Emotional Crossings. The Kanteletar and Oral Lyric Poetry

Niina Hämäläinen

Folklore Studies. University of Helsinki


The Kanteletar, published in three volumes in 1840 and 1841, is the most significant lyric anthology of 19th century Finland. Published at the time when most of the written literature was in Swedish, the Kanteletar has widely affected development of written poetry and art. Besides, it has played an essential role in constructing Finnishness, the ideals of Finnish folk and its tradition.


“Soitto on suruista tehty, murehista muovaeltu” – “Music was made of worries, molded of sorrows”. These lines of the first poem in the Kanteletar are considered to represent the essence of oral lyric poetry, even though composed by Elias Lönnrot, the editor of the book (V. Kaukonen Elias Lönnrotin Kanteletar, 1984; H. Laitinen Surullista, köyhää ja nöyrää. Hannu Tolvanen ja Riitta-Liisa Joutsenlahti,  2003). In the preface of the anthology, which is one of the few theoretical and interpretative outlines of Lönnrot, he addressed that the beauty of folk lyric arises from the lyrical material itself, which is a powerful expression of sorrow and loneliness. Despite diverse emotions and themes of the Kalevala-metre lyric poetry as well as of the Kanteletar, a joint image of sorrowful emotions and lyrical folk poetry was developed by bourgeois readers to describe oral lyric poetry.


This paper argues that sustaining the oral lyric as a representation of particular feeling has been historically, ideologically and emotionally constructed in relation to representational practices of oral tradition and further, it has disregarded other emotions and representations of oral tradition. By using some examples of transcribed lyric songs and their appearance in the Kanteletar, I will show how collecting and publishing practices influenced both the ideals of oral lyric poetry and of emotions of common people.