The main sequence is built around the forging and the conquest of a great mill, called the Sampo (rune 10 deals with the forging, runes 39-42 with the stealing of the Sampo).
Comparetti's studies have shown that the Sampo adventure is a distinct unit (like Odysseus' voyage to the underworld), "a mythic formation which has remained without any action that Can be narrated" and which was then fitted more or less coherently into the rest of the tradition. [n2 D. Comparetti, The Traditional Poetry of the Finns (1898).]. Folk legend has lost its meaning, and treats the Sampo as some vague magic dispenser of bounty, a kind of Cornucopia, but the original story is quite definite.
Vainamoinen, "sage and truthful," conjurer of highest standing, is cast upon the shore of Pohjola much as Odysseus lands on Skyra after his shipwreck. He is received hospitably by Louhi, the Mistress (also called the Whore) of Pohjola, who asks him to build for her the Sampo, without explanation. He tells her that only Ilmarinen, the primeval smith, can do it, so she sends Vainamoinen home on a ship to fetch him. Ilmarinen, who addresses his "brother" and boon companion rather flippantly as a liar and a vain chatterer, is not interested in the prospect, so Vainamoinen, ancient of days and wise among the wise, has recourse to an unworthy trick. He lures the smith with a story of a tall pine, which, he says, is growing
Near where Osmo's field is bordered.
On the crown the moon is shining,
In the boughs the Bear is resting.
Ilmarinen does not believe him; they both go there, to the edge of Osmo's field,
Then the smith his steps arrested,
In amazement at the pine-tree,
With the Great Bear in the branches,
And the moon upon its summit.
Ilmarinen promptly climbs up the tree to grasp the stars.
Then the aged Vainamoinen,
Lifted up his voice in singing:
"Awake, oh Wind, oh Whirlwind
Rage with great rage, oh heavens,
Within thy boat, Wind, place him
Within thy ship, oh east wind
With all thy swiftness sweep him
To Pohjola the gloomy."
[n3 The magic spell, published in the Variants and translated by Comparetti, was sung by Ontrei in 1855.]
Then the smith, e'en Ilmarinen
Journeyed fortb, and hurried onwards,
On the tempest forth he floated,
On the pathway of tbe breezes,
Over moon, and under sunray,
On the shoulders of the Great Bear
Till be reached the balls of Pohja,
Baths of Sariola tbe gloomy.
In this utterly unintended manner, Ilmarinen lands in Pohjola, and not even the dogs are barking, which astonishes Louhi most of all. She showed herself hospitable,
Gave the hero drink in plenty,
And she feasted him profusely,
then spoke to him thus:
"O thou smith, O Ilmarinen,
Thou the great primeval craftsman,
If you can but forge a Sampo,
With its many-coloured cover,
From the tips of swan's white wing-plumes,
From the milk of barren heifer,
From a little grain of barley
From the wool of sheep in summer,
[4 See the epigraph to the Introduction, p. 1.]
Will you then accept this maiden
As reward, my charming daughter?"
Ilmarinen. agrees to the proposal, and looks around three days for a proper spot on which to erect his smithy, "in the outer fields of Pohja." The next three days his servants keep working the bellows.
On the first day of their labour
He himself, smith Ilmarinen,
Stooped him down, intently gazing,
To the bottom of the furnace,
If perchance amid the fire
Something brilliant had developed.
From the flames there rose a crossbow,
Golden bow from out the furnace;
'Twas a gold bow tipped with silver,
And the shaft shone bright with copper.
And the bow was fair to gaze on,
But of evil disposition
And a head each day demanded,
And on feast-days two demanded,
He himself, smith Ilmarinen,
Was not much delighted with it,
So he broke the bow to pieces,
Cast it back into the furnace.
The next day, Ilmarinen looks in anew,
And a boat rose from the furnace,
From the heat rose up a red boat,
And the prow was golden-coloured,
And the rowlocks were of copper.
And the boat was fair to gaze on,
But of evil disposition;
It would go to needless combat,
And would fight when cause was lacking.
Ilmarinen casts the boat back into the fire, and on the following day he gazes anew at the bottom of the furnace,
And a heifer then rose upward,
With her horns all golden-shining,
With the Bear-stars on her forehead;
On her head appeared the Sun-disc.
And the cow was fair to gaze on,
But of evil disposition;
Always sleeping in the forest,
On the ground her milk she wasted.
Therefore did smith Ilmarinen
Take no slightest pleasure in her,
And he cut the cow to fragments,
Cast her back into the furnace.
The fourth day:
And a plough rose from the furnace,
With the ploughshare golden-shining,
Golden share, and frame of copper,
And the handles tipped with silver.
And the plough was fair to gaze on,
But of evil disposition,
Ploughing up the village cornfields,
Ploughing up the open meadows,
Therefore did smith Ilmarinen
Take no slightest pleasure in it.
And he broke the plough to pieces,
Cast it back into the furnace,
Called the winds to work the bellows
To the utmost of their power.
Then the winds arose in fury,
Blew the east wind, blew the west wind,
And the south wind yet more strongly,
And the north wind howled and blustered.
Thus they blew one day, a second,
And upon the third day likewise.
Fire was flashing from the windows,
From the doors the sparks were flying
And the dust arose to heaven,
With the clouds the smoke was mingled.
Then again smith Ilmarinen,
On the evening of the third day,
Stooped him down, and gazed intently
To the bottom of the furnace,
And he saw the Sampo forming,
With its many-coloured cover.
Thereupon smith Ilmarinen,
He the great primeval craftsman,
Welded it and hammered at it,
Heaped his rapid blows upon it,
Formed with cunning art the Sampo.
And on one side was a corn-mill,
On another side a salt-mill,
And upon the third a coin-mill.
Now was grinding the new Sampo,
And revolved the pictured cover,
Chestfuls did it grind till evening,
First for food it ground a chestful,
And another ground for barter,
And a third it ground for storage.
Now rejoiced the Crone of Pohja,
And conveyed the bulky Sampo,
To the rocky hills of Pohja,
And within the Mount of Copper,
And behind nine locks secured it.
There it struck its roots around it,
Fathoms nine in depth that measured,
One in Mother Earth deep-rooted,
In the strand the next was planted,
In the nearest mount the third one.
Ilmarinen does not gain his reward, not yet. He returns without a bride. For a long while we hear nothing at all about the Sampo. Other things happen: adventures, death, and resuscitation of Lemminkainen, then Vainamoinen's adventures in the belly of the ogre. This last story deserves telling. Vainamoinen set about building a boat, but when it came to putting in the prow and the stern, he found he needed three words in his rune that he did not know, however much he sought for them. In vain he looked on the heads of the swallows, on the necks of the swans, on the backs of the geese, under the tongues of the reindeer. [n5 In the Eddic lay of Sigrdrifa, the valkyria enumerates the places where can be found hugruna, i.e., the runes that give wisdom and knowledge, among which are the following: the shield of the sun, the ear and hoof of his horses, the wheel of Rognir's chariot, Sleipnir's teeth and Bragi's tongue, the beak of the eagle, the clutch of the bear, the paw of the wolf, the nail of the Norns, the head of the bridge, etc. (Sigrdr. vs. 13-17).] He found a number of words, but not those he needed. Then he thought of seeking them in the realm of Death, Tuonela, but in vain. He escaped back to the world of the living only thanks to potent magic. He was still missing his three runes. He was then told by a shepherd to search in the mouth of Antero Vipunen, the giant ogre. The road, he was told, went over swords and sharpened axes.
Ilmarinen made shoes, shirt and gloves of iron for him, but warned him that he would find the great Vipunen dead. Nevertheless, the hero went. The giant lay underground, and trees grew over his head. Vainamoinen found his way to the giant's mouth, and planted his iron staff in it. The giant awoke and suddenly opened his huge mouth. Vainamoinen slipped into it and was swallowed. As soon as he reached the enormous stomach, he thought of getting out. He built himself a raft and floated on it up and down inside the giant. The giant felt tickled and told him in many and no uncertain words where he might go, but he did not yield any runes. Then Vainamoinen built a smithy and began to hammer his iron on an anvil, torturing the entrails of Vipunen, who howled out magic songs to curse him away. But Vainamoinen said, thank you, he was very comfortable and would not go unless he got the secret words. Then Vipunen at last unlocked the treasure of his powerful runes.
Many days and nights he sang, and the sun and the moon and the waves of the sea and the waterfalls stood still to hear him. Vainamoinen treasured them all and finally agreed to come out. Vipunen opened his great jaws, and the hero issued forth to go and build his boat at last.
The story then switches abruptly to introduce Kullervo, his adventures, incest and suicide. When Kullervo incidentally kills the wife that Ilmarinen had bought so dearly in Pohjola, the tale returns again to Ilmarinen's plight. He forges for himself "Pandora," a woman of gold. Finding no pleasure with her, he returns to Pohjola and asks for the second daughter of Louhi. He is refused. Ilmarinen then captures the girl, but she is so spiteful and unfaithful that he changes her into a gull. Then he visits Vainamoinen, who asks for news from Pohjola. Everything is fine there, says Ilmarinen, thanks to the Sampo. They decide, therefore, to get hold of the Sampo, even against Louhi's will. The two of them go by boat, although Ilmarinen is much more in favor of the land route, and Lemrninkainen joins them. The boat gets stuck on the shoulder of a huge pike. Vainamoinen kills the fish and constructs out of his jawbones (appendix #10) the Kantele, a harp which nobody can play properly except Vainamoinen himself. There follows a completely Orphic chapter about Vainamoinen's Kantele music, the whole world falling under its spell. Finally, they arrive at Pohjola, and Louhi, as was to be expected, will not part with the Sampo, nor will she share it with the heroes. Vainamoinen then plays the Kantele until all the people of Pohjola are plunged in sleep. Then the brothers go about stealing the Sampo, which turns out to be a difficult task.
Then the aged Vainamoinen
Gently set himself to singing
At the copper mountain's entrance,
There beside the stony fortress,
And the castle doors were shaken,
And the iron hinges trembled.
Thereupon smith Ilmarinen,
Aided by the other heroes,
Overspread the locks with butter,
And with bacon rubbed the hinges,
That the doors should make no jarring,
And the hinges make no creaking.
Then the locks he turned with fingers,
And the bars and bolts he lifted,
And he broke the locks to pieces,
And the mighty doors were opened.
Then the mighty Vainamoinen
Spoke aloud the words that follow:
"O thou lively son of Lempi,
Of my friends the most illustrious,
Come thou here to take the Sampo,
And to seize the pictured cover."
Then the lively Lemminkainen,
He the handsome Kaukomieli,
Always eager, though unbidden,
Ready, though men did not praise him,
Came to carry off the Sampo,
And to seize the pictured cover. . .
Lemminkainen pushed against it,
Turned himself, and pushed against it,
On the ground his knees down-pressing,
But he could not move the Sampo,
Could not stir the pictured cover,
For the roots were rooted firmly,
In the depths nine fathoms under.
There was then a bull in Pohja,
Which had grown to size enormous,
And his sides were sleek and fattened,
And his sinews from the strongest;
Horns he had in length a fathom,
One half more his muzzle's thickness,
So they led him from the meadow,
On the border of the ploughed field,
Up they ploughed the roots of Sampo
Those which fixed the pictured cover,
Then began to move the Sampo,
And to sway the pictured cover.
Then the aged Vainamoinen,
Secondly, smith Ilmarinen,
Third, the lively Lemminkainen,
Carried forth the mighty Sampo,
Forth from Pohjola's stone mountain,
From within the hill of copper,
To the boat away they bore it,
And within the ship they stowed it.
In the boat they stowed the Sampo,
In the hold the pictured cover,
Pushed the boat into the water,
In the waves its sides descended.
Asked the smith, said Ilmarinen,
And he spoke the words which follow:
"Whither shall we bear the Sampo,
Whither now we shall convey it,
Take it from this evil country,
From the wretched land of Pohja?"
Vainamoinen, old and steadfast,
Answered in the words which follow:
"Thither will we bear the Sampo,
And will take the pictured cover,
To the misty island's headland,
At the end of shady island.
There in safety can we keep it,
There it can remain for ever,
There's a little spot remaining,
Yet a little plot left over,
Where they eat not and they fight not,
Whither swordsmen never wander.
The Sampo, then, is brought on board the Ship--just as Mysingr the pirate brought Grotte on board his boat--and the heroes row away as fast as possible. Lemminkainen wants music--you can row far better with it, he claims. Vainamoinen demurs, so Lempi's son sings quite by himself, with a voice loud but hardly musical, indeed, for:
On a stump a crane was sitting,
On a mound from swamp arising,
And his toe-bones he was counting,
And his feet he was uplifting,
And was terrified extremely
At the song of Lemminkainen.
Left the crane his strange employment,
With his harsh voice screamed in terror,
Over Pohjola in terror,
And upon his coming thither,
When he reached the swamp of Pohja,
Screaming still, and screaming harshly,
Screaming at his very loudest,
Waked in Pohjola the people,
And aroused the evil nation.
Thus, pursuit begins; impediment after magic impediment is thrown across their path by Louhi, wretched hostess of Pohjola' but Vainamoinen overcomes them. He causes her warship to be wrecked upon a cliff which he has conjured forth, but on that occasion his beloved Kantele, the harp, sinks to the bottom of the sea. Finally, Louhi changes herself into a huge eagle which fills the space between waves and clouds, and she snatches the Sampo away.
From the boat she dragged the Sampo,
Down she pulled the pictured cover,
From the red boat's hold she pulled it,
'Mid the blue lake's waters cast it,
And the Sampo broke to pieces,
And was smashed the picture cover.
Fragments of the colored cover are floating on the surface of the sea. Vainamoinen collects many of them, but Louhi gets only one small piece; hence Lapland is poor, Suomi (Finland) well off and fertile. Vainamoinen sows the fragments of Sampo, and trees came out of it:
From these seeds the plant is sprouting
Lasting welfare is commencing,
Here is ploughing, here is sowing,
Here is every kind of increase.
Thence there comes the lovely sunlight,
O'er the mighty plains of Suomi,
And the lovely land of Suomi.
Vainmnoinen constructs a new Kantele, of birchwood this time, and with the hairs of a young maiden as strings--but the strings come last. Before that he asks,
"Now the frame I have constructed,
From the trunk for lasting pleasure,
Whence shall now the screws be fashioned,
Whence shall come the pegs to suit me?
'Twas an oak with equal branches,
And on every branch an acorn,
In the acorns golden kernels,
On each kernel sat a cuckoo.
When the cuckoos all were calling,
In the call five tones were sounding
Gold from out their mouths was flowing,
Silver too they scattered round them,
On a hill the gold was flowing,
On the ground there flowed the silver,
And from this he made the harp-screws,
And the pegs from that provided."
Once more, Vainamoinen begins to play on his irresistible instrument, but this time Louhi manages to capture sun add moon. She was able to do so because
. . . the moon came from his dwelling,
Standing on a crooked birch-tree,
And the sun came from his castle,
Sitting on a fir-tree's summit,
To the kantele to listen,
Filled with wonder and rejoicing.
The grasping Louhi hides sun and moon in an iron mountain. Ilmarinen forges a substitute sun and moon, but they will not shine properly. Eventually, Louhi sets free the luminaries, since she has become afraid of the heroes; repeatedly she complains that her strength has left her with the Sampo.
But time is running out, too, on the ancient Vainamoinen. All that is left for him to do is kindle a new fire, and he does. Beginning far back, he had sung all there was to sing.
Day by day he sang unwearied,
Night by night discoursed unceasing,
Sang the songs of by-gone ages,
Hidden words of ancient wisdom,
Songs which all the children sing not,
All beyond men's comprehension,
In these ages of misfortune,
When the race is near its ending.
Now a Miraculous Child was born, heralding a new era. Vainamoinen knew that there was not room for both of them in the world. If the child lived, he must go. He said good-bye to his country,
And began his songs of magic,
For the last time sang them loudly,
Sang himself a boat of copper,
With a copper deck provided.
In the stern himself he seated,
Sailing o'er the sparkling billows,
Still he sang as he was sailing:
"May the time pass quickly o'er us,
One day passes, comes another,
And again shall I be needed,
Men will look for me and miss me,
To construct another Sampo,
And another harp to make me,
Make another moon for gleaming,
And another sun for shining.
When the sun and moon are absent,
In the air no joy remaineth."
Then the aged Vainamoinen
Went upon his journey singing,
Sailing in his boat of copper,
In his vessel made of copper,
Sailed away to loftier regions,
To the land beneath the heavens.
Actually, there are more runes which tell of Vainamoinen's departure, as we learn from Haavio. He plunges
to the depths of the sea;
to the lowest sea
to the lowest bowels of the earth
to the lowest regions of the heavens
to the doors of the great mouth of death.
Or, he sailed
into the throat of the maelstroem
into the mouth of the maelstroem,
into the gullet of the maelstroem,
into the maw of the monster of the sea.
This is the Vortex that swallows all waters, the one that comes of the destruction of Grotte, which must be dealt with later. Its Norse name is Hvergelmer; its most ancient name is Eridu. But that name belongs to another story and world.
It is difficult for moderns to grasp the quality of that ancient recitation, the laulo, of only a few notes going on interminably with freely improvised verbal "cadenzas," yet with a core of formulas rigidly preserved in the canonic form. It is not actually folk poetry in the accepted sense even though its "copyists," its "printers" and its "publishers" are only peasants with an iron memory." [n6 M. Haavio, Vainamoinen, Eternal Sage (1952), p. 40 (quoting Setala).]. An old laulaja who recited the origin of the world told Lonnrot:
"You and I know that this is the real Truth about how the world began." He said this after centuries of Christendom, never doubting, for the essence of the rune was an incantation, sung or murmured (cf. the German raunen), which brings things back to their actual beginning, to the "deep origins." To heal a wound from a sword, the laulaja had to sing the rune of the "origin of iron," and one wrong word would have ruined its power. In this way fragments of ageless antiquity remained embedded in living folk poetry. Those whom the Greeks called the "nameless ones," typhlos aner, who had preserved the epic rhapsodies, reach out to meet us almost in our days, in those humble villages of the Far North, their names of our own time: Arhippa Perttunen, Simana of Mekrijarvi, Okoi of Audista, Ontrei, the Pack Peddler.
Out of the whole bewildering story, one thing is established beyond controversy, that the Sampo is nothing but heaven itself. The fixed adjective kirjokansi, "many-coloured," did apply to the cover of the heavenly vault in Finnish folk poetry, as Comparetti and others showed long ago. As for the name Sampo, it resisted the efforts of linguists, until it was found that the word was derived from the Sanskrit skambha, pillar, pole.[n7 See chapter VIII.]. Because it "grinds," Sampo is obviously a mill. But the mill tree is also the world axis, so the inquiry returns to the Norse mill, and to the complex of meanings involved in the difficult word ludr (with radial r) which
stands for the timbers of the mill and reappears as loor, a wind instrument. This involves time both ways: the setting and scansion of time. This does not present embarrassing ambiguity, but a richer meaning, which must have appeared heaven-sent to early thinkers.
The Sampo is--or was--the dispenser of all good things and this is delightfully underscored by the many variants which insist that because most of it fell into the sea, the sea is richer than the land. Men were bound to compare the teeming life of Arctic waters with the barren land in the Far North. But the Sampo did undergo a catastrophe as it was being moved, and that clinches the parallel with Grotte. The astronomical idea underlying these strange representations has been described in the Intermezzo, and will be taken up again in chapter IX.