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In any country it is the people who make the differences. The landscapes with the thumb-mark and the heel-mark of the people on them are the landscapes you remember. In Chile it is not the mountains which make the unbelievable loveliness of that country but the rows of poplars standing under the stone of the Andes, leaf against granite. It is the same way in other countries. France with the fields so and the roads so and the villages square to them. England with the roofs set this way—not in any other way. Persia with the water courses in the wild gardens and the peach boughs over the mud walls. Japan where the pines on the ridge-poles of the mountains are warped by the wind but not by the wind only. It is the mark of the people on any country which gives it the feel it leaves in a man's mind. Even the sense of time in a country is the sense of the people in it now and before now.
But it is not only the heel-marks on the hill-sides and the way the roads run that show the traces of the people. There are other marks in other materials and not least in the substance of words and the substance of music. Music and words will wear under the use of a people as easily as the earth will wear—and the marks will last longer. Devoted writers write as though the body of the people of a country made songs for themselves and poems for themselves—the "folk songs" and the "folk music." But to speak prosaically the feofle do not make songs and poems for themselves. The folk songs and the folk poems come from far back and like any song or any poem they have had beginnings in a single mind. What the people of a country do with the music they take over for themselves and the poems they take over for themselves is to pass them along from hand to hand, from mouth to mouth, from one generation to the next, until they wear smooth in the shape the people—this particular people—is obliged to give them.
The people "make" their songs and poems the way the people make a stone stair in an old building of this republic where the treads are worn down and shaped up the way their users have to have them. The folk songs and the folk poems show the mark of a people on them the way the old silver dollars show the mark of shoving thumbs—but with far more meaning. They show the people's mark more even than the line of the roads in a country or the shape of the houses—hopeful or not so hopeful—and they last longer. The people (or the poets either) who can leave their mark on the words or on the music of a country, leave it for a long time and in an honorable place.
This second volume of American ballads and folk songs collected by