Väinämöinen’s Kantele Music

Staunch old Väinämöinen pushed the boat into the waters, the hundred-boarded one to the waves. On one side he placed sleek-headed young men, spur-heeled noble ones; one the other side he placed young maidens with copper belts; himself sat in the stern. He set the old to rowing; the old rowed, heads trembled, nor did the voyage progress. He set the young to rowing, the young rowed, fingers bent, the oar-handles whined like a grouse, the oarlocks sang like a goose, the prow swam like a swan, the stern cawed like a crow. For a day he followed the waters of the land, for another day the swamp waters, for the third the homeland waters. On the third day he struck the shoulders of a pike, the hook-jaws of the dog of the sea. Said old Väinämöinen, “Are we on a stone or a log, or the shoulders of a pike?” He pulled it into his little boat, The tail he let fall to the bottom of the sea. He looked at it, turned it over, “What could a smith make of it, what would he know how to forge?” The skillful man hammered. He made a harp of the pike’s bone, a kantele of the fish fin, of the hook-bone of the dog of the sea. He put strings on the kantele of the hair of a young maiden, put a neck on the kantele of the finger-bones of a young maiden, put nails in the kantele from the sprouts of Tuoni’s barley. The young played, the old played; the joy did not seem like joy, nor the music like music. “Bring the instrument here, carry the kantele to the hands of the man who made it, to the fingers of him who formed it.” Himself he sat down to play, he played on the thing made of fish-bone, on the fish-bone kantele, with his little hands, slender fingers, with upturned thumbs. In the woods there was not one running on four feet, whirring on two wings that did not come to listen to Väinämöinen playing, to the father making music. Even the mistress of the woods plumped her breast against the fence, dropped down on the gate. In the sea there was not one moving on six fins, wandering on eight that did not come to listen to Väinämöinen playing, to the father making music. Even the mistress of the waters leaned her breast against the sedge, clambered on a water-ringed rock. Wept the young, wept the old, wept the married men, the unmarried men wept. The tears of old Väinämöinen himself rolled from his eyes to his broad breast, from his breast to his knees, fatter than cranberries, rounder than a grouse’s eggs.

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