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.                     9
There were many, with slight American vari­ants, which were undoubtedly of English origin, and have been heard on English merchant ships from time immemorial; some which relate espe­cially to the operations of whaling; and some which had their origin on the river flatboats and in the choruses of the roustabouts on the Ohio and Mississippi, and have been only slightly changed for salt-water purposes, the quality being as little varied as the number is endless. Their essential quality was that of an improvised chant, and the dominant feeling was to be found in the inter­mingling of the words and the cadence, as in the apparently meaningless refrain of the old ballads. They expressed, through all their rudeness and uncouthness, and more through the melody than the words, the minor chords which distinguish all folk music, the underlying element in the human heart oppressed by the magnitude and solitude of nature, as well as the enlivening spirit of strong exertion; and no sensitive ear could ever call them really gay, however vigorous and lively they might be. The shanties are passing away with the substi­tution of iron cranks and pulleys for the muscles of men, and the clank of machinery has taken the place of the melodious chorus from human throats. It is not probable that they will ever entirely dis­appear so long as men go down to the sea in ships ;
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