Recent links of note:

“Magic sayings by the thousands”
Geoffrey O’Brien, The New York Review of Books

Though the Finnish epic poem Kalevala has been available in English translation since 1888, it has remained largely unknown to the English-speaking world. That might change with a new Penguin edition of a 1989 translation, not widely distributed in its first edition, by the Finnish-American poet Eino Friberg. Considered the national epic of Finland, the Kalevala was assembled in its current form by the nineteenth-century philologist Elias Lönnrot, who wove together traditional songs and oral folklore collected from local bards. This week in The New York Review of Books, Geoffrey O’Brien discusses how much of the poem is the invention of Lönnrot, who gave himself the difficult task of stringing together scattered fragments of text, and how much reflects ancient, pre-Christian traditions. As O’Brien explains, “Kalevala is thus not so much a timeless work as one existing simultaneously in a multitude of epochs.” Besides J. R. R. Tolkien, who read it as a student and was inspired to write a prose version of one of the tales in The Story of Kullervo (1914–15), it continues to influence fantasy authors and poets today, such as Peter O’Leary.

“ ‘Jean Sibelius’ Review: An Early Finale”
Tim Page, The Wall Street Journal

Another artist to have been inspired by the Kalevala was the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865–1957), whose 1892 choral symphony Kullervo and 1895 symphonic poem Lemminkäinen Suite were named after major characters. Reviewing Daniel M. Grimley’s new Jean Sibelius: Life, Music, Silence in The Wall Street Journal, Tim Page puzzles over the reasons for Sibelius’s early retirement to the countryside north of Helsinki. (The composer’s career ended effectively in his early fifties, though he lived until the age of ninety-seven.) Alcoholism is considered by some to have been the culprit, though crippling insecurity about the quality of his work might have played a bigger part. In letters Sibelius hinted that he was working on an eighth symphony in the 1930s, but given that no drafts survive, Grimley believes the composer burnt all his manuscripts sometime in the 1940s. Despite the unfortunate end to his career, the composer is now more popular than ever, both in North America and in Finland, where Finlandia (1899) has become an unofficial national anthem.


“Roger Kimball introduces the October issue.” Roger Kimball, the Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion, discusses highlights of the October 2021 issue and reads from its opening pages.


“Lang Lang, again,” by Jay Nordlinger. On a recital by the Chinese pianist in Carnegie Hall last night.

A Message from the Editors

Your donation sustains our efforts to inspire joyous rediscoveries.