Finnish Legends for English Children | Annotated Tale

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Kullervo's Life and Death

THEN Kullervo hastened off, before Ilmarinen should come home and find out what had happened. And after he was at a safe distance he began to play upon the bugle he had made, until Ilmarinen ran out of his smithy to see who it could be, and there before him in the courtyard Ilmarinen saw the body of his wife and learned what had happened: and he sat down and wept bitterly, for all the joy of his life was now gone from him.

               But Kullervo hastened on, and as he went he mourned his hard lot. When he had gone a little way he met an old witch on the road, and she asked him whither he was going. 'I shall journey to the dismal Northland,' answered Kullervo, 'there to slay the wicked Untamo, who has killed all my kinsfolk.' Then the witch said: 'Thou art wrong, for thy father and thy sisters escaped from Untamo's wrath, and now thy mother has joined them and they are living happily together on the distant borders of Kalevala.' And when Kullervo begged her to tell him the way to them she did so, and he hastened off to find them.

               At length he reached his parents' abode, but at first they did not recognise him. But when he spoke to his mother she knew him at once, and embraced him and kissed him, and made him welcome in his new home. And then they related to one another all that had happened in the years they had been apart, and his mother ended by saying: 'Praised be Ukko that thou hast come back to us; but there is yet one absent one--thy eldest sister strayed away many years ago, hunting berries on the hills, and we have never seen or heard of her since.'

               So Kullervo settled down to live with his parents, and began to work with the others. The first day they all went out to fish for salmon, and Kullervo was put at the oars to row their boat. Then he asked whether he should row with all his strength, or only a little part of it, and they told him that he could not pull too hard. So he put forth all his giant's strength, and in a minute the boat was all broken to pieces.

               His father said: 'I see that thou art too clumsy to row; perhaps thou wilt do better to drive the salmon into the nets.' And Kullervo asked again whether he should use all his strength, and he received the same answer as before. So he set to work beating the water to scare the fish into the net; but he beat so hard that he mixed all the mud on the bottom with the water, and pounded the salmon all to pulp and destroyed all the nets.

               Then his father saw that he was not fit for such work, so he sent him off to pay the yearly taxes. Kullervo did so, and after he had paid them he started off in his sledge to drive home again. He had not driven far when he met a lovely maiden, whom he asked to get into his sledge and come with him to his home and marry him. But she made fun of him, and he drove off in anger. When he had driven still farther he met another maiden, still more lovely than the first, and this one he at length persuaded to get into his sledge and come home with him and marry him. But when they had driven along for two days towards his home, the maiden asked him about his kinsfolk, and he told her that he was Kalervo's son.

               No sooner had the maiden heard this than she gave a great cry of anguish and cried out: 'Alas, then, thou art my brother! For I am Kalervo's daughter, who wandered off one day to pick berries and never returned,' and with these words she jumped from the sledge and hastened weeping to a river near by. There she plunged beneath the icy waters and was never seen again alive, but her lifeless body floated down to the black river of Tuoni.

               But Kullervo unharnessed his steed from the sledge and galloped off home and there related to his mother all that had occurred, and how he had unknowingly been the cause of his sister's death, and when he had finished his story, he added: 'Woe is me that I did not die long ago. But now I must hasten off to gloomy Pohjola, there to slay the wicked Untamo, and myself be also slain.' Having said this he also made ready his armour and ground his broadsword until it was as sharp as a razor. But before he went, he asked his father and brother and sister and mother if they would grieve when they heard of his death. And all but his mother told him that they would never sorrow over the death of such an evil fellow. But his mother alone said that, in spite of all the evil he had done, her mother's love was still strong and that she would weep over him for years to come.

               Thereupon Kullervo went forth on his journey to the icy Northland, but before he had gone far a messenger came and told him that his father was dead and asked Kullervo to come back and help bury him, but he would not come. And a little later he was told of the death of his brother and then of his sister, and last of all of his mother. Still he refused to come to bury any of them, only, when the news of his mother's death reached him, he mourned that he had not been with her in her last moments, and bade the servants bury her with every possible honour and respect.

               Now as he neared the home of Untamo's tribe, he prayed to Ukko to endow his sword with magic powers, so that Untamo and all his people might be surely slain. And Ukko did as he had asked, and with the magic sword Kullervo slew, single-handed, all Untamo's people, and burned all their villages to ashes, leaving behind him only dead bodies and smoking ruins.

               Then he hastened home, and found that it was only too true that all his family had died while he was away; and he went out to his mother's grave and wept over it. But as he wept, his mother spoke to him from the grave and bade him let their old dog lead him into the forest to the home of the wood-nymphs, who would care for him. So Kullervo set off, led by the faithful dog. But on the way they came to the grassy mound where Kullervo had met his long-lost sister, and there he found that even the grass and the flowers and the trees were weeping. Suddenly overcome with sorrow, he drew forth his magic sword from out its scabbard, and, bidding a last farewell to all the world, he thrust the handle firmly into the earth and threw himself upon the sword-point, so that it pierced his heart. Thus ended the evil life of Kullervo.

               They were all silent for a moment when the sad story of Kullervo's life and death was ended, and then Mimi said: 'I wish you'd tell us about nice men like Ilmarinen and Wainamoinen, Pappa Mikko; Kullervo was real hateful.'

               'Well, then, I will tell you of what Ilmarinen did when he had lost his wife, the Rainbow-maiden,'--and the old man began.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Kullervo's Life and Death
Tale Author/Editor: Eivind, R.
Book Title: Finnish Legends for English Children
Book Author/Editor: Eivind, R.
Publisher: T. Fisher Unwin
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1893
Country of Origin: Finland
Classification: unclassified

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