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Wainamoinen's Expedition and the Birth of the Kantele (Harp)

WAINAMOINEN reflected on what Ilmarinen had said of the prosperity of the Northland, and at length proposed that they should go and capture the Sampo and bring it back to Kalevala. But Ilmarinen said: 'It will be hard to carry off the Sampo, for Louhi has fastened it with nine great locks, and around it grow three roots, beneath the mountain and the waters and the sands.'

               Still Wainamoinen persuaded him to go, and Ilmarinen went to his smithy and began to forge a sword for Wainamoinen. And when it was finished, it was so strong, by the power of the magic spells that had been used in making it, that it would cut through the hardest flint stones.

               Then the two heroes put on their armour and made their sledges ready, and drove off along the seashore northward. But they had not gone far before they heard a voice lamenting. They drove up to the spot whence the voice seemed to come, and there they found a ship lying deserted on the sands.

               Wainamoinen asked the ship what it was lamenting over, and the ship replied: 'Alas, I weep because I am obliged to remain here idle; for I was built to be a warship, and I long to sail filled with warriors against the foe, but I am left here to lie alone and rot to pieces.' Then Wainamoinen said: 'Thou shalt lie here no longer, but we will sail in thee against the men of Pohjola. But tell me whether thou art a magic ship that can sail without wind, or oarsmen, or pilot.' 'Nay,' the ship replied, 'I cannot sail if the wind or oars do not help me on and some one guide me with the rudder. But give me these to help me, and I can sail faster than any other ship in the world.'

               Then they left their sledges and launched the ship and stepped aboard. And Wainamoinen began to sing his wondrous spells, and in an instant one side of the vessel was filled with bearded warriors, and the other with lovely maids, and in the middle came powerful gray-bearded heroes. First he set the young men at the oars, but however hard they strove they could not budge the ship. And next the maidens tried, but they too failed. Last of all the mighty gray-bearded heroes took the oars, but yet the vessel did not move. Then Ilmarinen himself grasped the oars, and in a moment the vessel was moving through the waters at full speed, with old Wainamoinen at the helm.

               They had not gone far when they came to an island, and on the shore was a man working on a fishing-boat. As they drew nearer he looked up and hailed them, asking whither they were bound. Wainamoinen answered: 'O stupid Lemminkainen, dost thou not recognise us, and canst thou not guess whither we are bound?' Then Lemminkainen, for it was really he, said: 'I recognise you both now. It is Ilmarinen who is rowing, and thou art Wainamoinen. But tell me whither ye are sailing?'

               Then Wainamoinen told him that they were bound for Pohjola to capture the magic Sampo, and, on hearing this, Lemminkainen begged to go with them, saying that he would fight valiantly with them. So they took him on board, and the three great heroes sailed on their way. But before they had gone much farther, they came to a place where there were lovely maidens singing sweetly on the shore, but all around were hidden rocks and whirlpools, and their vessel was near sinking. But Lemminkainen knew the spell that would compel the maidens to calm the whirlpools, and to lead the ship in safety past all the hidden reefs out into open water again. And when Lemminkainen had sung this spell, old Wainamoinen was able to steer in safety through the foam-covered rocks and out into open water; but no sooner were they clear than the vessel stopped as suddenly as if she were anchored to the spot.

               Ilmarinen and Lemminkainen then plunged a long pole to the bottom of the waters, and strove to push the ship ahead, but it was impossible. Then Wainamoinen bade Lemminkainen look beneath the vessel to see what it was that stopped them, and they found that it was no hidden reef or sand-bar, but a mighty pike on whose shoulders the vessel had stuck fast. At Wainamoinen's order, Lemminkainen drew his sword and aimed a mighty blow at the monster, but he missed it and fell overboard. He was drawn out all dripping, and the others consoled him for his failure. Next Ilmarinen drew his sword and struck at the monster, but at the first blow his sword broke in pieces. At last Wainamoinen, reproaching the others for their feebleness, drew his magic sword, and with one thrust he impaled the monster on it. Then lifting the monster out of the water he cut him into pieces and let them fall on the water, and float in towards land.

               Thus the vessel was free at last. But the heroes were weary with their exertions, and so they rowed in to land, and there gathered up the fragments of the fish that had floated to the shore. Wainamoinen handed these pieces to the maidens who were with them in the vessel, and they prepared the most delicious feast from the pike, having enough and to spare for all on board. And they piled the bones in a heap on the rocks.

               Then Wainamoinen looked at the pile of bones, and after pondering deeply he said: 'Wondrous things may be made from these bones, if only I can find a skilful workman to carry out my designs and make the kantele.'[1] But no workman could be found who was wise enough to understand Wainamoinen's directions, for no one had ever heard of a kantele before. At length old Wainamoinen saw that there was no one who could help him, and so he set to work himself. He made the arches of the harp from the pike's jawbones, and the pins that hold the strings he made from the teeth, and for the strings he took hairs from the tail of a magic steed.

               And at last the first kantele was finished, and it was so beautiful that every one crowded round to look at it. When it was all ready Wainamoinen handed it to those around to try their skill, but they could only make discords whenever they touched it. Then Lemminkainen bade the others leave it to him, for he would show them how to play upon it. But when he touched the strings it sounded worse than when any of the others had tried it. And after one and all had tried it, and found that it only gave forth discords, they proposed to throw it into the sea. But the harp said: 'I shall never perish in the sea, but will bring great joy to Kalevala. Put me in my maker's hands, and I will sing for him.' So they took it and laid it at the aged Wainamoinen's feet.

               Then the great magician took the wondrous kantele and rested it upon his knee. First he tuned it, tightening all the strings until they sounded sweetly together, and then he swept his hands across them, and a flood of wonderful melody poured forth from the kantele. And as the wondrous notes resounded in the air, every living thing that heard them stopped and listened. From the forests came the bears and ermines, and the wolves and lynxes. Even Tapio the forest-god drew near, with all his attendant spirits, enchanted by the magic sounds. From the sea the fishes came to the edge of the waters, and the sea-god Ahto with his water-spirits. The daughters of the Sun and Moon stopped their spinning on the clouds, and dropped their spindles, so that the threads were broken in two.

               For three whole days the magic kantele poured forth its melody beneath Wainamoinen's skilful fingers, until every one that heard it wept, and even the master-player himself was at last moved to tears by the power of his own playing. The bright teardrops flowed down his long beard and over his garments, and on over the earth in sparkling streams, until they were lost in the waters of the deep sea. And then the music ceased, and Wainamoinen laid the kantele aside and said: 'Is there any one here who can gather up my teardrops from the sea?' But all were silent, for they could not do it.

               But a raven came flying up and offered to attempt it, and Wainamoinen promised him the most beautiful plumage if he should succeed, but the raven tried and failed. Then came a duck, and Wainamoinen made it the same promise. And the duck swam off and dived down to the ocean's depths, and at length it had collected every teardrop and brought them to the great magician, but a wondrous change had taken place in them, for they were no longer tears, but the most beautiful pearls.

               Thus were pearls first created, and for this the blue duck received its lovely plumage.

               'That is the loveliest story of all,' cried Mimi. 'How I wish I could have heard Wainamoinen's music! Was his kantele like the one pappa has up in the loft, Pappa Mikko? If it was, I wish pappa would play on ours.'

               'I expect they are just alike,' replied Father Mikko; 'and when your pappa's pappa was alive, I remember that he used to play on the kantele very sweetly, but there are not many in our land that can play the kantele now.'

               'Well,' said Mimi, with a sigh, 'I suppose there aren't, so you might as well tell us what Wainamoinen did next, Pappa Mikko, please.'

               And Father Mikko began again.



[1] A sort of harp that is sometimes used even now in Finland. Pronounced kan´-tay-lay. It usually has five strings.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Wainamoinen's Expedition and the Birth of the Kantele (Harp)
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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