Kullervo

Issue 1/1989 | Archives online, Drama, Fiction

An extract from the tragedy Kullervo (1864). Introduction by David Barrett
The plot of the Kullervo story as told in the Kalevala: Untamo defeats his brother Kalervo’s army, and Kalervo’s son Kullervo is born a slave. Untamo sells him as a young child to llmarinen whose wife, the Daughter of Pohjola, makes the boy a shepherd and bakes him a loaf with a stone inside it. Kullervo takes his revenge by sending home a flock of wild animals, instead of cattle, who tear her to pieces. He flees, and discovers that his parents and two sisters are alive on the borders of Lapland. He finds them, but one of his sisters is lost. Life in the family home is unhappy: Kullervo fails in all the tasks his father sets him. On his way home one day he finds a girl in the forest whom he abducts in his sledge and seduces. It turns out the girl is his lost sister, who drowns herself when she learns that Kullervo is her brother. Kullervo sets out to revenge himself on Untamo; he kills and destroys. When he returns home, he finds the house empty and deserted, goes into the forest and falls on his sword.

ACT II, Scene 3

Kalervo’s cottage by Kalalampi Lake. It is night-time. Kimmo, seated by a fire of woodchips, is mending nets.

KIMMO

(alone) Tomorrow morning I shall leave before sunrise and go to Ilmari’s house to fetch Kullervo and bring him back here to his new home, deep in the wilderness. Oh, Kullervo, how you must be hating it, tending the cattle for the blacksmith’s wife: your heart is aching, I know, but tomorrow you shall be rescued. Your father, your mother, your lovely sister – none of them have any idea that you are still in the world of the living, and I shall tell them nothing until you are safely here under this roof. And then, what rejoicing there will be! – the sunshine of their gladness mingling with the showers of tender tears! Your beard will quiver, Kalervo, like an aspen-leaf in a tempest, your wife will turn pale from excess of joy; grief for a missing daughter, lost in the forest, must surely be lightened when a long-lost son comes to take her place returning like a dead man from the grave. – Just now, indeed, they are weighed down with sorrow, combing the forest tirelessly for any sign of that poor girl. – Well, I must go down to the lake and lower my net: the weather is mild and the water’s calm.

(He departs, with the net over his shoulder. Kalervo enters, from the forest.)

KALERVO

No hope of finding my daughter: I shall never see my lovely Ainikki again. – Misfortune like mine clogs a man’s footsteps, seeking him out wherever he tries to hide. I came to this forest wilderness to escape from human society, and from the bloody feud with my wicked brother; after seeing my little son fall to the swords of those evil robbers, I fled to this place, hoping to find peace. True, I have reared two daughters here, graceful as leafy willows, and the sight of them had almost made me forget the evils of the past; but this very joy has become the source of the grief that now lies so heavily upon us. Better for us to have had no daughters, than for one of them to be thus cruelly snatched away, vanishing into the unknown. Our time here on earth measures no more than a hand’s breadth: it may seem short sometimes, and sometimes long, but short it is, and evil. Looking back now, an old man, I see that a cruel Destiny has pursued me from the start. But my heart bears the scars of so many wounds that its surface is hardened to a crust.

(Kalervo’s wife enters, with Kelmä.)

WIFE

Where is she, where is she? Our Ainikki – tell me where she is.

KALERVO

I have no news of her: what makes you suppose the girl might have come home?

WIFE

I spoke with Fortune’s goddess on the road, I conjured her with all my might, with spells and incantations, to make my hopes come true; I prayed that when I returned from the forest Ainikki would be here waiting for me. I bargained, I made promises, I acted like a madwoman, and I felt sure my wish had been granted; and eagerly I scurried home, like some little creature of the wilds. This is the kind of game that desperate sorrow plays, and in the end believes in, mistaking make­-believe for truth. As I did, wretched fool that I was, and only succeeded in making the anguish worse. There is no Ainikki here, I see no sign of my child.

KALERVO

Nor will you ever. Even if the wild beasts have spared her, the tender creature must surely have perished from sheer terror, as she wandered lost and alone.

WIFE

So deep, so deep, this sorrow.

KALERVO

Deep it is, indeed, but lamenting will do us no good: the gods have cursed us. When misfortune strikes, it is best to harden the heart.

WIFE

Harden it? No! Sooner let me tear open my heart’s wounds, let the blood and the tears stream out in a flood! I long to feel the pain, stir up the fire in my bosom till only the embers are left, proclaiming ‘this was a mother’s grief, this is how she mourned her daughter, her beautiful Ainikki!’ Ainikki, the sound of your voice echoes in my ears unceasingly, calling for rescue, and none takes pity on you. Where is your dwelling now, your table, your cooking-pot and hearth, where are you now, this minute, while I stand here talking, where are you, if there is still life in your veins? Perhaps even now you lie panting on your mossy deathbed, without a drop of water to quench your thirst. Perhaps, in your delirium, you speak to stones, stumps, trees, begging them to relieve your suffering, but in vain. Nature, so mild and peaceful, yet so unloving! Uncaring Mother, cruel Brood-mare, not suckling your foals but leaving them to perish on your very breast. – Sorrow like this is more than any mother’s heart can bear; soon she must sink beneath its weight, if there is no release. O Lord of the Clouds, look down upon me here, and have mercy on me soon.

KELMÄ

Mother, your lamentations are breaking my heart, I shall die.

MOTHER

(embracing Kelmä) Let us die, my daughter, let us go to sleep beneath the green coverlet; only then can we forget Ainikki. Oh, my clear Kelmä!

KELMÄ

My poor mother!

KALERVO

(tearing his hair) A curse upon everything!

(Kullervo enters.)

KULLERVO

Who lives here?

KALERVO

Three people under a curse.

KULLERVO

Say rather, four. – Can you give me water, some cold water?

KELMÄ

(running to her father for protection) Who is this man? He scares me.

KALE RVO

Be calm, my child.

KULLERVO

(to himself) The deadly deed is done.

WIFE

He seems deranged.

KALERVO

Who are you, fellow, and what do you want?

KULLERVO

Who am I? A murderer, who begs you for a drop of water. – What time of night is it, my friends?

KALERVO

(to himself) He is mad, no doubt about it. (Aloud) Give him a drink. (To himself) I shall have to be on my guard, and watch his every movement.

(Kelmä brings Kullervo a stoup of water.)

KULLERVO

(Having taken no more than a sip of the water, roughly pushes the stoup aside. To himself) I have killed that beautiful creature! The gleam of her brow was like the light of dawn, her golden tresses clung about her shoulders when her pale face turned. A snow-white swan, she swam upon the waves, her golden-yellow brood around her; her breasts twin hillocks of joy – happy the man who could lean his head upon them, his were the delights of the Blessed. Daughter of the North, why is it only now that your murderer thinks of your beauty, and falls in love with it? Too late, too late! to go into raptures over the picture that now obsesses his mind the picture he shattered with his own hand, not seeing, in his blind rage, what peerless beauty, what a well-spring of endless joy, he was destroying. – Did all that happen, or is it just a dream? If only it were! But no, I seem to be awake, and standing here, though my mind no longer measures time as it used to, but stretches it out interminably. Was it only yesterday evening that the murderous blow was struck? It seems to me, as I think of it, like a deed done in some far distant age, shrouded in the dim mists of the past.

KALERVO

This is Tyrjönen’s house, what do you want here, fellow?

KULLERVO

(To himself) The same sun, that then was just setting in the West, is still asleep, but soon it will raise its bright head and greet us. (Aloud) You must surely think me mad.

KALERVO

I did, but you seem to have some shreds of reason. Who are you? Whoever steps beneath my roof must state his business and say where he comes from: otherwise I treat him as I would a thief.

KULLERVO

I am a murderer, as I told you .

KALERVO

Whose murderer, ill-starred wretch?

KULLERVO

I will tell you everything, the night is long, I will tell you the whole story. – I have killed a beautiful woman: it happened in the gloomy light of dusk, when the tips of the eastern mountains were still tinged by the setting sun. That moment I remember. But now you must hear who it was that I killed: I want to tell you everything. – But I have been walking hard all night: put your hand to my forehead and feel how hotly it glows.

KELMÄ

Father, we must be wary of this man.

KULLERVO

Your fears are groundless. But if you wish to know who it was that I killed, so brutally – it was the Fair Maid of the North, the wife of Ilmari the Smith .

KALERVO

The Fair Maid of the North!

WIFE

The famous Daughter of Pohjola, renowned for her beauty and goodness?

KELMÄ

You have murdered her?

KALERVO

Monster! I would avenge her death here and now, I would nail you to the earth with my sword, if I did not believe that you did this deed in the heat of passion, and if I could not see how disturbed you are in mind. Wretched man, what have you done?

KULLERVO

The pain is scorching, agonising. It still seems strange to me to have within me the heart of a shedder of blood. Perhaps in time it will become more bearable: a man can get accustomed to anything, they say. But now I am in a bad way; all night I have roamed the forests, and here I now stand, weary and waiting for the sun to rise. But pale Dawn, so it seems, is long in coming; she lingers on the way , and I see no signal of approaching day. But yes! yonder in the East, behind that woody knoll, I think I see the first pale flutter of her wings.

KALERVO

It is the rising moon you see. The time is midnight.

KULLERVO

This night is never-ending: I took that pale sheen for the break of day, but now you say it is only midnight. – But I must press on.

KALERVO

Where are you bound?

KULLERVO

How should I know, a man without a home?

KALERVO

Who are you, and what is your parentage?

KULLERVO

My name is Kullervo.

WIFE

Kullervo!

KALERVO

My wife starts at the sound of that name. It is a name very familiar to us, and very clear.

KULLERVO

Who are you, then, living here, so deep in the forest?

KALERVO

Tyrjönen is my name.

WI FE

Ill-fated youth, whose son are you?

KULLERVO

My father’s name was Kalervo.

WIFE

(To herself) Horror and death! But this is impossible.

KELMÄ

(To herself) Lord of the Clouds, what is he saying?

KALERVO

The son of Kalervo? You scoundrel, you madman, what is this trick you are playing, coming here to haunt us like a ghost returned from the dead? – As I have heard the story, the child of Kalervo was killed along with his parents.

KULLERVO

No, he escaped the slaughter: snatched from the jaws of death, he was seized and carried off to be the slave of his father’s wicked brother, and had this mark of slavery branded upon him. (Points to his forehead.)

WIFE

I am choking, I can hardly breathe.

KALERVO

(To his wife) Think, if this were our son coming to us with guilty hands, stained with the blood of the Fair Maiden of Pohjola!

WIFE

I dare not think it, I am choked, I am drained.

KELMÄ

But Kimmo has told us nothing of all this.

WIFE

No, and that proves that this man is a liar. He has come to trick us. Kimmo would have told us.

KALERVO

Treacherous fox, I see your game now. You are trying to lure me into a trap, and deliver your victim into Unto’s savage claws; but here you face a bear of the wild forest, whose skin will cost you clear. Come on, then, I am ready for you.

WIFE

Kalervo, stay your hand! Consider, if he were indeed – God help us – our own son! Kalervo, those eyes, that hair, do they not remind you of our little Kullervo?

KALERVO

I tremble at the thought that it might be so. I can scarcely breathe, there is cold sweat on my brow.

WIFE

My sight is clouded, I cannot tell where I am. This must be all a dream, all a dream.

KULLERVO

(To himself) What is this woman saying? She spoke of a feeling she had, that I might be her son. Earth and Heaven! Now I remember what the wood-nymph said. (Kimmo enters.) Kimmo! Now we two can clasp hands, though mine have a curse upon them. But tell me who t hese people are.

KIMMO

Can I believe my eyes? You? Here?

KALERVO

Do you know this man, then, Kimmo?

WIFE

Who is he? Tell us, quickly.

KIMMO

I know him well. He is your son, Kullervo.

WIFE

Kullervo!

KELMÄ

God in high Heaven!

KALERVO

Let Death now put an end to everything.

WIFE

(Shrinking away from Kullervo) To find you again, but as a murderer! Why did this have to be? Why? I feel lost, I cannot tell whether it is night or day. Am I delirious, is it all a dream, this anguish in my heart? God of Fire and Lightning, why have you turned this moment, which should have brought a fond and sweet reunion, in to such torment for us all? Lord of the Clouds, why do you toss him back to us, when his coming can bring us no joy? He who should not have come, has come; she whose coming we longed for, has not. My dear sweet daughter lies dead in the forest; my son has returned from the dead, but in a murderer’s guise, so that I shudder to look upon him. A man returns from the grave, yet brings no joy to his family. When has it ever happened before, that a dead man’s return did not rejoice his mother’s heart?

KULLERVO

So, you are my mother? Good health to you.

WIFE

(Backing away) Don’t come near me, my dreadful son.

KULLERVO

And you are my father? Good health to you sir, here stands your son.

KALERVO

Stand away, I don’t know you. Spare my grey hairs and get on your way at once, and never come back here again. Be off, and quickly!

KULLERVO

And here, it seems, I have a sister. Good health to you, young lady.

KELMÄ

(Shrinking from him) Oh, my brother, don’t come near me, I beg you. You make me shudder.

KULLERVO

Kimmo, is this not enough to send a man mad? An orphan boy finds his father and mother after twenty years or more, and neither of them will have anything to do with him. The father who begot him, the mother who bore him – simply show him the door and tell him to be off. Well, perhaps it is all for the best: I shall lose no time in leaving.

(He storms out.)

KIMMO

(To himself) Now I shall never cease to curse myself for my delay.

WIFE

Kalervo, who was that man?

KALERVO

Forget him! Now that he has vanished from our house, let him vanish from our memory too.

WIFE

He said he was our son, and he was: there can be no doubt about it. That was Kullervo! And I shall die if I never see him again.

(Kullervo returns)

KALERVO

He has come back.

KULLERVO

Kimmo, I shall go northward.

KIMMO

Oh Kullervo, what has happened to you now?

KULLERVO

I have heard that m y parents are still alive, and that they live hereabouts. Is that true, I wonder?

WIFE

(Rushing to embrace Kullervo) My dear, dear son, come to my arms! Come, come and rest your head upon my breast, as you did in time gone by. Hard-hearted indeed a mother must be to reject her own child, how could I be so cruel? But truly, when I turned away from you and refused your outstretched hand, my heart was ready to break. Be welcome now! My Kullervo! Welcome, my boy with the lovely hair.

KULLERVO

So, you are not hard, you are gentle and loving.

WIFE

(Still embracing him) You were a beautiful child, and beautiful you still are, as a man. Why, for you this is still the morning of life, the finest age of all, between youth and manhood. But oh! this ugly mark on your forehead. What a cruel, unfeeling monster was your uncle, to disfigure my poor child so!

KULLERVO

This mark has been the starting-point of all my sufferings, from which not even your embraces can set me free.

WIFE

My Kullervo!

KALERVO

A plague on your endearments and caresses! The man is a murderer. Break off your embrace – and you, sir, be on your way.

WIFE

May we not change our minds?

KALERVO

Brute, murderer! Away with you!

KIMMO

Whom has he murdered?

KULLERVO

Kimmo, I stand between two fires: one yonder, a dying flicker on the dim horizon, fretting my mind with its sickly glow; the other here, blinding me with its brightness, so that I can hardly tell which way round the world is.

KIMMO

But whom have you killed?

KULLERVO

The daughter of the Land of Darkness.

KIMMO

Then in deed the spirit of Hiisi has broken loose and done its worst.

KULLERVO

I know nothing of any spirit, I can tell you only of a man sent out to herd cattle, and a stone baked in his bread: a trick I repaid by delivering the cattle to the teeth and claws of savage beasts. I hastened back to the house with anger seething in my soul; the housewife met me in the yard, learned what had happened, and vented her fury on me, naming me a slave. My temper blazed, she repeated the gibe, I plunged my knife into her breast, and she expired. Then I fled into the forest, and now you see me here, my journeying not yet ended.

WIFE

A tragic story.

KIMMO

If only I could have yesterday over again!

WIFE

Kimmo, why did you not tell us about him?

KIMMO

I intended to go tomorrow and bring him back from Ilmari’s house, but ill fate has forestalled me.

KULLERVO

Had you done so yesterday, my hands would be unstained, and beneath this roof there would be great rejoicing; but it was not to be. Here in the wilderness, awaiting me, was a haven of sweet content, and I knew nothing of it until it was too late, for here I can stay no longer. (He turns to go, but pauses.) Let me take one last look at that hidden valley, which now must vanish from my sight for ever. Let me gaze a moment longer. Was th s my mother’s face that appeared before me here, in the darkness of the forest? I took it for the light of dawn, though the autumn night was but half done, and that perplexed me greatly. Good health to you, my mother, and to you, my father, too: this salutation must serve for both greeting and farewell, for now I must take to the road again and hasten away from you to far-off places – so far that even the birds will bring you no word of Kullervo again. See, I still linger. But now I will go.

WIFE

Kalervo, you hear his words, do they not pierce your stubborn heart like a rain of fiery arrows, as I believe they must? Open your heart, then; why do you harden it, causing yourself such pain? Father of my poor, wretched son, think of what he has endured, and then, perhaps, you will not judge him so harshly. What he did, believe me, he did in the heat of passion, and now he is repentant. See him standing here now, dishevelled and wretched, a miserable sight. But this is the same face, these are the same blue eyes that looked up at me from my breast, nearly twenty years ago; the same fair hair that I loved to smooth and stroke. That child I lost, and for long years I mourned and missed him, and thought him dead; till, one pale night, his face appears before me. But no, it vanishes again, vanishes forever. To lose the sight of him so soon, how can I bear it? Sooner let me die. If it is denied me ever again to hold him in my arms, to breathe over him the soft warmth of my love, then let me wither and die.

KALERVO

(Covering his eyes) Let him stay, let him stay. My heart is not yet so hardened that it cannot be wrung. – Come, Kullervo, let me embrace you.

(They embrace.)

*

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