English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians

122 Songs and Ballads, and 323 Tunes With Lyrics & sheet Music - online book

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xiv                               Introduction
so far as I have been able to discover, in any of the standard English collections, e.g., Nos. 57, 59, 63, 65, 68, 70, 79, 81, 86, 88, 91, 122 and 123.
The literature of the traditional song does not, as a whole, compare favourably with that of the ballad. Many of the lines printed in this volume are corrupt and unintelligible, while some of them are the merest doggerel. Nevertheless, a few of the verses are very beautiful, not merely by contrast but intrinsically. Stanzas, for example, such as
When I see your babe a-laughing, It makes me think of your sweet face; But when I see your babe a-crying, It makes me think of my disgrace.
and
When your heart was mine, true love,
And your head lay on my breast,
You could make me believe by the falling of your arm
That the sun rose up in the West.
There's many a girl can go all round about And hear the small birds sing, And many a girl that stays at home alone And rocks the cradle and spins.
There's many a star that shall jingle in the West, There's many a leaf below,
There's many a damn that will light upon a man For treating a poor girl so.
contain all the essentials of genuine poetry and, in their feeling, in their artlessness, in the directness and simplicity of their verbal expression and the absence of circumlocution, reach a high level of imaginative and poetic expression.
One curious hiatus in the repertories of the mountain-singers struck me very forcibly, viz. the total absence of songs of a ritual nature, e.g. Harvest-Home songs, Carols (with one notable exception, No. 13), May-day songs and others of religious origin, such as those associated with the Morris and Sword-dance ceremonies; as well as, for obvious reasons, all Cuckoo*, Primrose and other Spring songs. The reason for this, I take it, is because ritual observances belong to, and are bound up so closely with, the soil of a country that they do not readily survive trans­plantation; and partly, too, because the mountain people for the most part live in isolated dwellings and at considerable distances from one another and do not congregate in villages as in older and more settled
*This statement must now (i. e. May, 1917) be modified, for I have just noted down in Knox Co., Ky., a version of "The Cuckoo is a fine bird," a remarkable example, in the circumstances, of the persistence of tradition.






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