Sampo - James Baldwin

The Wisdom Keeper

At 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 young reindeer.

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 eyes twinkling.

"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 early violets.

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 Wainamoinen, 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 so divine.

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 your business?"

"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 mighty keeper."

"Perhaps!" answered the Minstrel.