On the journey toward Finland’s independence as a nation, the epic poem Kalevala played a central role in creating a sense of national pride and identity. The first edition of the Kalevala appeared in 1835, compiled by Elias Lönnrot from folk poems collected in Finland and East Karelia.
This poetic style and its stories had been part of the oral tradition of speakers of Balto-Finnic languages for 2000 years. Its unique poetic metre was subsequently used extensively by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
At the time the Kalevala appeared, Finland had been an autonomous Grand Duchy under Russia for a quarter of a century. Prior to this, until 1809, Finland had been a part of Sweden.The independence movement that resulted in Finland’s declaration of independence in 1917 was strongly influenced by the emergence of the Kalevala as a symbol of national identity.
The Kalevala also inspired the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in his music, as well as generations of poets and artists to this day.
It marked a new beginning for Finnish culture, and brought a small, unknown people to the attention of other Europeans.