Lay of Seinävaate

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by Kendra

The Lay of Seinävaate (click here to read the epic)

Throughout the course of this colloquium, we have tried to understand Tolkien’s writings, especially LOTR, in terms of its relevant themes and connections to modern life.  While not only being a well-written literary work Lord of the Rings, speaks to people about timeless themes such as tragedy, beauty, exhalation of the humble, sacrifice and being part of a larger cosmos.  As the culmination of our weeks spent analyzing Tolkien’s writings, it is fitting to ourselves take on the role of sub-creators and create something in response to his creations.  Thus, I wrote a poem, “The Lay of Seinävaate,” that celebrates various Tolkien themes and also other aspects of his character and life.  However, I believe that I have done so in a rather oblique manner in order to retain my personal identity as a writer.

The basic story of the poem is about a weaver named Seinävaate.  He is a fairly skilled weaver, who decides to weave a tapestry that is incomparable to his previous ones.  However, he only reveals his plan to his fellow villagers after they ask him about it, since he loves weaving for its own sake.  The village blacksmith, Kateellinen, is Seinävaate’s rival and does not want him to succeed.  He goes to Seinävaate’s workshop and sets it ablaze with both Seinävaate and his apprentice inside.  Unable to save his glorious tapestry, Seinävaate instead recuses his apprentice, Oppija.  He manages to save Oppija, but he himself is grievously injured.  After spending time recovering, Seinävaate awakes to find that his hands have been hurt so badly that he can no longer pursue his beloved craft.  He then is consumed with despair.  Oppija, who desires to thank his master, makes his own beautiful tapestry of a fiery phoenix.  Upon showing the tapestry to his master, an enchantment is worked because Seinävaate finds himself surrounded by flames and face to face with the phoenix.  The bird sings and bursts into flame to reveal to Seinävaate The Great Tapestry of all the Universe.  This mystical vision is briefly shown to him.  Then Seinävaate is commanded to comfort others with his vision, but cautioned not to speak of it too often, since “words have more power than mortals know.”  Upon returning to earth, Seinävaate is struck mute for a week, so he may think upon his experiences and then he is able to speak about it. The village rejoices and celebrates with a feast, but Kateellinen is again jealous, so he challenges Seinävaate to explain his experience more thoroughly and provide some sign that it is true.  Since he is unable to, Seinävaate is eventually ostracized by the villagers, with only Oppija as his companion.  These two eventually leave by boat and are never seen again.

There are several elements incorporated into this work that bear witness to Tolkien.  First, the poem is written in the epic style of Beowulf, of which Tolkien was particular fond.  The word choice attempts to use archaic and high English to describe the story.  Also the poem begins with an entreatment to the Muse to help the minstrel tell the tale, which harkens back to Homer.  The name choices for the characters come from Finnish words, since it was one of Tolkien’s favorite languages.  Seinävaate means tapestry, Kateellinen means jealous and Oppija means apprentice.  The odd sounding names also transport the reader to another realm and aid in the reader’s suspension of disbelief.  The principle character, Seinävaate, also relates to Tolkien because he is a sub-creator as well.  While he does not write literature, he works with his hands to create art from thread.  Finally, Tolkien uses biblical themes in his writing, although in a very subtle manner.  Similar biblical themes resonate in this poem as well.  For example, the last line “Since of them the world had not been worthy” harkens back to Hebrew 11:38 “the world was not worthy of them” speaking about the great people of faith.  These various elements combined to provide a tribute to Tolkien, but also created something new and different.

This poem also incorporates various themes that are apparent in The Lord of the Rings.  The themes of tragedy and sacrifice are incorporated into this tale because Seinävaate loses his ability to create tapestries through no fault of his own.  Similarly, Frodo is placed in a situation, through no fault of his own, to bear the One Ring to its destruction.  Even though both are forced to sacrifice and suffer, both works of literature also uphold the value of beauty in the world.  Seinävaate beholds Oppija’s tapestry and the Great Tapestry of the Universe itself in its great splendor.  Frodo on his journey sees the great beauty of the Elves and after he destroys the Ring, sees great joy in Middle-Earth restored, but at a price. Also both have a friendship with a servant who is steadfastly loyal to them.  Seinävaate saved Oppija’s live and he takes care of him after he is banished from the village.  Sam takes care of Frodo’s basic needs throughout the long trek to Mordor.  Finally both these characters share a similar fate, since they are both not esteemed and leave via the sea.  Frodo returns to the Shire, but the hobbits do not understand what he did or what he went through.  They do not seem to appreciate him and Frodo himself is wounded beyond help in Middle-Earth.  Therefore he leaves with the Elves to the Grey Havens.  Seinävaate can not produce the desired evidence of his experiences and he does not do as his countrymen demand, so they ostracized him.  He too, leaves via the sea and never returns to his homeland.  Another theme that is portrayed in both is that of a larger cosmos or divine providence.  Seinävaate witnesses direct intervention into his life by the gods and becomes aware of the wider scope of world.  Frodo also has divine providence play in his tale because he himself fails to destroy the Ring and he also understands that he has only a minor role to play in a much larger Tale.  All these themes are evident in “The Lay of Seinävaate”.

This class has allowed us to analyze Tolkien’s writings more thoroughly and to appreciate the intricacies that exist in great literature.  In response to his own creativity, I have in turn become my own sub-creator with a different, yet linked perspective.  I would like to think that one of the reasons Tolkien wrote his Middle-Earth mythology was so that others could catch hold of the vision of sub-creation.  In this manner, we the created, are able to imitate our own Creator and explore the depths of this world through literature.

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