THE PIKEBONE HARP
Vainamoinen sails at ease
From the tip of that long headland,
Out of hearing of that village,
Of that wretched settlement,
Sailed on singing on the water,
Striking joyance on the billows.
7 Maidens on the tips of headlands
Looked and listened wonderingly:
"What's that joyance on the water,
What those songs out on the billows, 10
Each one better than before,
Tunes more moving than the others?"
13 Thus old Vainamoinen sailed
For a day on inland waters
And a second through the marshlands;
On the third day reached the rapids.
17 There the wayward Lemminkainen
Now recalled a certain spell
As they reached the boiling rapids
And the sacred river's whirlpool. 20
There he made his incantation
And pronounced it in these measures:'
23 "Stop, O rapids, stop your foaming,
Stop, swift water, stop your seething!
Spirit of the cataract,
Foam Maid, sit upon the midrock,
Boulder in the seething center,
Lull the water in your lap,
Fold the eddies in your fingers,
Hold the spume back with your hands 30
So it does not spray our breasts
Nor come splashing over us.
33 "Woman down beneath the billows,
Matron by the seething water!
With your hands rise on the foam
To your breast above the water.
Gather all the foam together
And direct the furious current,
Taking care of all the whitecaps
Lest they overcome the guiltless 40
Or engulf the innocent.
41 "Midstream rocks'and.highest boulders,
Duck your heads ana lower your crowns
In the roadway of the red boat,
In the path of tarry vessel.
Dreadrock Kimmo, sonofKammo,
With your bit and with yourinuger
Bore a hole and cut a passage
Through the midrock of tkeimmpws so -
Through the side of that bad boulder
That the boat may pass ungrounded,
Sailing safely through undamaged.
55 "And if that is not enough
O thou master of the waters,
Dweller underneath the billows,
Turn the reef-rocks into mosses,
Boat into a pike's air bladder
As it travels through the foam,
As it sails among, the whitecaps. 60
61 "Maiden living by the rapids,
Virgin of the riverside!
Spin a thread of filmy vapor,
Spin it from a wooly Cloudlet!
Draw the thread along the water,
Your blue thread across the seaways
As a leadway for the vessel,
For the tarry-prow to follow
And an ignorant man to steer by,
Utter stranger keep his bearings.
71 "Guardian of the oar, good matron,
Use your chosen rudder oar
As you guide the vessel's course,
Steering through bedeviled waters
By a Lappish wizard's tent,
Right beneath the sorcerer's window.2
77 "And if that is not enough
0 thou llkko, god of heaven!
Clear the ship's course with thy sword,
Guiding with thy naked blade so
That the wooden boat pass safely,
Pinewood craft glide on unhindered."
83 Then old Vainamoinen steered,
And the vessel rippled on,
Sailed between the rocks and reefs,
Over heaving swells and rollers,
And the vessel was not halted,
The magician's boat not grounded.
89 But as soon as they were out,
Out upon the open water, 90
Suddenly the boat stopped moving
And the vessel stood stone still.
There the boat was firmly grounded,
Vessel fixed and motionless.
95 First the blacksmith Ilmarinen,
Then the wayward Lemminkainen
Plunged the rudder deeper down,
Firwood oar beneath the billows
Trying thus to loose the vessel
From the thing it's grounded on. 100
But the vessel does not move,
The wooden boat is not released.
103 Said old Vainamoinen then:
"0 you nimble son of Lempi!
Lean over now and look to see
What the boat is grounded on,
Stuck on in these open waters,
In these peaceful lower reaches-
On a rock or sunken pine log
Or some other unseen snag." 110
ll3 Lemminkainen, leaning over,
Peers beneath the boat and says:
"No, the vessel's on no rock,
Neither rock nor sunken pine log,
But the shoulders of a pike,
Backbone of the water-dog.
121 Said old Vainamoinen then:
"There's always something in the water,
Sunken logs and pikes and such.
If ifs on a big pike's shoulders, 120
Shoulder blade of water-dog,
Slash your sword through the water
And just cut the fish in two."
129 Then the wayward Lemminkainen,
Lively lad, the ruddy rascal,
Draws the sword from his belt,
The bone-biter from his scabbard,
Slashes with it through the water,
Reaching down beneath the vessel
So that he himself fell in, 130
Plunging headfirst in the billows.
137 But smith Ilmarinen grabbed him,
Seized the fellow by the hair,
Snatched him up out of the sea
And remarked: "Everybody
Is designed to be a man,
Made the bearer of a beard
If for nothing else than to be
But a number in a hundred
Or a digit in a thousand." 140
145 From his belt he drew his sword,
The grim iron from his scabbard,
And he struck down at the monster,
Slashing down beneath the vessel,
But the sword crashed into fragments,
Yet the pike paid no attention.
151 Said old Vainamoinen to them:
"There's not a half a man between you,
Not one-third part of a brave one
When the need comes in a crisis 150
For a man to show his mettle;
Then your spirit's-mediocre,
All your actions go astray."
159 He himself then drew his sword,
Flicked the blade out in a flash,
Plunged the iron in the sea,
Striking down beneath the vessel
Into the shoulder of the pike,
Shoulder blade of the water-dog.
165 There his sword was firmly fixed, 160
In the flesh and in the gills.
Then old Vainamoinen lifted,
Heaved the fish up from the water,
But the great pike broke in two,
Tail-part sinking in the sea,
Forepart landing on the vessel.
173 Now the boat began to move,
Cleared now of that great obstruction.
Vainamoinen steered the vessel,
Steered it to a little island, 170
Ran it quickly to the shore.
Turning, looking, he examines
That huge forepart of the pike.
Then he said: "Whoever of you
Is the oldest of the youths
Is the one to split the pike,
Cut the pikefish into slices,
Chop the forepart into pieces."
185 From the boat the men replied
And the women from the sides: 180
"Fisherman's fingers are the ablest,
Catcher's hands the worthiest."3
189 Vainamoinen drew his knife,
Drew the cold blade from his side,
And he slits the pike asunder,
Cuts the fish in proper portions,
And he said to them: "Whoever
Is the youngest of the maidens
Is the one to cook the pike,
First to make a morning snack, 190
Then a proper fish-plate dinner."
199 So the maidens set to cooking,
Ten competing with each other.
When the pike was cooked and eaten,
Nothing but the bones were left there,
Fishbones on the rocky islet.
205 Vainamoinen looks them over,
Turns them over as he wonders:
"What thing could be made of those,
Fashioned from the pike's great teeth, 200
Invented from its broad jawbone
Somehow in a craftsman's workshop,
Workshop of a skillful artist,
In the hands of mighty talent."
215 But smith Ilmarinen answered:
"Nothing ever comes from nothing,
Nothing useful from those fishbones
Even in a craftsman's workshop,
Workshop of a skillful artist,
In the hands of mighty talent." 210
221 Vainamoinen meditated:
"Yet from these might be invented
Something like a harp perhaps.
If one only had the skill,
He might make a harp of fishbone."
227 Then when no one else came forward,
No one with the skill to do it,
To invent a harp of fishbone,
Old reliable Vainamoinen
Now became the skilled inventor, 220
Made himself the master craftsman-
Made the five-stringed harp of pikebone,
Made a thing of joy forever.
235 What's the body of it made of?
Of the jawbone of the pike.
And the pegs, what are they made of?
Of the strong teeth of the pike.
And the strings, what are they made of?
From the mane of Hiisi's gelding.
241 Now the instrument was finished, 230
Now the five-string harp was ready,
The great instmment of pikebone,
The great fishbone joyance giver.
245 Then the young men gathered round it,
And the married men came forward;
Half-grown lads and little girls,
The young maidens and old matrons,
Women in their middle years
Came to view the music maker,
To appraise the new-made harp. 240
253 Old reliable Vainamoinen
Told a young man, told an old man,
And he told a middle-ager
To play upon it with their fingers,
That resounding fishbone harp,
Tuneful harp he made of fishbone.
259 Youngsters tried it, oldsters tried it,
And the middle-agers tried it.
Youngsters played it, fingers flexing,
Oldsters played it, heads atremble, 250
But their playing brought no joyance,
For their playing made no music.
265 Said the wayward Lemminkainen:
"Ah, you lads, all you dullards,
And you too, you silly girls,
And the rest of this dull crowd!
None of you would make a player,
Not a good musician among you.
Bring the instrument to me,
Here to me the new-made harp, 260
Right here on my own two knees,
Under the tips of my ten fingers."
275 Then he took the new-made harp,
Drew the joyance giver to him,
Set it down beneath his fingers.
Then he turned it and he tuned it,
Tinkered with the music maker,
But no music sounded from it,
Not a note of joy resounded.
283 Said old Vainamoinen then: 270
"There is none among the young ones
In this growing generation
Nor among the older people
Who can play that instrument,
Make it ring with joyous music.
Are they better in Pohjola,
Could they play that instrument,
Make it ring with joyous music,
If indeed I take it there?"
293 So he took it to Pohjola, 280
Took it to the land of sedges.
There the sons of Northland tried it,
Boys and girls and married men
And the married women tried it.
Even mistress Louhi tried it;
Turned it, tuned it, and she plucked it
With the nails of her ten fingers.
303 Thus the sons of Northland played it
And all ranks of people played it,
But the giver of joy was joyless, 290
For the playing made no music.
All the tortured strings were twisted,
With the horse hairs shrieking shrilly,
Raucously each note resounding,
All the playing jangled madly.
311 In the corner a man was sleeping,
An old blind man on the stove top.
On the stove the old man wakened,
Startled upright on the stove stones;
Grumbled from his sleeping place, 300
Snarled and growled at the players:
"Stop and cease that racket there,
Quit that noise and end it now!
It is piercing through my ears,
It is jarring through my head;
Lifts each hair and gives me gooseflesh,
Leaves me sleepless for a week.
323 "If the instrument of Finland
Can no longer give us joy
Or enchant us into dreaming 310
Nor beguile us to repose,
Then just toss it in the water,
Sink it underneath the seawaves,
Or, if not, then take it back,
Take it back to where you got it,
To the hands of him who made it,
To the fingers of its fashioner."
333 But the harp strings interrupted
As they rang out in these words:
"I will not go under water 320
Nor yet underneath the seawaves.
I will ring out for my player,
Him who took the pains to make me."
339 So indeed they took it safely,
Carried it with all due care
To the hands of him who made it,
To the knees of its inventor.