Poem 3: Joukahainen challenges Väinämöinen

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.


Image credit: Otso Mäensivu, bone/antler game pieces.

old and steadfast lived that Väinö
knew these vistas, knew these woodlands
sang his songs, sang daily, nightly:
ancient tales and olden mem’ries
unfit songs for most of children
many men, too, short in knowing

far and wide these stanzas did spread,
to the north took word of Väinö
spread his fame to all in that part
even Jouko, youth of Lapland
on his town-bound errands heard them:
whispers, rumours, Väinö’s wisdom

this gave Jouko jealous feelings:
felt himself a better poet
called his mother, called his father,
asked for leave to seek out Väinö,
seek, defeat this foremost sage sort

both recoiled, appalled at such thoughts:
“never seek out such vast challenge:
lose an eye and freeze your foothold,
such the strength of Väinö’s singing!”
Jouko, haughty, did not heed them,
chose to leave and search out Väinö,
serve up songlines, challenge stanzas

on he went with horse and sleigh, too
and he drove a day, drove many
drove a second, drove a third one
Väinö, older, through his own woods,
all along went singing, citing,
guiding horse went also sleigh-bound.

so came Jouko on his own sleigh:
crashed his side into old Väinö,
splintered skis and broke the brush-bows
trapped and tangled, cracked and broken
here the ride was ended, halted

“who are you, whose house, whose line, cur?”
so spat Väinö, incensed by insult
replied young Jouko, stood his ground now:
“Joukahainen, by my full name –
Who are you, whose house, whose line-child?”
Väinö yielded not his details,
called on Jouko: “move, young Jouko-
make your elder’s way go easy!”

Jouko said then, so decided:
“what of youth, of age, or years passed?
he may move who knows the least bit
and who lacks the words, the wisdom –
let the sagest stand of proud feet!
you must be old ancient Väinö:
let us take now to some versing,
measure man by meters, iambs!”

so said Väinö, so replied he:
“what know I of songs and magic?
long have lived by cuckoos’s music
my world so bound by this homestead
still I know to doubt your knowledge –
what know you that I would not, too?”

then said Jouko: “ah, I do know!
know how fish feed, how they live on
perch and pike and every flounder,
I know sewing, ploughing, forests,
I know woodlands, know the waters,
with all mountains am familiar.”

now retorted Väinämöinen:
“petty details, weak on wisdom!
speak more sagely, ancient answers,
deep abiding soulful knowledge!”

said young Jouko, changing topics
“oh, I know of early birthings,
know whence came the birds and serpents,
water’s worth as ancient med’cine
know the start of iron, copper
fire, even, in its first suit.”

Väinö jeered him, “is that all, then?
what little knowledge makes a man now!”
Jouko grasped some once-heard stories:
“I was there in ploughing oceans,
one of six or seven workers,
setting up the streams for fishing
making rivers for kin’s feeding.
we wrought the moon and started starlight
heaved the heavens on this low earth.”

“lowly liar,” chided Väinö,
“you were not there for the forging
not of rivers, waters, stars or moonbeam.
nothing but false borrowed stories
you’ve no wit or wisdom well-earnt!”

Jouko, reaching for his sword, continued:
“if my wit has reached its limit
take to swords then, verse with weapons.”
Väinö waved away the challenge:
“your wisdom’s wanting soon was proven
and neither do I fear your metal,
though won’t take up arms against you”

“then settle into life of swinehood,
I’ll grant a snout and trotters for you,
coward, if thou will not fight me,”
Jouko cursed in wanting vict’ry

at this urging angered Väinö.
unleashed lyrics, lines so loathsome
words unfit for women’s hearing
songs to singe dear children’s eardrums
words to hurt unworthy men, too

in response to incantations
earth erupts and water whirlpools
copper calls within the mountain.
so transformed are Jouko’s objects
sleigh and weapons, horse and hound, too
turned to rocks and rain and lightning,
bound to ground is boastful Jouko
sunk in sand to thighs, stuck waist-deep

shoes turned stone, he keeps on sinking
so affected, pleads on Väinö:
“reverse your spell, please release me!
I’ll grant you then some royal ransom!”

Väinö, open to this offer,
asks for details, payment promise
Jouko runs through his possessions,
from his bows, his boats and horses,
father’s treasure, wartime plunder.
even offers up his homestead.

none these items tempt old Väinö,
owner of so many horses,
bows and boats and fruitful homeland,
of gold and silver has he plenty.
Jouko sinks now ever further,
each rejected offer downs him
caught by arms and trapped by shoulders

now the mosses cling to jawline,
Jouko calls his final gambit:
“take my sister, Aino, only,
have her as your helpmeet woman!”
so delighted is old Väinö
brings he up this wretched brother
sends off Jouko to his freedom

Jouko comes now to his homestead,
here breaks down his sleigh now, final
mother, father, both enquiring:
“what has happened, why such damage?”
“oh my elders, such the damage
that I’ll mourn this loss my whole life!
gave away our dearest Aino,
only daughter of my mother!”

of this news rejoiced the mother:
“such good tidings, merry details!
long have longed for high-born husband
to raise to riches my poor dear child!”

Aino bows her head, lamenting
hearing of this grave agreement
sees the loss in all her beauty
youth and freedom so surrendered
to the needs of this old legend
though is Väinö well-thought, wise, too
still is ancient, well past lifeprime.

Aino’s mother heeds not weeping
“cease your tears, child, think it through, dear!
such an honour is this union –
consider now your options, Aino”
so did send her only daughter
think on life, accept her lot, now


Continue to Team Louhi: Poem 4

Back to Team Louhi: Poem 2

2 thoughts on “Poem 3: Joukahainen challenges Väinämöinen

  1. Pingback: Poem 2 – sanna peden

  2. Pingback: Poem 4: Aino rejects Väinämöinen – sanna peden

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