Lafcadio Hearn.

Books and Habits from the Lectures of Lafcadio Hearn online

. (page 14 of 19)
Online LibraryLafcadio HearnBooks and Habits from the Lectures of Lafcadio Hearn → online text (page 14 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

instructed me with their melodies, the long-haired trees invited me to
their concerts. And all the songs I gathered together, I rolled them up in
a skin, I carried them away in my beautiful little holiday sledge, I
deposited them in the bottom of a chest of brass, upon the highest shelf
of my treasure house."

Now when a poem opens that way we may be sure that there are great things
in it; and some of these great things we shall read about presently. The
"Kalevala" is full of wonderful stories, But in the above quotation, I
want you to see how multiple it is, and yet it is beautiful. Now there is
a very interesting thing yet to tell you about this parallelism. Such
poems as those of the "Kalevala" have always to be sung not by one singer
but by two. The two singers straddle a bench facing each other and hold
each other's hands. Then they sing alternately, each chanting one line,
rocking back and forward, pulling each other to and fro as they sing - so
that it is like the motion of rowing. One chants a line and pulls
backward, then the other chants the next line and pulls in the opposite
direction. Not to be able to answer at once would be considered a great
disgrace; and every singer has to be able to improvise as well as to sing.
And that is the signification of the following verse:

"Put thy hand to my hand - place thy fingers between my fingers - that we
may sing of the things which are."

The most beautiful story in this wonderful book is the story of Kullervo.
It was after reading this story that Longfellow imagined his story of the
Strong Man Kwasind. Kullervo is born so strong that as an infant he breaks
his cradle to pieces, and as a boy he can not do any work, for all the
tools and instruments break in his grasp. Therefore he gives a great deal
of trouble at home and has to go out into the world to seek his fortune.
In the world, of course, he has just the same trouble; for nobody will
employ him very long. However, the story of Kullervo's feats of strength,
though interesting, need not now concern us. The great charm of this
composition is in the description of a mother's love which it contains.
Kullervo brought misfortune everywhere simply by his strength and by his
great passions - at last committing a terrible crime, causing the death of
his own sister, whom he does not recognize. He goes back home in
desperation and remorse; and there everybody regards him with horror,
except only his mother. She alone tries to console him; she alone tells
him that repentance may bring him rest. He then proposes to go away and
amend his wrong-doing in solitude. But first he bids them all goodbye, and
the episode is characteristic.

Kullervo, the son of Kalervo, gets him ready to depart; he goes to his old
father and says: "Farewell now, O my dear father. Wilt thou regret me
bitterly, when thou shalt learn that I am dead? - that I have disappeared
from among the multitude of the living? - that I no longer am one of the
members of thy family?" The father answered: "No, certainly I will not
regret thee when I shall hear that thou art dead. Another son perchance
will be born to me - a son who will grow up better and wiser than thou."

Kullervo, son of Kalervo, answered: "And I also will not be sorry if I
hear that thou art dead. Without any trouble I can find me such a father
as thou - a stone-hearted father, a clay-mouthed father, a berry-eyed
father, a straw-bearded father, a father whose feet are made of the roots
of the willow tree, a father whose flesh is decaying wood." Why does
Kullervo use these extraordinary terms? It is a reference to magic - out of
stone and clay and straw, a phantom man can be made, and Kullervo means to
say that his father is no more to him than a phantom father, an unreal
father, a father who has no fatherly feeling. His brothers and sisters all
questioned in turn if they will be sorry to hear that he is dead, make the
same cruel answer; and he replies to them with the same angry words. But
it is very different when he speaks to his mother.

For to his mother he said - "Oh my sweet mother, my beautiful nurse, my
loved protectress, wilt thou regret me bitterly when thou shalt learn that
I am dead, that I have disappeared from the multitude of the living, that
I am no longer one of the members of thy family?"

The mother made answer: "Thou does not comprehend the soul of the
mother - thou canst not understand the heart of the mother. Assuredly will
I regret thee most bitterly when I shall learn that thou art dead, that
thou hast disappeared, from among the multitude of the living, that thou
hast ceased to be one of the members of my family. Floods of tears shall I
weep in my chamber. The waves of tears will overflow on the floor. And
upon the stairway lamentably shall I weep; and in the stable loudly shall
I sorrow. Upon the icy ways the snow shall melt under my tears - under my
tears the earth of the roads shall melt away; under my tears new meadow
grass shall grow up, green sprouting, and through that grass little
streams shall murmur away." To this mother, naturally, Kullervo says no
unkind words. He goes away, able at least to feel that there is one person
in the world who loves him and one person in the world whom he loves. But
how much his mother really loves him he does not yet know; he will know
that later - it forms the most beautiful part of the poem.

"Kullervo directed his steps once more to the home of his fathers.
Desolate he found it, desolate and deserted; no person advanced to salute
him, no person came to press his hand, to give him welcome.

"He drew near to the hearth: the embers were extinguished. By that he knew
that his mother had ceased to be.

"He drew near to the fire-place, and the stones of the fire-place were
cold. By that he knew that his father had ceased to be.

"He turned his eyes upon the floor of his home; the planks of the floor
were covered with dirt and rubbish. By that he knew that his sister had
ceased to be.

"To the shore of the sea he went; the boat that used to be there was there
no longer. By that he knew that his brother had ceased to be.

"Then he began to weep. For a whole day he wept, for two whole days he
wept; then he cried aloud: 'O my mother, O my sweet mother, what didst
thou leave thy son yet in the world? Alas! now thou canst hear me no
longer; and it is in vain that I stand above thy tomb, that I sob over the
place of thine eyebrows, over the place of thy temples; it is in vain that
I cry out my grief above thy dead forehead.'

"The mother of Kullervo awakened in her tomb, and out of the depth of the
dust she spake to him: 'I have left the dog Mastif, in order that thou
mayst go with him to the chase. Take therefore the faithful dog, and go
with him into the wild forest, into the dark wilderness, even to the
dwelling place, far away, of the blue-robed Virgins of the wood, and there
thou wilt seek thy nourishment, thou wilt ask for the game that is
necessary to thy existence.'"

It was believed that there was a particular forest god, who protected the
trees and the wild things of the wood. The hunter could be successful in
the chase only upon condition of obtaining his favour and permission to
hunt. This explains the reference to the abode of the forest god. But
Kullervo can not go far; his remorse takes him by the throat.

"Kullervo, son of Kalervo, took his faithful dog, and directed his steps
toward the wild forest, toward the dark wilderness. But when he had gone
only a little way he found himself at the very place where he had outraged
the young girl, where he had dishonoured the child of his mother. And all
things there mourned for her - all things; the soft grass and the tender
foliage, and the little plants, and the sorrowful briars. The grass was no
longer green, the briars no longer blossomed, the leaves and the plants
hung withered and dry about the spot where the virgin had been
dishonoured, where the brother had dishonoured his sister.

"Kullervo drew forth his sword, his sharpedged sword; a long time he
looked at it, turning it in his hand, and asking it whether it would feel
no pleasure in eating the flesh of the man thus loaded with infamy, in
drinking the blood of the man thus covered with crime.

"And the sword knew the heart of the man: it understood the question of
the hero. And it made answer to him saying: 'Why indeed should I not
gladly devour the flesh of the man who is loaded with infamy? Why indeed
should I not drink with pleasure the blood of the man who is burdened with
crime? For well I devoured even the flesh of the innocent man, well can I
drink even the blood of the man who is free from crime.'

"Then Kullervo fixed his sword in the earth, with the handle downwards and
the point upwards, and he threw himself upon the point, and the point
passed through all the depth of his breast.

"This was the end of all, this was the cruel destiny of Kullervo, the
irrevocable end of the son of the heroes - the death of the 'Man of

You can see how very much unlike other Western poetry this poetry is. The
imagination indeed is of another race and another time than those to whose
literary productions we have become accustomed. But there is beauty here;
and the strangeness of it indicates a possible literary value by which any
literature may be more or less enriched. Many are the particular episodes
which rival the beauty and strangeness of the episode of Kullervo; and I
wish that we could have time to quote them. But I can only refer to them.
There is, for example, the legend of the invention of music, when the hero
Wainamoinen (supposed to represent the Spirit of the Wind, and the sound
of the name indicates the wailing of the wind) invents the first musical
instrument. In no other literature is there anything quite like this
except in the Greek story of Orpheus. Even as the trees bent down their
heads to listen to the song of Orpheus, and as the wild beasts became
tamed at the sound, and as the very stones of the road followed to the
steps of the musician, so is it in the "Kalevala." But the Finnish Orpheus
is the greater magician. To hear him, the sun and moon come nearer to the
earth, the waves of the sea stop short, bending their heads; the cataracts
of the rivers hang motionless and silent; the fish raise their heads above
the water. And when he plays a sad melody, all nature weeps with him, even
the trees and the stones and the little plants by the wayside. And his own
tears in falling become splendid pearls for the crowns of kings.

Then very wonderful too is the story of the eternal smith, Ilmarinen, who
forged the foundations of the world, forged the mountains, forged the blue
sky, so well forging them that nowhere can be seen the marks of the
pincer, the marks of the hammer, the heads of the nails. Working in his
smithy we see him all grime and black; upon his head there is one yard
deep of iron firing, upon his shoulders there is one fathom deep of
soot - the soot of the forge; for he seldom has time to bathe himself. But
when the notion takes him to get married, for the first time he bathes
himself, and dresses himself handsomely, then he becomes the most
beautiful of men. In order to win his wife he is obliged to perform
miracles of work; yet after he wins her she is killed by wild beasts. Then
he sets to work to forge himself a wife, a wife of silver, a bride of
gold. Very beautiful she is, but she has no heart, and she is always cold,
and there is no comfort in her; even all the magic of the world-maker can
not give her a warm heart. But the work is so beautiful that he does not
like to destroy it. So he takes the wife of silver, the bride of gold, to
the wisest of heroes, Wainamoinen, and offers her to him as a gift. But
the hero will have no such gift, "Throw her back into your forged fire, O
Ilmarinen," the hero makes answer - "What greater folly, what greater
sorrow can come upon man than to love a wife of silver, a bride of gold?"

This pretty story needs no explanation; the moral is simply "Never marry
for money."

Then there is the story of Lemminkainen (this personality suggested the
Pau-puk-keewis of Longfellow) - the joyous, reckless, handsome, mischievous
pleasure-lover, - always falling into trouble, because he will not follow
his mother's advice, but always loved by her in spite of his follies. The
mother of Lemminkainen is a more wonderful person than the mother of
Kullervo. Her son has been murdered, thrown into a river - the deepest of
all rivers, the river of the dead, the river of hell. And his mother goes
out to find him. She asks the trees in the forest to tell her where her
son is, and she obliges them to answer. But they do not know. She asks the
grass, the plants, the animals, the birds; she obliges even the road upon
which he walked to talk to her, she talks to the stars and the moon and
the sun. Only the sun knows, because he sees everything and he answers,
"Your son is dead, torn to pieces; he has been thrown into the river of
Tuoni, the river of hell, the river of the dead." But the mother does not
despair. Umarinen, the eternal smith, must make for her a rake of brass
with teeth long enough to reach into the world of the dead, into the
bottom of the abyss; and out of the abyss she brings up the parts of the
torn body of her son; she puts them together; she sings over them a magic
song; she brings her son to life again, and takes him home. But for a long
time he is not able to remember, because he has been dead. After a long
time he gets back his memory - only to get into new mischief out of which
his mother must help him afresh.

The names of the three heroes quoted to you represent also the names of
three great stories, out of the many stories contained in the epics. But
in this epic, as in the Indian epics (I mean the Sanskrit epic), there is
much more than stories. There are also chapters of moral instruction of a
very curious kind - chapters about conduct, the conduct of the parents, the
conduct of the children, the conduct of the husband, the conduct of the
bride. The instructions to the bride are contained in the twenty-third
Rune; there are altogether fifty Runes in the book. This appears to me
likely to interest you, for it is written in relation to a family system
not at all like the family system of the rest of Europe. I think you will
find in it not a little that may remind you of Chinese teaching on the
same subject - the conduct of the daughter-in-law. But there are of course
many differences, and the most pleasing difference is the tone of great
tenderness in which the instructions are given. Let us quote some of them:

"O young bride, O my young sister, O my well beloved and beautiful young
flower, listen to the words which I am going to speak to you, harken to
the lesson which I am going to teach you. You are going now very far away
from us, O beautiful flower! - you are going to take a long journey, O my
wild-strawberry fruit! you are about to fly away from us, O most delicate
down! you are about to leave us forever, O velvet tissue - far away from
this habitation you must go, far away from this beautiful house, to enter
another house, to enter into a strange family. And in that strange house
your position will be very different. There you will have to walk about
with care, to conduct yourself with prudence, to conduct yourself with
thoughtfulness. There you will not be able, as in the house of your
father, as in the dwelling of your mother, to run about where you please,
to run singing through the valleys, to warhle out your songs upon the

"New habits you must now learn, and forget all the old. You must abandon
the love of your father and content yourself with the love of your
father-in-law; you must bow very low, you must learn to be generous in the
use of courteous words. You must give up old habits and form new ones; you
must resign the love of your mother and content yourself with the love of
your step-mother: lower must you bow, and you must learn to be lavish in
the use of kindly words.

"New habits you must learn and forget the old: you must leave behind you
the friendship of your brother, and content yourself with the friendship
of your brother-in-law; you must bow lower than you do now; you must learn
to be lavish of kindly words.

"New habits you must acquire and forget the old ones; you must leave
behind you the friendship of your sister, and be satisfied with the
friendship of your sister-in-law; you must learn to make humble reverence,
to bow low, to be generous in kindly words.

"If the old man in the corner be to you even like a wolf, if the old woman
in her corner be to you even as a she-bear in the house, if the
brother-in-law be to you even as a serpent upon the threshold, if the
sister-in-law be to you even as a sharp nail, none the less you must show
them each and all exactly the same respect and the same obedience that you
have been accustomed to display to your father, to display to your mother,
under the roof of your childhood home."

Then follows a really terrible list of the duties that she must perform
every day from early morning until late at night; to mention them all
would take too long. I quote only a few, enough to show that the position
of a Finnish wife was by no means an easy one.

"So soon as the cock crows in the morning you must be quick to rise; you
must keep your ears awake to hear the cry of the cock. And if there be no
cock, or the cock does not crow, then let the moon be as a cock for you,
let the constellation of the great Bear tell you when it is time to rise.
Then you must quickly make the fire, skilfully removing the ashes, without
sprinkling them upon the floor. Then quickly go to the stable, clean the
stable, take food to the cattle, feed all the animals on the farm. For
already the cow of your mother-in-law will be lowing for food; the horse
of your father-in-law will be whinnying; the milch cow of your
sister-in-law will be straining at her tether; the calf of your
brother-in-law will be bleating; for all will be waiting for her whose
duty it is to give them hay, whose duty it is to give them food."

Like instructions are given about feeding the younger animals and the
fowls and the little pigs. But she must not forget the children of the
house at the same time:

"When you have fed the animals and cleaned the stables come back quickly,
quickly as a snow-storm. For in the chamber the little child has awakened
and has begun to cry in his cradle. He cannot speak, poor little one; he
cannot tell you, if he be hungry or if he be cold, or if anything
extraordinary has happened to him, before someone that he knows has come
to care for him, before he hears the voice of his own mother."

After enumerating and inculcating in the same manner all the duties of the
day, the conduct to be observed toward every member of the
family - father-in-law, mother-in-law, sister, and brother-in-law, and the
children of them - we find a very minute code of conduct set forth in
regard to neighbours and acquaintances. The young wife is especially
warned against gossip, against listening to any stories about what happens
in other people's houses, and against telling anybody what goes on within
her own. One piece of advice is memorable. If the young wife is asked
whether she is well fed, she should reply always that she has the best of
everything which a house can afford, this even if she should have been
left without any proper nourishment for several days. Evidently the
condition of submission to which Finnish women were reduced by custom was
something much less merciful than has ever been known in Eastern
countries. Only a very generous nature could bear such discipline; and we
have many glimpses in the poem of charming natures of this kind.

You have seen that merely as a collection of wonderful stories the
Kalevala is of extraordinary interest, that it is also of interest as
describing the social ethics of a little known people - finally that it is
of interest, of very remarkable interest, merely as natural poetry - poetry
treating of wild nature, especially rivers and forests and mountains, of
the life of the fisher and hunter and wood-cutter. Indeed, so far as this
kind of poetry is concerned, the "Kalevala" stands alone among the older
productions of European poetry. You do not find this love of nature in
Scandinavian poetry, nor in Anglo-Saxon poetry, nor in old German poetry,
much less in the earlier form of French, Italian, or Spanish poetry. The
old Northern poetry comes nearest to it; for in Anglo-Saxon composition we
can find at least wonderful descriptions of the sea, of stones, of the
hard life of sailors. But the dominant tone in Northern poetry is war; it
is in descriptions of battle, or in accounts of the death of heroes, that
the ancient English or ancient Scandinavian poets excelled In Finnish
poetry, on the other hand, there is little or nothing about war. These
peaceful people never had any warlike history; their life was agricultural
for the most part, with little or no violence except such as the
excitement of hunting and fishing could produce. Therefore they had plenty
of time to think about nature, to love nature and to describe it as no
other people of the same period described it. Striking comparisons have
been made between the Anglo-Saxon Runes, or charm songs, and Finnish songs
of the same kind, which fully illustrate this difference. Like the Finns,
the early English had magical songs to the gods of nature - songs for the
healing of wounds and the banishing of sickness. But these are very
commonplace. Not one of them can compare as poetry with the verses of the
Finnish on the same subject. Here are examples in evidence. The first is a
prayer said when offering food to the Spirit of the forest, that he might
aid the hunter in his hunting.

"Look, O Kuntar, a fat cake, a cake with honey, that I may propitiate the
forest, that I may propitiate the forest, that I may entice the thick
forest for the day of my hunting, when I go in search of prey. Accept my
salt, O wood, accept my porridge, O Tapio, dear king of the wood with the
hat of leaves, with the beard of moss."

And here is a little prayer to the goddess of water repeated by a sick man
taking water as a medicine.

"O pure water, O Lady of the Water, now do thou make me whole, lovely as
before! for this beg thee dearly, and in offering I give thee blood to
appease thee, salt to propitiate thee!"

Or this:

"Goddess of the Sea, mistress of waters, Queen of a hundred caves, arouse
the scaly flocks, urge on the fishy-crowds forth from their hiding places,
forth from the muddy shrine, forth from the net-hauling, to the nets of a
hundred fishers! Take now thy beauteous shield, shake the golden water,
with which thou frightenest the fish, and direct them toward the net
beneath the dark level, above the borders black."

Yet another:

"O vigorous mistress of the wild beasts, sweet lady of the earth, come
with me, be with me, where I go. Come thou and good luck bring me, to
happy fortune help me. Make thou to move the foliage, the fruit tree to be
shaken, and the wild beasts drive thither, the largest and the smallest,
with their snouts of every kind, with their paws of fur of all kinds!"

Now when you look at these little prayers, when you read them over and
observe how pretty they are, you will also observe that they make little
pictures in the mind. Can not you see the fish gliding over the black
border under the dark level of the water, to the net of a hundred fishers?
Can you not see the "dear king of the wood," with his hat of leaves and
his beard of moss? Can you not also see in imagination the wild creatures
of the forest with their snouts of many shapes, with their fur of all
kinds? But in Anglo-Saxon poetry you will not find anything like that.
Anglo-Saxon Rune songs create no images. It is this picturesqueness, this
actuality of imagery that is distinctive in Finnish poetry.

In the foregoing part of the lecture I have chiefly tried to interest you
in the "Kalevala." But aside from interesting you in the book itself as a
story, as a poem, I hope to direct your attention to a particular feature
in Finnish poetry which is most remote from Japanese poetry. I have spoken
of resemblances as to structure and method; but it is just in that part of
the method most opposed to Japanese tradition that the greatest interest
lies. I do not mean only the use of natural imagery; I mean much more the
use of parallelism to reinforce that imagery. That is the thing especially
worthy of literary study. Indeed, I think that such study might greatly

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryLafcadio HearnBooks and Habits from the Lectures of Lafcadio Hearn → online text (page 14 of 19)