Studies In Folk-song And Popular Poetry

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

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AMERICAN SEA SONGS.                     3
sometimes happened that an energetic captain, when his ship was being got under way, would step up to a sailor, apparently heaving sturdily at the windlass, and knock him sprawling, for the reason that he had detected him giving the wrong time to the chant, out of mischief, or for the sake of testing the sharpness and intelligence of the " old man."
The words of these windlass and bowline " shan­ties " have, of course, little of the element of fin­ished poetry about them. They are not songs, but chants, whose purpose is to give accentuation and force to the exertion of united strength rather than to the expression of sentiment, and of which the rhythmical melody is the essential element. Whether they be new or old, they always have been essentially improvisations, capable of being stopped at any moment or added to indefinitely, and, like the refrains of the old ballads, are depend­ent upon the sound rather than the sense for their effect. Nevertheless, however imperfect and indefi­nite their expression, they took their tone and color originally from the elements in which they were born, and gave out not only the voice of the sea and the wind, the notes of the never silent iEolian harp of the cordage and the bellying sails, but the prevailing sentiment of the human heart upon the great deep, its underlying oppression, its longing
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