Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Fate of Aino, Finnish Maiden

Have you ever wondered where the author Ayn Rand got her name? The origin is disputed. Rand told acquaintances that the last name came from the Remington-Rand typewriter. But letters with the nom de plume Rand (her Birth name was Alisa Rosenbaum) exist from before the existence of the Remington-Rand company. Perhaps she simply liked Rand and chose it to match the initial of her last name.

Her first name sounds and appears to be more mysterious. The last three letters of Rosenbaum written in Cyrillic (Розенбаум) do somewhat resemble the letters a-y-n in the Latin alphabet. But another popular (and not necessarily incompatible) theory is that the name comes from the Finnish woman's name Aino. The name means "only" and in the 1920's it was the most popular name for girls in Finland. A native of the near-by Saint Petersburg, it is not unlikely that Rand had heard this name. Aino is the name of a character in the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. There were also two famous 'Aino's of the early 20th century, Aino Sibelius, the wife of the composer, and Aino Kallas, an author.

In the Kalevala, Aino is a maiden who is promised unwillingly to marry the magician Väinämöinen. Rather than wed him she drowns herself and becomes a water nymph. The Kalevala was compiled from folk songs by Elias Lönnrot in the 19th Century, a verse translation into English was made by John Martin Crawford, and the work greatly influenced J.R.R. Toliken, author of Lord of the Rings.

The text is available at the Gutenberg Project. If you read the verse translation it is vital to ignore the verse form and read the lines as if they were written out as paragraphs, paying strict attention to the punctuation. Use the periods and commas to guide your tempo, rather than the line breaks. If you follow the line breaks the poem all too easily degenerates into unwitting self-parody. But if it is read like prose, with the reader's mind focused on visualizing the images evoked by the narrative, the poem will retain its underlying beauty. Above I have reproduced the image of Kaari Martin who portrays the maiden Aino in an operatic adaptation of the Kalevala. The painting is by Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Below is the a sample of the text of Crawford's translation which I have set in paragraph form so as to obscure the otherwise overpowering tempo. Concentrate on the visual images as you read it.


When the night had passed, the maiden, sister fair of Youkahainen, hastened early to the forest, birchen shoots for brooms to gather, went to gather birchen tassels; bound a bundle for her father, bound a birch-broom for her mother, silken tassels for her sister.

Straightway then she hastened homeward, by a foot-path left the forest; as she neared the woodland border, lo! the ancient Vainamoinen, quickly spying out the maiden, as she left the birchen woodland, trimly dressed in costly raiment, and the minstrel thus addressed her:

"Aino, beauty of the Northland, wear not, lovely maid, for others, only wear for me, sweet maiden, golden cross upon thy bosom, shining pearls upon thy shoulders; bind for me thine auburn tresses, wear for me thy golden braidlets."

Thus the maiden quickly answered: "Not for thee and not for others, hang I from my neck the crosslet, deck my hair with silken ribbons; need no more the many trinkets brought to me by ship or shallop; sooner wear the simplest raiment, feed upon the barley bread-crust, dwell forever with my mother in the cabin with my father."

Then she threw the gold cross from her, tore the jewels from her fingers, quickly loosed her shining necklace, quick untied her silken ribbons, cast them all away indignant into forest ferns and flowers....

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