|by James Baldwin|
|Far away in the Frozen Land in the long ago time a master wizard forged the wonderous sampo or mill of fortune, which ground out all sorts of treasures and gave wealth and power to its owner. This story, retold in from the Finnish Kalevala, tells of the making of this mill and the adventures of the heroes who sought to gain possession of it. Ages 11-14 |
THE WISDOM KEEPER
T length the South Wind came again and
stripped the earth of its white snow
mantle. The wild geese returned to
their old haunts in the sheltered inlets and
reedy streams, and the voice of the cuckoo was
heard in the groves of poplar. Joyful then were
the voices of the children as they sought for the
first wildflowers in the woods, and jocund were
the songs of maid and matron as they bustled
hither and thither, caring for the house, caring
for the garden, caring for the lambs and the
Very early one morning, the Minstrel went
out secretly to the place where he had sought to
build his magic boat. There high on the shore,
the unfinished vessel lay, its hull of oakwood
smooth and flawless, its prow of copper gleaming
in the sunlight. Only three things were
lacking to make it ready for the launching—three
magic strokes to drive the three bolts
 that would fasten the three planks which still
hung loose at the bottom of the hull. The
Minstrel looked at the fair boat steadfastly; he
viewed it from this side and from that, and then
hot tears came into his eyes and trickled down
upon his beard. He threw himself headlong
upon the ground, and groaned with anguish.
"Ah, my beautiful, my beautiful one!" he
murmured. "Who would believe that for the
lack of only three words thou shouldst lie here
forever, unnoticed, unfinished, forgotten? Alas!
I shall never see thee skimming over the waves;
thou wilt never carry me to Pohyola's dreary
shores; thou wilt never bring the Maid of
Beauty hither to be queen of my house and
the joy of my heart!"
Suddenly he sprang up, startled by a voice.
He looked around him, and, half hidden among
the brushwood, he saw the dwarfish earth man,
Sampsa, standing with cap in hand, his small
"Master, why do you grieve so sorely?"
asked the little planter of the forests.
"O friend and gentle helper," answered Wainamoinen,
"I grieve for the lack of three words
with which to finish my magic vessel. Do you
 know where they are? Can you tell me how
to find them?"
The little man came out of the brushwood
and stood on the sand beside the unfinished
boat. He pointed with his right hand towards
the forest and the blue hills beyond it, and
spoke in low half-whispered tones as if
revealing a forbidden secret:
"Far away, near at hand, in his own large
realm of mystery, lies the giant Wipunen, the
Wisdom Keeper, whom men sometimes call
Nature. He is wiser than all wizards and
stronger than all strong men. From him you
may learn a hundred wisdom words—yes, a
thousand volumes of wisdom words—if you
will only do that which is required to earn
such great knowledge. Go, find him and ask
him for what you need."
"But how shall I go, not knowing the road?
Where is he to be found?"
"The footpath to his kingdom is a magic
highway," said the earth man. "It lies deep,
deep in the forest, and you must travel far upon
it. First you must walk long leagues upon
the points of needles. Then your feet must
press upon the sharpened blades of a thousand
 swords. Lastly, you must pick your way
between the points of glistening spears and the
edges of gleaming battleaxes. Have you the
courage to undertake the journey?"
"Courage!" cried the Minstrel. "Did I not
once venture even to cross the dark river that
divides our world from Tuoni's kingdom? Why
should I talk of courage?"
"But Wipunen will not tell you his secrets
willingly," said the dwarf. "You must overcome
him in fair battle, and then he will whisper
sweet words of magic into your ear. If you
fail in the contest your life will be forfeited.
Will you take the risk?"
"Trust me for that," said the Minstrel fearlessly.
Then he thanked the earth man heartily
for his counsel, and with hopeful steps hastened
to the smithy where Ilmarinen was toiling
beside his flaming forge.
"Friend and brother," he said, breathing fast
with eagerness, "I have come to ask your help.
I am going on a journey to find some lost words
that are very necessary to a minstrel. I am
going to seek the mighty giant, even Wipunen,
the all-knowing. He it is who understands
every secret and who keeps the key to all the
 mysteries of earth and sky. I doubt not but I
may obtain the words from him."
"You need not travel far," answered the
Smith. "Wipunen the giant lies all around us,
under us, above us. He dwells in the fields,
he rests in the forests, he sings in the brooks,
he abides in the deep sea. You are a wise man,
my brother. It is strange that you should have
lived so long without becoming acquainted with
this mighty power."
"Nay, nay!" cried Wainamoinen impatiently.
"The Wipunen that I seek dwells in his own
kingdom, far from the haunts of men. I know
him, and I know of the footpaths which lead to
his distant abode. Waste no more time in
idle talking. Ask me no questions; but if you
love me make for me the things I must have
for my journey. Make two shoes of iron for
my feet, and a pair of copper gloves for my
hands, and a slender spear of strongest metal
to be my weapon. Do this for me promptly,
quickly, for I am impatient to be gone."
Ilmarinen answered not a word, but hastened
to obey. He heaped fresh fuel upon his fire
and turned again to his bellows and his forge.
All that day and all that night the smoke rolled
 black from the smithy chimney, and the hammer
and anvil sang continuously their sweetest
song. And lo! at sunrise time on the second
day the work was done.
"Here, my dearest brother, are the shoes, the
gloves, and the slender spear—the best that
were ever made," said the Smith. "Take them,
and may they speed you on your way!"
The Minstrel thanked him; and when he had
donned his strange armor of iron and copper
he started on his perilous journey. With the
aid of Sampsa, the forest planter, he found the
footpath to Wipunen's kingdom. Narrow indeed
it was, and crooked, and intricate; but for
one whole day—yes, for two days and even
three—he followed it, never swerving. On the
fourth day, he ran for leagues upon the sharpened
points of needles; but his shoes of iron
protected him. On the fifth day he toiled over
the upturned edges of mighty swords; but his
gloves of copper turned them aside that they
did him no harm. On the sixth day he dodged
one way then another to escape the cruel points
of spears and the gleaming blades of battleaxes.
And lo! on the seventh day, he came
suddenly upon the great giant himself, lying
 prone upon the earth amid the vast, eternal
solitudes—lying prone upon the earth and
gazing upward into the solemn sky and the
unmeasured depths of infinity.
Old, yes older than all other things, was this
mighty Wipunen, the Wisdom Keeper, the
guardian of the world's secrets. On each of his
shoulders an aspen tree was growing; his eyebrows
were groves of birches; willow bushes
formed his matted beard. His eyes were two
crystal lakes of wondrous depth and clearness.
His mouth was a yawning cavern flanked by
teeth of the whitest marble. And from his nostrils
came a sweetness like that of the gentle South
Wind after it has passed over vast gardens of
Filled with wonder and awe, the Minstrel
drew nearer. Then he saw that in one of the
giant's hands was a casket wherein were
contained the magic songs of all the ages, while in
the other lay the golden key to the mystic house
of knowledge. He peered into the half open,
cavernous mouth of Wipunen, and lo! on the
tip of his tongue were the wisdom words of
every people and clime.
"Rise, O master of magicians!" cried
Waina-  moinen, boldly, loudly. "Rise, O fountain of
knowledge! Make me a partaker of your wisdom.
Give me I pray you three words of magic
power—three words that I lack and greatly desire."
But the giant heeded not. He lay motionless
and silent, gazing steadfastly into the
heavens and framing new thoughts of beauty
and power to add to the treasures of wisdom
that were in his keeping.
Then the Minstrel grew impatient and shouted
his prayer still louder. He raised the sharp
spear which Ilmarinen had fashioned, and struck
the giant fiercely, forcibly. He struck him
in the side, not only once, but twice—yes, nine
times, ten times—without fear or pity. With
the tenth stroke the Wisdom Keeper quivered
and turned his head and, in tones mightier than
thunder, began to sing.
He sang of the birds and the flowers, of the
vast forest and the eternal hills, of the boundless
sea and of still waters in sunny places. He
sang of the heroes and the wise men of ancient
days; he sang of youth and age, of good and evil,
of life and death. Then he raised his voice still
higher, and the music of his words was echoed
 from the four corners of the sky. He sang of
the creation; how the earth arose in the midst
of the waters; how the forests were planted and
the wildflowers were taught to bloom; how the
monsters of land and sea and the timid creatures
of the fields and woods were given life; and
lastly how the sky was shaped and the sun and
moon and twinkling stars were set in their places.
All day, from dawn till evening twilight, and
all night, from darkness till morning sunlight,
the mighty Wipunen sang without ceasing. For
two whole days—yes, for three long summer
days—his singing continued. And such was the
spell of his song that the moon stood still and
listened, the stars danced in the northern sky,
and the deep sea hushed its murmuring. Never
before had such music been heard, never since
has any song been sung that equalled it, and
never so long as the world endures shall man
again listen to words so sweet or to harmonies
And Wainamoinen? He sat entranced by the
side of the mighty singer and laid each word of
song deep down in the treasury of his memory.
He learned not only the three wisdom
 words which he had sought so zealously, but
a thousand others of rare beauty and splendid power.
"O mighty master!" he cried, when at length
the singing ceased. "O matchless giant of the
solitudes! I have found what I desired, I have
received priceless gifts of which I never dreamed.
Lie still now and rest again in the silent loneliness
of your chosen kingdom. Rest till some
other eager, earnest, querying learner shall venture
hither in quest of wisdom. I give you
thanks, thanks, thanks; for well I know that
you desire no other fee. Farewell!"
Then, without more ado, he hastened homeward
through the forest. Swiftly as a red deer
when chased by wolves, swiftly as a sparrow on
the wing, he glided over the hills and marsh lands
till at last he came again to Wainola and the
smithy of Ilmarinen.
"Welcome, welcome, daring brother!" cried
the master Smith. "Did you find the Wisdom
Keeper in his own mysterious abode? Have
you learned the three lost words so necessary to
"Yes, yes, dear comrade!" answered the joyful
Minstrel. "Not only three words have I
 learned, but a hundred; and a thousand wonderful
secrets do I know—secrets which the
master of knowledge whispered in my ear."
"How fortunate you are!" said the master
Smith, "and your good fortune shall be ours also;
for I know that we shall soon hear some wonderful
new songs from your lips. Perhaps, also,
you will tell us all about those strange bits of
wisdom which you have acquired from the
"Perhaps!" answered the Minstrel.
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