Singing the Past: Turkic and Medieval Heroic Poetry

By Karl Reichl | Go to book overview

Conclusion

Certainly, I must confess my own barbarousness, I never heard the old song of Percy and Douglas that I found not my heart moved more than with a trumpet; and yet it is sung but by some blind crowder, with no rougher voice than rude style; which being so evil apparelled in the dust and cobwebs of that uncivil age, what could it work trimmed in the gorgeous eloquence of Pindar?

— Sir Philip Sidney, A Defence of Poetry (1595)

Sidney was not the last person to hear the ballad The Hunting of the Cheviot performed; Bertrand H. Bronson published several melodies of the ballad which were recorded as late as the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, though none of these late performers was a “blind crowder.” 1. This ballad, of which version A (according to Child's classification) dates from c. 1550 and version B is found in the Percy Folio, stands clearly in a late medieval tradition (shared by other ballads) and is based on a historical event, the battle of Otterburn, which took place between the English and the Scots in 1388. 2. In its narrative technique, this ballad reaches even further into the past. Oskar Sauer, in a dissertation on the sources of The Hunting of the Cheviot, singles out a number of elements that hark back to the Old Germanic heroic lay: arming the heroes, asking for the opponent's name, flyting, lament, and others. 3. This is not to say that the ballad stands in a direct line of descent to Germanic oral poetry, but it exhibits a somewhat archaic style and technique that make it a fitting example of the survival of an older oral world in Sidney's England.

____________________
1.
The passage quoted from Sidney's Defence is taken from Van Dorsten 1973, 46. On the tunes of this ballad (Child 1882 — 98, no. 162), see Bronson 1959 — 72, 3 : 113 —16.
2.
See Child 1882 — 98, 3 : 303 —15; cf. also Child no. 161, The Battle of Otterburn (ibid., 289 — 302); on the relation and evolution of the ballads in question, see also Bland 1951.
3.
Sauer 1913.

-165-

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Singing the Past: Turkic and Medieval Heroic Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Singing the Past - Turkic and Medieval Heroic Poetry *
  • Contents v
  • Foreword vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Note on Transcription, Pronunciation, and Translations xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter One - Turkic Bards and Oral Epics 12
  • Chapter Two - Variations on Epic and History 44
  • Chapter Three - In Search of the Heroic Lay 73
  • Chapter Four - Heroic Epic and Tribal Roots 101
  • Chapter Five - Heroic Past and Poetic Presence 135
  • Conclusion 165
  • Appendix One - The Text of Täwke-Batïr 181
  • Appendix Two - The Text of Ormanbet-Biy 189
  • Works Cited 195
  • Index 217
  • Myth and Poetics *
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