|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 TRIUMPH OF MUSIC
LD Dame Louhi, unlovely and unloved, sat in the doorway of her
dwelling. She looked out and saw that which made her wrinkled,
uncanny face beam with joy. Her toothless mouth expanded into the
mockery of a smile. Her small, greedy eyes twinkled beneath her
shaggy eyebrows. Her long, crooked fingers trembled nervously, they
seemed to be grasping at something invisible.
She was pleased because where once were naught but vast brown
meadows she now saw fields of ripening grain. Where once were miry
marsh lands she saw green pastures with hundreds of sleek cattle
grazing thereon. Where once were sandy barrens and wind-swept hills
she saw fruitful orchards and blooming gardens. And in the village,
instead of wretched huts she saw neat cottages and well-filled barns,
the homes of contentment and plenty. Who can
 wonder that her face
was wreathed with smiles while her heart was overflowing with joy?
"My mill of fortune has done all this," she muttered to herself.
"This fair, sweet country shall now no longer be called the Frozen
Land. It shall everywhere be known as the Land of Plenty, the home
of the Sampo."
She turned her head and listened. A faint, musical sound, far away,
came to her ears. It was the sound made by the magic mill, grinding,
grinding forever in the cave beneath the hill of copper. She could
hear its pictured cover turning, turning—pouring out wealth for
all the people. She could hear the grains of gold dropping, dropping—the
precious royal sap feeding the rootlets of the corn, filling
the apple blossoms with nectar, and pervading the rich warm soil
Suddenly she was startled by hearing another sound—a strange,
unusual noise, a clamor as of the voices of many people all trying
to speak at once, all trying to make themselves heard. The sound
grew louder every moment. It became a confused uproar; it drew
rapidly nearer. What could it be?
 The Mistress, looking eagerly, soon saw whence the clamor came. A
great crowd of excited people appeared coming up from the seashore.
The road between the gardens was filled with half-grown boys,
chattering little girls, shouting young men, singing maidens,
hard-working women from the farms, and old men from the fishing
boats; and all were using their voices vigorously, excitedly, as
though some wonderful thing was happening.
The Mistress was alarmed. "Surely the world has gone mad!" she cried
in dismay. "Who are these people, and what do they mean by their
The rabble came nearer. Dame Louhi could distinguish some of the
faces. She was sure that the children and some of the old men and
old women were her own subjects—she had seen them every day of
their lives, but never in so jolly a mood as now. But who were those
noisy young men and maidens, dressed in foreign garb, who formed the
greater portion of the noisy company? And who were the two heroes
who led them—one white-bearded and tall, the other sad-eyed and
pale but with the limbs of a giant? Ah! Dame Louhi knew them only
 "Hail to you, heroes!" she said, as they paused beside her dwelling
and silence fell upon the company. "Your faces are familiar to me
and your names I have not forgotten. If you come in peace, I welcome
you to this land of plenty."
"We come in peace," answered the Minstrel, wise and truthful. "We
have heard strange stories in our country concerning the magic Sampo
and the great changes it has wrought in Pohyola. Now our eyes see
that which our hearts could not believe and we would fain rejoice
with you and be glad because of your good fortune."
"Good fortune comes to those who labor for it and who most deserve
it," said Dame Louhi coldly. "But tell me, what fresh news do you
bring from the Land of Heroes?"
"There is no news but of famine and sorrow," answered the Minstrel.
"The children are crying for food, and men and women perish because
of the poverty of the land. Therefore we have come to ask you to
share the Sampo with us. It has made you rich and happy, now give us
a small portion of it that it may bless our suffering people also."
 The face of the Mistress grew ashy-white with anger. "The Sampo is
but a little thing," she said, "and never will I share it with
another. Can two hungry men share a sparrow? Can three divide a tiny
squirrel? You may hear the Sampo whirring, you may hear its pictured
cover grinding in the cavern where I placed it—but it whirs for me
alone, it grinds out wealth and plenty for my people and for no
"Surely you are unwise and selfish," then said the Minstrel, "and
foolish it would be to waste words in argument. Since you will not
share the Sampo with us I warn you that you shall lose the whole of
it. We will take it out of the cavern where it is grinding and we
will carry it far away to our own country to give comfort and joy to
our neighbors and food and clothing to our loved ones."
When Dame Louhi heard this she rose up quickly and stood, furious,
in her doorway. She clenched her bony fists and shook them high
above her head, calling upon all her people, all her armed men, all
her servants, to come quickly in their might and drive the robbers
from the shores of Pohyola. Loud was her voice, stern were her
commands, and there was no one who
 did not hear her. Instantly a
hundred swords-men were at her side, a thousand spearsmen answered
her call. They stood ready to smite and to slay, to drive the
intruders into the sea.
But Wainamoinen, old and fearless, stood in his place unflinching
and firm as a rock in the midst of a storm. He held the kantele in
his hands and began to play upon it, softly, gently. Instantly every
voice was hushed and every arm was stayed. He raised his fingers
nimbly and moved them swiftly over the harp strings. One sweet note
followed another, pleasures indescribable issued from the harp of
fish-bone, while the Minstrel sang his rarest, richest songs—songs
so melodious that every heart was entranced, bewitched, overcome
Forthwith all the creatures of the woods and fields came near to
listen. The squirrels came leaping from branch to branch.
Soft-furred ermines, minks, otters, and seals laid themselves down
in the grass before him. Sharp-eyed lynxes looked out from the
foliage of the thickets and drank in the wonderful music. Herds of
reindeer came racing over the meadows. In the marshes the savage
wolves awoke and stretched themselves, and then with one accord
 out and ran with speed to the spot where the kantele was
playing. There they squatted down in orderly rows, their ears
pricked up, listening and rejoicing. Even the lazy bears came
ambling from their lurking-places; they climbed upon the rocks and
into the trees and sat there in solemn silence, drinking in the
The birds of the air also came on silent wings from the four corners
of the sky. They flew backwards and forwards, soared in circles, and
paused with outstretched pinions, looking down to enjoy the wondrous
melodies. The eagle left her fledglings in her lofty eyry and came
to listen to the hero's playing. Wild ducks from the deep inlets of
the northern sea and snow-white swans from the marshes of Pohyola
came in flocks to hearken to his singing. Sparrows and wrens and all
the tiny birds of the fields and woods assembled by thousands; they
perched on the Minstrel's head and shoulders, they filled the
branches of the trees, they hovered in the air, forgetful of
everything save the sweet notes that issued from the kantele.
The fairies of the rainbow and the mists also came, some riding on
the yellow sunbeams and
 some resting on the crimson borders of the
clouds. The slender daughters of the air, who weave the golden
fabrics of each man's life, paused in their work to listen, and as
they paused their shuttle fell from their hands and the precious
thread of their spinning was broken.
Nor did the creatures of the sea fail to hear the all-entrancing
melodies. Little fishes and large fishes came in shoals and lifted
up their heads along the beach to rejoice and wonder. The slender
pike, the graceful salmon, nimble herrings, all kinds of finny
creatures, came crowding to the shore to listen to the songs of
Wainamoinen. White whales from the icy seas, savage sharks, and
squirming eels swam side by side and trembled with emotion. And the
Old Man of the Sea, even the king of the boundless deep, came, and
sitting upon a throne of water-lilies listened with joy to the
ravishing melodies that issued from the kantele. The water nymphs,
also, cousins of the reeds that grow in the still waters between the
hills, they heard the sweet music and were enraptured by it. They
left off playing with their silken tresses, they dropped their combs
and their silver brushes
 and lifted their comely heads to enjoy the
Minstrel's wondrous songs. And their mother, the Wave Mistress,
terror of seafaring men, raised herself from the billows and
listened. Then with speed she betook herself shoreward, hiding her
awful head among the rushes, and there she lay until the music
soothed her to deepest slumber.
For one whole day—yes, for two long, dreamy days—the Minstrel
played thus upon the harp strings, upon the inimitable kantele, and
as he played he sang the songs of truth and beauty which he had
learned from the Wisdom Keeper, from the earth, the sea, and the
sky. And all the creatures, all the people, were spellbound and
motionless because of the great joy and comfort and wonder that had
come upon them.
At length he changed his theme and sang of the grandeur and glory of
life, of things mighty and things lowly, and of the great hereafter
beyond the silent river. And from the kantele he drew forth such
marvellous melodies that not one among all his hearers could refrain
from weeping. The heroes wept, old men and matrons, swaggering
youths and timid maidens, half-grown boys and lovely little girls,
 for their hearts were melted. Tears welled up even in the
eyes of the beasts and the birds and fell like rain upon the leaves
and the grass and the gray sand by the shore.
Meanwhile, as he played, the Minstrel himself was moved to weeping.
Down his cheeks the water-drops went coursing, they ran down his
beard and down his heaving breast. Round as cranberries and large as
the heads of swallows his tears fell, chasing each other to the
They rolled like hailstones down upon his feet, they flowed in
streams till they reached the margin of the sea, and there they fell
tinkling and splashing into the sparkling water, down to the black
ooze at the bottom.
"Who will bring my tears back to me?" asked Wainamoinen, his voice
trembling while his long fingers still played upon the harp strings.
"A dress of softest feathers shall be given to that one who gathers
my tears from beneath the crystal waves."
The raven heard him and flew down, snapping with his sharp beak and
trying to gather up the tears. But not one could he recover from the
The blue duck also heard him and with swift
 strokes swam to the spot
where the tears had fallen. She dived deep down into the water and
there she found the tear-drops lying on the black ooze at the
bottom. Hastily with her spoon-like beak she gathered them up, she
carried them to Wainamoinen and laid them on the grass before him.
Lo! every tear-drop was a pearl of wondrous beauty—a pearl of
priceless value, fit to adorn a queen or deck the crown of the
"O brave blue duck, friend and helper!" said the Minstrel. "You have
done well and you shall be rewarded quickly." And so saying, he gave
her a dress of feathers—a dress of wondrous beauty, well-fitting
and soft and suited to one who lives in northern climates by icy
seas. And all this while the music never ceased, the kantele kept
pouring out its sweetest, rarest treasures, while Wainamoinen sang
new songs to charm the listening multitude.
At length, however, the people could hold out no longer. Their
strength forsook them and they sank, one by one, upon the ground,
all overcome with weariness. They closed their eyes and gave
themselves up to slumber. Children and young people and men and
 all lay drowsing. The hundred brave swordsmen and the
thousand spearsmen of Pohyola were soundly sleeping. Even old Dame
Louhi yawned and closed her eyes and sank back upon her couch
overcome with slumber, forgetful of the Sampo, forgetful of
everything. Of all the multitude none remained awake save the heroes
and the young men and maidens that had plied the oars on board of
the crimson ship.
Softly, more softly, the strains of music issued from the kantele;
sweetly, more sweetly, the tones of the wonderful singer vibrated in
the air. Then suddenly both stopped and silence reigned.
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