« PreviousContinue »
PAGE «How Kreimhild is Led to Etzel” (Colored Plate) Frontispiece “Undine » (Photogravure)
5898 «St. Francis, Dying, Blesses Assisi” (Photogravure) 5922 Franklin (Portrait)
5925 Freytag (Portrait)
6011 «In Vacation” (Photogravure)
6034 « History, Mythology, and Tradition” (Photogravure) 6068 “Family of Charles I” (Photogravure)
6132 Turkish Writing (Fac-simile)
Sos in the case of ballads, or narrative songs, it was important
to sunder not only the popular from the artistic, but also
2 the ballad of the people from the ballad for the people; precisely so in the article of communal lyric one must distinguish songs of the folk — songs made by the folk — from those verses of the street or the music hall which are often caught up and sung by the crowd until they pass as genuine folk-song. For true folk-song, as for the genuine ballad, the tests are simplicity, sincerity, mainly oral tradition, and origin in a homogeneous community. The style of such a poem is not only simple, but free from individual stamp; the metaphors, employed sparingly at the best, are like the phrases which constantly occur in narrative ballads, and belong to tradition. The metre is not so uniform as in ballads, but must betray its origin in song. An unsung folk-song is more than a contradiction, it is an impossibility. Moreover, it is to be assumed that primitive folk-songs were an outcome of the dance, for which originally there was no music save the singing of the dancers. A German critic declares outright that for early times there was «no dance without singing, and no song without a dance; songs for the dance were the earliest of all songs, and melodies for the dance the oldest music of every race.” Add to this the undoubted fact that dancing by pairs is a comparatively modern invention, and that primitive dances involved the whole able-bodied primitive community (Jeanroy's assertion that in the early Middle Ages only women danced, is a libel on human nature), and one begins to see what is meant by folk-song; primarily it was made by the singing and dancing throng, at a time when no distinction of lettered and unlettered classes divided the community. Few, if any, of these primitive folk-songs have come down to us; but they exist in survival, with more or less trace of individual and artistic influences. As we cannot apply directly the test of such a communal origin, we must cast about for other and more modern conditions.
When Mr. George Saintsbury deplores the lack, notorious to this day, of one single original English folk-song of really great beauty, he leaves his readers to their own devices by way of defining this species of poetry. Probably, however, he means the communal lyric in survival, not the ballad, not what Germans would include under volkslied and Frenchmen under chanson populaire. This distinction, so
often forgotten by our critics, was laid down for English usage a century ago by no less a person than Joseph Ritson. «With us,” he said, « songs of sentiment, expression, or even description, are properly called Songs, in contradistinction to mere narrative compositions, which now denominate Ballads."
Notwithstanding this lucid statement, we have failed to clear the field of all possible causes for error. The song of the folk is differentiated from the song of the individual poet; popular lyric is set over against the artistic, personal lyric. But lyric is commonly assumed to be the expression of individual emotion, and seems in its very essence to exclude all that is not single, personal, and conscious emotion. Professor Barrett Wendell, however, is fain to abandon this time-honored notion of lyric as the subjective element in poetry, the expression of individual emotion, and proposes a definition based upon the essentially musical character of these songs. If we adhere strictly to the older idea, communal lyric, or folk-song, is a contradiction in terms; but as a musical expression, direct and unreflective, of communal emotion, and as offspring of the enthusiasm felt by a festal, dancing multitude, the term is to be allowed. It means the lyric of a throng. Unless one feels this objective note in a lyric, it is certainly no folk-song, but merely an anonymous product of the schools. The artistic and individual lyric, however sincere it may be, is fairly sure to be blended with reflection; but such a subjective tone is foreign to communal verse — whether narrative of purely lyrical. In other words, to study the lyric of the people, one must banish that notion of individuality, of reflection and sentiment, which one is accustomed to associate with all lyrics. To illustrate the matter, it is evident that Shelley's O World, O Life, O Time,' and Wordsworth's My Heart Leaps Up,' however widely sundered may be the points of view, however varied the character of the emotion, are of the same individual and reflective class. Contrast now with these a third lyric, an English song of the thirteenth century, preserved by some happy chance from the oblivion which claimed most of its fellows; the casual reader would unhesitatingly put it into the same class with Wordsworth's verses as a lyric of nature," of «joy,” or what not,- an outburst of simple and natural emotion. But if this Cuckoo Song' be regarded critically, it will be seen that precisely those qualities of the individual and the subjective are wanting. The music of it is fairly clamorous; the refrain counts for as much as the verses; while the emotion seems to spring from the crowd and to represent a community. Written down — no one can say when it was actually composed — not later than the middle of the thirteenth century, along with the music and a Latin hymn interlined in red ink, this song is justly regarded by critics as communal rather