Poetry collecting
Lönnrot in Viena
Viena in the 1900's
Rune singers and collectors

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Elias Lönnrot in Viena

Elias Lönnrot in Viena
Lönnrot's field trips

Although the poems making up the Kalevala have been recorded from the mouth of the people, the epic is not a mere collection of old Karelian and Finnish folk poetry. Lönnrot took the material at his disposal and created an imaginary, mythical poetic world, fashioning the poems into a narrative to which he added lyric poems and incantations. Yet Lönnrot himself, especially in preparing the first edition of the Kalevala, thought that he was searching for the original incarnation of a single epic which had become fragmented over the course of time. In Lönnrot's day, and, indeed, for decades thereafter, it was thought that Karelian and Finnish folk poetry were based on historical events and told of actual figures who had lived in ancient times and their gods.

When Lönnrot finished the manuscript of the first edition of the Kalevala in 1835, he had some 40,000 lines of poetry to work with. Over half of these he had collected in Viena.

In augmenting the epic to create the second edition, which appeared in 1849, Lönnrot had some 170,000 lines of poetry at his disposal, most of this material, of course, comprising variants of the same poems. Of this extraordinary collection, some 1,200 poems - 43,000 lines - were from Viena; 1,150 poems - 22,000 lines from Ingria; and a mere 140 poems - 5,000 lines - from Aunus. The remainder of the material had been collected in different parts of Finland. But when one recalls that most of the poetry collected from Viena was narrative and most of that from Ingria lyric, Viena stands out as the true "song-land of the Kalevala." Lönnrot himself stated on many occasions that the village of Vuokkiniemi was "the best and richest home of poems". Many later poetry collectors have affirmed this view in the course of exploring the sites where epic poetry was sung.