Poem 2: The Sewing of the World

Team Louhi sort-of-not-quite translates the Finnish Kalevala into English, with an emphasis on meter and alliteration. The original Kalevala poem can be found here; introductory notes on Team Louhi are here.


Tạ Huy Long, “Iso tammi (The Great Oak)”, 2013.

rose old Väinö, ripe and ready
years did wander, weeks went walking
spared some thought for trees unsprouted:
called up Sampsa, smallest seachild,
sent him on to sew on this earth
birches, spruces, firs of all sorts,
on the back of Sampsa’s labours
fertile, former fallows flourished

God’s own oak tree did not flourish:
spirit sapling stayed unsprouted
then a troop of water wenches
rose up reaping, mowing seamoss
Tursas, monster, rose to join them,
saw the reeds and mosses gathered
set alight a bonfire glowing

from the ashes left remaining
sprouted seedling: god’s own oak tree
though it sprouted far too grandly,
blocking sunlight, blocking daytime,
stopped the moon from ever shining,
crowded out all other tree-things

ancient Väinö selfsame sage sort
called on water spirits quickly
set them on this frightful felling –
came a tiny, thumb-height champion:
copper-coated, copper-plated.
Väinö doubtful, double-thinking:
“such a weakling, half-height hero –
could this manling fell God’s oak tree?”

took to work this thumb-height champion
and with three blows, three axe whackings
fells the tree-beast, God’s own oak tree
others flourish, all trees grow now,
barley, rye, though still lay sleeping

now was time to see to foodcrops
take down trees that served no purpose
bar the one birch lone left standing
for the birds to make their nests on
for the nesting, swooping squawkers

first from water, now from air, too:
birds took note of Tursas’ working
breathed out fire, flames went fanning
to this scorched earth took old Väinö
took to sewing, took to seeding.

called this sage sort on the heavens:
“bring down sprinkling, bring down drizzling
raise up oats and rye and barley!”
high-up fathers, maids of nature
called down sprinkling, called down drizzling
so were sated thirsty seedlings
and was risen all this harvest

came the cuckoo, gilded goldbird,
silver- chested singing song bird
offered Väinö to this song-bird:
“claim the birch tree for your crowing
sing from it in mornings, evens
by your song bring joy and wisdom”

so the songbird, silver, golden,
took the birch tree as its homestead
sings in mornings, sings in evens
sings the truth as she best sees it
so rose all riches, harvest, fortune
in Väinö’s land, his forests, beaches

Continue to Team Louhi: Poem 3

Back to Team Louhi: Poem 1


2 thoughts on “Poem 2: The Sewing of the World

  1. Pingback: Poem 1 – sanna peden

  2. Pingback: Poem 3: Joukahainen challenges Väinämöinen – sanna peden

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