Ashtabula materials

Folk poetry and songs

AUTHOR: Kirsti Salmi-Niklander

Finnish American folk poetry and songs

Newspaper Amerikan Sanomat organized a writing competition for Finnish Americans, and published its results both in the newspapers and as a series of books 1899–1901: these include collections of short stories, three novels by pseudonym “Eekku” and an anthology of poems entitled “Finnish American folk poetry and songs” (Amerikan Suomalaisten Kansan runoja ja lauluja). This anthology gives an interesting overview on variety of the songs and poetry, which were popular in Finnish immigrant communities. Most of the songs and poems have the author’s name, pseudonym or initials and the place. Many songs resemble very much the folk songs, which were popular in Finland, and distributed orally or as broadsides. The first song in the anthology is “Suruni” (My sorrow), including the information that it could be sang with the melody of “The Last Rose of Summer”. The song is a lament on the death of a sweetheart:

“Lempi täyttää rinnan multa/suru sortaa sydämen/kuolo korjas kullan multa/ijäisehen unholaan”. (Love fills my soul/the sorrow breaks my heart/the death took away my sweetheart/to the eternal oblivion.)

The next poem in the collection (“Rukkas runo”) has been dictated in Iron Belt, Wisconsin, which indicates that this is an orally transmitted folk song. The title refers to the experience of being turned down in a romantic relationship. The poem tells about love and courtship in the immigrant community in a more humorous tone, giving a detailed account on the dances on Sunday nights at “Kojo-Antti’s hall”, accompanied by “savikukko”, a kind of ocarina. The poem depicts the rivalry between immigrant men: the miners are successful with the girls, whereas trammers, landers and loggers are hanging out in the corners chewing tobacco. The narrator of the song, one of this “mölö”-group makes an approach on one of the small group of charming girls – but the girl turns him down pointing out to five handsome miners: “Näethän tuolla perässä/tulee mainareita viisi/Joll’ et nyt ala pyörtämään/niin sinut perii hiisi.” (See behind you/ there are five miners coming / If you don’t turn away now/ the “hiisi” [evil spirit] will get you).

The anthology includes many patriotic poems, which refer to the actual political events in Finland during the period of russification measures. Many Finnish young men had left Finland at the turn of the century to flee the illegal conscription to the Russian army. One of these is a short poem “Vielä nytkin” (Still now) by the pseudonym Eekku, whose two novels and short stories were published by Amerikan Sanomat: “Oi kaunis, kallis syntymämaani. Pääseekö enään kevät luonnonkaan/sun sydäntäsi lämmittämään” (Oh my beautiful and dear fatherland. Can even the spring/warm up your heart?) The poems give some more information of Eekku: he was from the parish of Maalahti in Ostrobothnia, and lived in Laurier, Michigan. Some poems are written with Kalevala metre, such as a poem celebrating the foundation of the Onnela temperance society (J S-N, Iron Mountain, Michigan). The poem depicts the sceneries and the results of the hard work of Finnish farmers: “Ken matkaillessaan näillä mailla/kujillamme kulkiessaan/on kaupunkiamme katsastellut/silmäellyt seutuamme/havainnut on halmeillamme/vainioillamme varmasti/kasken kovan kasvamasta/kohoomasta kolkon korven”.

Book in a person's hand
Booklet of “Finnish American folk poetry and songs”, Amerikan Sanomat publishing, 1901. Available at the National Library of Finland.


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