Friday, October 22, 2010

Swan of Tuonela

In the Kalevala, Finland's national poem, several characters of Finnish mythology are included to make one epic poem. One of these characters is Leminkainen, who makes a journey to the underworld, or Tuonela. From wikipedia:

"In one myth he drowns in the river of Tuonela (the underworld) in trying to capture or kill the black swan that lives there as part of an attempt, as Ilmarinen once made, to win a daughter of Louhi as his wife. In a tale somewhat reminiscent of Isis' search for Osiris, Lemminkäinen's mother searches heaven and earth to find her son. Finally, she learns of his fate and asks Ilmarinen to fashion her a rake of copper with which to dredge her son's body from the river of Tuonela. Thus equipped, she descends into the underworld in search of her son. On the banks of the river of the underworld, she rakes up first Lemminkäinen's tunic and shoes, and then, his maimed and broken body. Unrelenting, she continues her work until every piece of Lemminkäinen's body is recovered. Sewing the parts together and offering prayers to the gods, the mother tries to restore Lemminkäinen to life, but succeeds only in remaking his body, life is still absent. Then, she entreats a bee to ascend to the halls of the over-god Ukko and fetch from there a drop of honey as ointment that would bring Lemminkäinen back to life. Only with such a potent remedy is the hero finally restored."

Akseli Gallen-Kallela

Finnish composer Sibelius wrote a suite describing the adventures of Leminkainen. "The Swan of Tuonela" depicts the dark swan gliding along the lake of the Underworld. The music is slow and ominous, yet beautiful at the same time.


  1. I just heard the music, and it is beautiful. It is mentioned in the book: " The aftherlife of Billy fingers by Annie Kagan. A wonderful book.

  2. Listen to this with eyes closed in a quiet,darkened-room undisturbed. 15 minutes of your life, to be in another world. Wonderful and moving.