July 19, 2008

Hiawatha inspired by Finnish epic

Not only is The Song of Hiawatha a romanticized version of Indian history, it's a romanticized Finnish version of Indian history.

Song of Hiawatha Kalevala's Cousin?Though some scholars disagree, Longfellow was, no doubt, influenced by the Finnish national epic, Kalevala, in creating his Song of Hiawatha, inasmuch the meter, form, and some of the legends and episodes in Hiawatha resemble very closely those in the Finnish epic. Substantial evidence can be gleaned from the works themselves: first, by observing the historical circumstances, and second, by carefully comparing the works themselves.

During his visit to Sweden in the summer of 1835, Longfellow kept in touch with the Finnish literary circles. He met people who told him about Finnish customs and traditions; he even studied the Finnish language.
And:An entry in Longfellow's journal, made on June 5, 1854, states that he did read "with great delight the Finnish epic Kalevala . . . It is charming." Only a couple of weeks later, on June 22, Longfellow made this interesting and noteworthy comment in his journal:

I have at length hit upon a plan for a poem on the Indians, which seems to me the right one, and the only one. It is to weave together their beautiful traditions into a whole. I have hit upon a measure, too, which I think is the right one and the only one for such a theme. At present it delights me. Let us see how it will prosper.
From these journal entries it is easy to come to the conclusion that it was the inspiration of Kalevala that led Longfellow to "hit upon a plan" and to finally come up with a measure suitable for his purpose.

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