Alliterative Verse – (The Kalevala – 2)

Väinämöinen – Robert Wilheim Ekman (1808-1873)

[Allen continues his reading from Francis Peabody Magoun’s translation of The Kalevala.]

AG: Then he (Joukahainen)’s going to give him his lands from home, “fields of sandy soil” Väinämöinen refuses those, says he’s got better fields than that-“ fields in every direction, windrose in every clearing.”

“I’ll give you my windrose back home, surrender my fields of sandy soil to free my own head, to random myself”. / Old Väinämöinen spoke, “I don’t want your wind rose, useless person, nor your fields of sandy soil./ These too I have, fields in every direction, windrose in every clearing./My own are better fields, my own windrose finer”./ He bewitched young Joukahainen, kept bewitching him further down./”

“The(n) young Joukahainen at last, however, grew desperate when he was up to his chin in the mud, up to his beard in a bad place./up to his mouth in a fen, in mossy places, up to his teeth behind a rotten tree-trunk. /Young Joukahainen said, “O wise Väinämöinen, eternal sage, now sing your song backward./ Grant me yet my feeble life. Set me free from here./ The current is already dragging at my feet, the sand scratching my eyes./ If you will reverse your magic words, leave off your magic spell, I’ll give you my sister, Aino, to rinse out the wooden firkins, to wash the blankets,/ to weave fine stuff, to bake sweet bread.”/ Then Väinämöinen was exceedingly delighted when he got Joukahainen’s girl to provide for his old age./ He sits down on a song stone, sits himself on a song rock./ He sang once, he sang twice, he sang a third time too./He took back his magic words, revoked his spell completely/ Young Joukahainen got free, got his chin free of the mud,/his beard from a bad place, his horse from being a rock in the rapids,/ his sleigh on the shore from being a rotten tree-trunk in the water, his whip from being a shore reed./ He climbed slowly into his basket sleigh./ He flung himself limply into a shed/ He set out in a sorry state of mind with heavy heart to his dear mother’s, to his esteemed parents.”

That’s really a great contest. “(sank)up to his teeth behind (an old) rotten tree-trunk”, I thought that was the best of it, and he found that his shoe become a stone, or his hat a stone, (hat into a cloud, shoe into a stone, reminded me of Gregory Corso ’s sort of fast trickery)

Student: (Well, he wrote a poem, Gregory Corso wrote a poem called “Contest of Bards” (sic))?

AG: “Two poets on a highway” (“Poets Hitchhiking on the Highway”) which was similar, but I don’t think either of us had ever seen this. He (Corso) might have because he was pretty sophisticated with this epic meter.

Student: It’s amazingly similar.

AG: Yeah. Well I think it’s an old basic theme, you know, a contest of magic words, but, actually, the thing is, anthropologically, or, culturally, basic – the “dirty dozens” a similar thing.. which blacks (sic) do, which probably is an old Afric ritual, where two blacks contest to see who can say the most filthy, insulting, degrading, degenerate thing, like – “Your father eats pussy out of your mother’s cunt, and I don’t give a shit but your grandma also (eats) of your grandfather’s crotch!” – And then, the answer – “Well, I know, but I saw your sister eating out of your ass the other night, and, anyway, it didn’t matter, because you already ate out of her armpit!” – You know, it would get worse and worse, who could capp each other – the more imaginative, the more imaginative personal-magical.. personal magical put-down. You know, the psychological war in a sense using language, and trying finally to get a little thunderbolt of language that would get into somebody’s heart, you know, and really get them where they don’t want to be touched. And then if you get… and then if you lose heart and get mad, then you lose the game. Whereas if you gain heart..

Student: (Like the Italians play..)
AG: Pardon me?
Student: (There’s an Italian game that the Italians play in the villages in the bars)
AG: Yeah. What do they call it?
Student: (I’ve forgotten but it’s just like that)

AG: Well, the phrase that I used before – “capping each other”, which musicians used, probably comes from that. So it’s a classic form. In this case, the alliterative aspect of the verse wasn’t obvious because of the English translation but that’s part of the..that was part of the scheme – and part of the inspirational formula. If you have a formula which involves alliteration and repeated phrasing – “Fair fields ful of folk”?, you know – then it’s easier to make up things, because you’re just following the.. following along the sound of the mind. You don’t have to think up the words, you just follow the sound of the mind and the first thought, best thought, that pops into your mind, you can use…

Student: Who is that by?

AG: This is by.. I’ll give you the circumstance again. It’s Kalevala (Kalevala? Kalevala?) Kalevala – Kalevala – Kalevala – Kalevala – Kalevala
or Poems of the Kalevala District, compiled by Elias Lönnrot, (L-O-N-N-R-O-T) Prose translation by  Francis Peabody M-A-G-O-U-N Mr Magoun,, M-A-G… 1963, Harvard Press, Cambridge, Mass – Great funny book!

Okay, why don’t we… Is there any other left-over thought because we can end on that, we can stop (while we have a little time). We’ve got the class business to do and, I think, maybe take the roll(call), could you do that?

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately sixty-five-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at the end of the tape

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