The Power of Words

Posted On December 27, 2009

Filed under music, poetry

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One of the ways I’ve found that brings me closest to the gods, land spirits, and ancestors is through song and poetry. Most of the Kalevala is about singers and what changes they brought about for themselves with their words. The songs were used for magical charms and creating goods that were needed. One of the notable instances was when Väinämöinen needed missing songs to complete his boat, which he eventually acquired from the stomach of Antero Vipunen after a failed attempt to get them in Tuonela. Obviously we can’t do these sorts of things, but there still is much that can be gained from singing, or for those too afraid to sing, reciting poetry. As mentioned in the last post, the Kalevala is written in trochaic tetrameter, but most often it’s just referred to as Kalevala meter. There are eight syllables per line, usually a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one, but lets not think into this too much. When we worry excessively about syllable placement, then we often become too afraid to write something.

For the musically inclined, the style is typically sung in 5/4 with three pairs of eighth notes followed by two repeated quarter notes. The next line has the same pattern, except the two quarter notes will be one note down. So if we use “FF” for the first line, then the second line’s ending will be “EE”. You can vary up the eighth notes, but keep the quarter notes in this same pattern. Why don’t I give some actual examples, because this is difficult to explain. Here is one on youtube of the most well-known Kalevala melodies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNz4zJobg58. I tried looking for sheet music which may explain this better, and interestingly enough, all I could find was a tab of Ensiferum’s Kalevala Melody(which is the same song mentioned above except going with the basic form): http://www.guitaretab.com/e/ensiferum/117946.html. One book that I highly recommend if you can get your hands on it is “Inspired by tradition : Kalevala poetry in Finnish music” published by the Finnish Music Information Center. It discusses bands that use a Kalevala theme in their music. I thought this was a common book since I found it at a couple libraries in Ohio, but apparently it’s not. In any case, if you do happen to come across a copy either in a bookstore or library, you should take a look.

If you read the poetic version of the Kalevala, it’s really easy to pick up on the meter. A lot of times after reading it for a long period of time, I start thinking in Kalevala meter, which sometimes can get a bit annoying. Now what can you write about? If you want to connect with a particular god, ancestor, or land spirit, you can write a song praising them or asking something of them. It’s also possible to create your own spells and charms for yourself. I will discuss that part on another entry, as I have found that some interesting events can happen and it goes back to some historical evidence from the practices of the tietäjä, whom I suppose you could view as a Finnish shaman or wise-man. The main advice I have for you is to not be shy and write what comes to you. I doubt the spirits are going to care if you’re a prize-winning poet. They’re probably happy enough that someone is actually honoring them in this day and age. To end this entry, I will post one of mine to give an example. I often sing this one in the forest while playing my kantele, and you can feel free to use it, though some of this has personal meaning based on past experiences:

Tapio I honor today
As I sit here in your forest
Coming with no ill intention
Only to play here this music
Also welcome are the spirits
To partake in this great event
Sitting amongst leaves and branches
As the wind blows on our faces
Brought by your maiden Tellervo
The one whom I seek for guidance
Teaching me of the old secrets
Most not shared for generations
Please I ask for your protection
In turn for you I’ll be playing

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