THE KALEVALA (18)

By: James Parker
October 21, 2017

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.

kalevala_bastardized

*

ACROSS THE ICE
[being a departure from The Kalevala, Rune 30]

Wrap up, wrap up, my dear,
for the hunter Orion has slung his starry
      spear
and stuck its tip in the crust of a frozen
      river.
Look at that star-shaft shiver.

The cold comes down in glittering strokes,
on these two blokes,
dissolving the bonds of love,
estranging atom from atom,
and friend from friend.

Lemminkainen and Wulfi, disembarked
from their locked-in vessel, the Sea Hare,
are making their way across the ice on foot.

Besieged by random dumps of light,
those wacky polar blues and whites,
they hear the ding-dong tolling of the
      glacier,
and the pops and pangs of the ice-sheet
as fissures shoot like toothache
across the frozen plain beneath their feet.

Eventually, in an ice-hall,
where the blueness lives inside the
      whiteness
like a trapped scream,
they come across a hungry mob
and a whining wizard, a complaining
      shaman,
a moaning medicine man.

The people are crying out:
“Talk to the seal spirits!
The hunting has been terrible, and we’re
      starving.
Skins, oil, meat — we’re low on everything!”

The shaman frets and mutters, impotent.
“It’s not…” he says. “I don’t know…”
“Can’t hear you!” shout the people.

“Until I can get up into this trance,
all is randomness, all mischance.
But right now, ringed by your sweaty faces,
and barred, it seems, from the sacred
      spaces,
I’m barely in the mood for a ceremonial
      dance.”

“Bugger your mood. We have no food!”
says the head man.
“Talk to the spirits. Excite their pity.
Present our case to the seal-spirit
      committee.
Get in your frigging trance!”

The seal blinks, fathoms-deep.
His polished eyeball shines in the dark,
and he turns his back in smooth seal-sleep.

“Sorry,” says the shaman. “It’s just not
      working.
My spells, my rattles, none of it is working.
Like the dog who rolls in shit,
who smears it with his snaky backbone,
and grinds his grinning head in it,
and trots off mantled in rankness, hovering
      with hum,
to the edge of the world of spirits I have
      come.
But I can’t get in.”

“Then what’s the point of you?”
says the head man.
And they tear him to pieces.

Grieved, the two friends trudge on,
and Wulfi, frostbitten inside his mitten,
sings a song:

“In my dear mother’s eye
as at the heart of some creating fire
I was the radiant irreducible boy —
myself, golden and entire.

(But now…)

I hear the dogcatcher call my name.
For his noose my neck is aching,
because I’m old, and weak in shame,
and it’s time for me to be taken.

His voice it carries without strain.
It floats across the park.
Its accents are indelible,
and every sing-song syllable
is a unit of the dark.”

“That’s enough, Wulfi,” says Lemminkainen.
“Happy thoughts, please.”

“Back at my farm it’s autumn,” says Wulfi.
“The saucy squirrels climb the tree in
      spirals,
acorn-crazy, tails dabbing the air,
then down again and buzzing everywhere
in sine wave of essential squirrel.
The shifty fox is full of glee.
He loves it when it gets colder —
the clatter of his pee on dead leaves,
and then the ammoniac smoulder.”

“Ah,” says Lemminkainen, pleased.
“Now that’s more like it. Fond
      recollections.”

They trudge on.

***

Series banner contributed by Rick Pinchera.

ALL INSTALLMENTS: 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 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 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 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 (118–284): “The Cows Come Home” | RUNE 34 (1–82): “The Pipes of Kullervo”.

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.

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