Studies In Folk-song And Popular Poetry

An Extensive Investigation Into The Sources And Inspiration Of National Folk Song

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4
AMERICAN SEA SONGS.
for home, its craving for relief from monotony; and it is a dull ear that would not detect this, under the most absurd and uncouth words ever strung together in a sailor's shanty.
As among the seamen of all races, the chants of the American sailors, before they were so reduced in quality and number by the combined influence of steam vessels and a protective tariff, were of ancient and indefinite origin, and were constantly being altered or added to by circumstance and im­provisation. They came, of course, first from the English seamen, who were our sailors' ancestors and associates, to whom at least the element de­scended from the songs to which the galleys of the sea kings of Scandinavia were impelled over the foaming brine, or the Celtic coracle was paddled on the lonely lake; and it is impossible, in a mass of rude verse, of little definite meaning, of a fluid and fluctuating form, and handed down from lip to lip without ever, except incidentally, having been put into print and preserved, to fix the origin or the date of creation of any of these songs. There are traces of old phrases and archaisms ancient words strangely metamorphosed into a semblance of mod­ern meaning, and all such settlings and deposits as are to be found in the geological strata of spoken language, — references to mermaids, sea-serpents, and survival of myths regarding the powers of the
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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III