Studies In Folk-song And Popular Poetry

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

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10                   AMERICAN SEA SONGS.
but whatever life and flavor they had will fade away, and the first-class leading tenor among the " shanty men " will vanish with the need and ap­preciation of his skill. As for the old words, they will also be utterly lost, because they have no existence except in oral recitation and memory, and do not contain enough of the elements of pure poetry to secure their preservation in print, as the folk songs and ballads have been preserved. They are relics of custom rather than of litera­ture ; and although any poet or musician who deals with the sea will miss a source of very valu­able inspiration if he does not possess himself of the spirit of their weird melody and the uncon­scious power of their vigorous rhythm, in them­selves they are likely to be lost with the chants of the Phoenician sailors or the rowers of the galley of Ulysses, which they have succeeded, and some of whose melody they have perhaps reproduced.
The genuine sea songs differ from the shanties in that they had a definite poetical purpose to tell a story or express emotion, and were not merely words strung together to give voice to a rhythm of labor. It cannot be said that the genius of the American sailor has turned itself especially to ex­pressing his emotions in song, any more than that of the English. His nature is entirely too prac­tical, and the touch of tender sentiment which, in
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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III