THE KALEVALA.—Translated into English by Prof. J. M. Crawford, (1888, J. B. Alden, New York.) It is a matter of congratulation that the first complete English translation of the great Finnish Epic has been made by a Cincinnati man. Though the books are hardly yet dry from the hands of the binder, scarcely two weeks having passed since the advance copies appeared, the Eastern papers have found time to give most elaborate reviews, ranking the work of Dr. Crawford very high for its literary merit, poetic imagery, and faithful rendering of the great Epic into English. The N. Y. Times recently devoted a whole column editorially to the poem and the mythology of the Finns, and its literary editor, Mr. Chas. DeKay, has written a most elaborate and classical paper on the subject which is soon to appear.
It is everywhere admitted that the appearance of the poem is a very important event in English literature. The first feeling on taking up these two beautifully printed volumes is one of profound surprise that a poem of such magnitude and beauty could so long have remained unknown to English readers, and this feeling is only deepened as with unlagging interest, the reader pursues his way through the poem itself. The magic of nature and the most intense poetic feeling give voice and character to a people but little known and by many supposed to be rude and uncultured. To the Finn the epic is a sacred inheritance, and to alter a word from the original form is considered sacrilege. While, therefore, the recital of the poem by old gray-beards served to impress it deeply on the memory of the young; and while its recital served as a solace to while away the long. dark, dreary winter-days; it also served to preserve the poem itself and at last to transmit it to other generations and other climes.
It is admitted by competent critics like Prof. Sayce, Canon Taylor, and Mr. Chas. DeKay, to be purely pagan in origin and of great antiquity, having been orally transmitted from father to son, generation after generation, for at least three thousand years, never having appeared in print in any language until within the last half century. This fact gives a romantic interest to the great epic unequaled in modern times. It is doubtful if any other great epic is so distinctly national in character. It shows at once the legendary lore, the peculiar beliefs, and the daily life of a people who have been but little changed by outward influences. The deeds of fabled heroes, the magical incantations, and the commonest things of daily life, are so woven together as to give one in a single picture the genius of the Finnish race. It is by no means strange that a people who patterned their lives after such high ideals, where simple truth, justice and simplicity of life were held as the supreme good, should be found possessed of these very qualities. The first article of faith with every Finn is that he owes it to hinself to be absolutely truthful, just, and kind. This to-day is their characteristic. To give any detailed analysis of the poem itself would require more space and time than we can at present spare.
We have read the poem because it is full of Occultism and Magic, and shows the ancient Finns to have been believers in Reincarnation and such theosophical doctrines. There is much in it drawn from ancient magic that will not be understood except by those who really know what true occultism is. Part of it is obscure for the every day scientist and archaeologist, because it really deals with periods of evolution long anterior to the appearance on earth of the present human race; with a time, in fact, when the coming human beings were in constant intercourse with the Deva world, the same period spoken of in the Old Testament when the sons of God married the daughters of men. The trials of the neophyte are well shown in the story of Lemminkainen and the advice of the Guru in the mother’s advice “to give half away, to take but half a stride, and occupy only half of a seat.” Similar things can be found in the Indian books. There is also an “Isle .of Forgetfulness” where one is safe and enjoys great pleasure for a period, after which he returns home (to rebirth). This is Devachan. In Kullervo’s story, Reincarnation is plainly told about. These two volumes are full of interest and profit for the student of occultism who draws from the study of ancient beliefs and religions much that in his long flight through rebirth since that old time he had forgotten.