Väinämöinen Sings

[Note: nominated for a Rhysling Award 2017. Congratulations, Ms. Lawrence!]

I am who I am:
singer, sorcerer, hero:
what fault of mine is it, to be who I am?
Why should the blame affix to me,
that I do not dim my light
so others may not feel overwhelmed in my shadow?

Bold the young one, Joukahainen, was,
envy seething in his breast like a worm in his heart,
when he heard the songs of me,
when he heard the tales of me,
feeling belittled by my existence,
much as a mouse might feel small
when he learns of a lion.
But I did not ask for his anger, for his jealousy:
did not ask him to ride down from the North,
did not ask him to smash his sledge into mine,
did not ask for his insults, for his rage,
and yet —

still I gave him the chance, to turn aside his ire;
still I was willing to dim my light, to hide my lore,
to give him the chance to turn aside from his folly,
but once challenged, I sang the better, the deeper, the wiser,
and when in his rage he would challenge me with his sword,
I sang, instead, his end: sang changes around him,
of sledge, of sword, of crossbow, of steed, all transformed into
things of nature’s wonder: reed and grass and stone and lightning,
things of no use to him, and then himself I sang,
sang him into quicksand,
from his feet to his knees; from his knees to his hips;
from his hips to his chest; from his chest to his mouth,
and only when he had offered such ransom
as I did not already own better of,
did I restore him.

His own sister as bride was I offered,
but beware the treachery of those of the Northlands,
for she would not have me, though her parents urged her on;
instead she threw herself into the ocean’s deeps to flee,
transformed herself into a fish, and then —
when I caught her, unknowing —
she rejected me again.

The bargain had been struck, and I held true
to my word; though it had been broken,
though the maiden had twice rejected me,
still I would have let the matter lie,
but the boy in his jealousy could not let his envy rest,
blamed me for his sister’s loss,
and fashioned magic weapons to strike me down.

He struck me down, but I did not die;
I fell into the ocean, and for eight days and eight nights,
I swam within the waves, seeking home once more,
weakening,
but even weakened, even wounded, even wailing,
I survived.
Old I may be, but I am wise;
I have sung miracles into existence,
I know the secrets of creation and destruction,
and I do not diminish to salve a wounded child’s ego.

Nor think me vanished,
I who have gone from the lands of my birth,
I who have traveled to the world beyond the sunset,
in my ship of copper;
I was ever known to wander,
to seek new places and new adventures,
and though I travel now, far from my land,
one day I will return, in all my glory,
and once again will all of Suomi
sing my name in joy.

[Poet and novelist Jennifer Lawrence just released her first poetry collection, Listening For Their Voices, as well as two novels, Fire on the Mountain and Black Pinions. All three are available through Lulu.]

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