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Kalevala, The Land of the Heroes (Kirby translation)

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By: (1802-1884)

The Kalevala is a 19th-century work of epic poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Karelian and Finnish oral folklore and mythology. It is regarded as the national epic of Karelia and Finland and is one of the most significant works of Finnish literature. The Kalevala played an instrumental role in the development of the Finnish national identity, the intensification of Finland's language strife and the growing sense of nationality that ultimately led to Finland's independence from Russia in 1917. The first version of The Kalevala (called The Old Kalevala) was published in 1835. The version most commonly known today was first published in 1849 and consists of 22,795 verses, divided into fifty songs. The title can be interpreted as "The Land of Kaleva" or "Kalevia." If the rhythm of the poetry sounds familiar to American readers, it is probably because Henry Wadsworth Longfellow borrowed its trochaic tetrameter form for his famous "Song of Hiawatha." Of the five complete translations of the Kalevala into English, it is only the older translations by John Martin Crawford (1888) and William Forsell Kirby (1907) which attempt strictly to follow the original rhythm (Kalevala meter) of the poems. Modern writers influenced by the Kalevala include J. R. R. Tolkien, whose epic "Lord of the Rings" trilogy make use of both style and content from the Finnish work.


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