I was going to report on my Kalevala progress
by pastiching the verse form -- but then I got to wondering about the original verse form, which turns out to be a much more fascinating rabbit hole than any of my own noodlings.
In English, the Kalevala meter is known as trochaic tetrameter, DUM-dee DUM-dee DUM-dee DUM-dee, familiar from Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha
.* Er, have some terms: meters are quantitative
when they measure the line with patterns of the lengths ("quantity") of syllables, as in ancient Greek, and qualitative
when they measure with some quality of syllables, such as in English or German poetry where it's whether they're stressed or not ("accentual") or in some classical Chinese forms where it's patterns of tones.
While English poetry was influenced by classical poetry to the extent of adopting the Greek names for metrical feet with the same accentual pattern as the original's quantitative pattern (whence "trochaic"), only one actual meter was borrowed, that of the sapphic stanza.** German poets, on the other hand, borrowed more and nativized several Greek metrical patterns, replacing stress for length. So when they met the Kalevala
with its apparently quantitative, if irregular, trochaic tetrameter of four long-short pairs, they translated it doing the same thing they did with Greek -- regularizing the lines as they did so.
However, comma, the Kalevala meter only appears to be quantitative if you aren't paying attention (speculation: or are not as fluent in Finnish as a native speaker). While Finnish does indeed have two quantities (long and short) just like ancient Greek, the meter of these poems works by a mix of quantity and quality. That is, for metrical purposes there are three types of syllables: strong (stressed long vowel), weak (stressed short vowel), and neutral (anything unstressed). In the second, third, and fourth foot of a line, strong syllables can appear only in the initial position and weak only in the final position, and either can and frequently is replaced with a neutral syllable -- and the first foot, which is only weakly restricted to two syllables as it is, seems to be unconstrained.
This is, to put it mildly, interesting
: the first mixed quantitative/qualitative meter I've met -- anyone know of any others?
Anyway, the result of these rules (which I've simplified to avoid further rabbit-holes) is a more flexible and less monotonous meter than its German recension.
Which brings me back to Longfellow: he modeled Hiawatha
not on the original, despite the way it's usually described, but Schiefner's German translation, giving another layer of adaptation distillation
. And speaking of TV Tropes, it's from there
that I picked up the tidbit that in the oral tradition this comes from, in performance the last two syllables of each line are drawn out twice as long as the others, an effect "markedly different from the Longfellow version." That would be, yes.
And in case you're wondering, I'm reading the 1907 Kirby translation, which uses Longfellow's meter. Still more adaptation distillation. This is not in itself a bad thing -- it gives the verse a nice dogtrot, which is helpful in a language with far more vowel and consonant sounds and so doesn't consonate or alliterate as easily as Finnish. But it is only marginally accurate to the original meter, and I need to keep that in mind.
FWIW, I'm about halfway through. Note to self: if I ever throw a really big wedding, don't invite everyone except that one troublemaker just because everyone thinks he's a jerk, because he will then come make trouble.
* At least in States -- I know that a century ago Longfellow was popular throughout the Anglosphere, but not how much he is read these days. Hiawatha is still a common but not universal staple of American childhood.
** Longfellow's hexameters in Evangeline are more an attempt at an equivalent effect than adaption of the Homeric original, as he ignored many rules.