Collecting trips

Lönnrot set out on his travels in April of 1828. On the first part of his journey he scarcely found any poetry at all, but once he reached Savo and Karelia in Eastern Finland, he began to find persons skilled in the singing of the old epic folk songs. The high point of his trip was his meeting with Juhana Kainulainen in Kesälahti, whose songs and magic incantations Lönnrot spent three days recording in writing. On his first collecting trip he stayed away for the entire summer and returned to Laukko in the autumn with a large number of recorded folk poems, most of them incantations and epic poems, approximately 6,000 lines in all.

A map of Elias Lönnrot's collecting trips

Lönnrot spent the autumn in Laukko, organizing his collected material for publication. Here he also was able to record epic songs sung to him by a travelling peddlar from Archangel Karelia, new proof of where it might be possible to find the best folk poetry.

Lönnrot continued his studies at the university, which was now relocated to Helsinki, but his favorite pastime was still his work with folk poetry. He belonged to a small group of persons whose ambition was not only to record the older folk poetry but to also promote the use of the Finnish language in a broader sense as well.

In order to further this cause, the Finnish Literature Society was founded in February of 1831. Lönnrot became the Society's first secretary and was for many years its most active member. One of the Society's first tasks was to provide Lönnrot with a stipend for a collecting journey across the Russian border to Archangel Karelia. This trip was nonetheless interrupted when a cholera epidemic broke out and the folk poetry collector was called back to his medical duties. The trip was postponed until next summer in 1832, at which time Lönnrot noted down some 3,000 lines of incantations and epic poetry.

In 1833, Lönnrot took up a posting as a general practitioner in the small and outlying city of Kajaani. The fact that he had to leave behind his circle of like-minded acquaintances and friends was compensated by the fact that Kajaani was situated near the folk-singing areas of Archangel Karelia. A new plan for the publication of the folk poems also began to take shape in Lönnrot's mind. His ambition was to publish the songs as separate episodes focused on the main heroes of the epic poetry.

Lönnrot's fourth collecting trip undertaken in the autumn of 1833 was epoch-making from the standpoint of the birth of the Kalevala. In the villages of Archangel Karelia, Lönnrot was able to experience for himself the vitality of the epic song tradition in that area.

The poems were still sung by both young and old. In Vuonninen, Lönnrot met Ontrei Malinen. Ontrei sang to Lönnrot for two days, 800 lines in all. Among Ontrei's songs was the sequence of episodes relating to the Sampo.

Vaassila Kieleväinen, an elderly singer of folk poetry, knew the central themes of the folk poems in great detail and guided the collector in making links among different themes. Vaassila's knowledge was a decisive factor in the structuring of the future Kalevala.

Lönnrot began to organize his folk poetry notes for publication. The poems collected by Lönnrot on his first journey had appeared in a series of books entitled Kantele between 1829 and 1831. The manuscripts Lemminkäinen, Väinämöinen, and Naimakansan virsiä (composed of wedding songs) appeared after the collection journey undertaken in 1833.

Still, Lönnrot was not satisfied. His goal was a unified body of poetry Рa grand epic modelled after Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and the Edda of the ancient Scandinavians.

In December of 1833 he wrote: "…during the winter, I plan to slip back into the Archangel District again, and I'll not cease collecting until I get a collection of these poems which equals half of Homer."

Thus came into being a unified, 5,000-line long body of poetry which later came to be known as the Proto-Kalevala. Nor was Lönnrot yet satisfied, for he still longed to return to the folk poetry villages of Archangel Karelia.

On his fifth journey in April of 1834, Lönnrot met Arhippa Perttunen, who was the most skilled of the singers he had met thus far in Archangel.

In the village of Latvajärvi Arhippa Perttunen sang altogether 4,000 lines of lengthy epic poems for Lönnrot over a period of two days.