Oral Poetry: Its Nature, Significance, and Social Context

By Ruth Finnegan | Go to book overview

1
Introductory

What is man's body? It is a spark from the fire
It meets water and it is put out.
What is man's body? It is a bit of straw
It meets fire and it is burnt.
What is man's body? It is a bubble of water
Broken by the wind;
(Gond song from Central India, recorded in the 1930s when the
Gond could be described as 'one of the poorest peoples on earth'.
Elwin and Hivale, 1944, p. 255)

Many days of sorrow, many nights of woe,
Many days of sorrow, many nights of woe,
And a ball and chain, everywhere I go.

Chains on my feet, padlocks on my hands,
Chains on my feet and padlocks on my hands,
It's all on account of stealing a woman's man.

It was early this mornin' that I had my trial,
It was early this mornin' that I had my trial,
Ninety days on the county road, and the judge didn't even smile.
(Negro poem 'Chain gang blues', published in Hollo, 1964, p. II)

A wonderful occupation
Making songs!
But all too often they
Are failures...
(From Piuvkaq's poem 'The joy of a singer', translated from the
Eskimo in Rasmussen, 1931, p. 511)

These poems, and those from similar backgrounds, are not usually studied in courses on 'literature' or included in discussion of the sociology of literature and art. If mentioned at all, they are likely to be placed in some special category — like 'oral tradition', or 'folklore' or perhaps 'popular culture'. This firmly separates it from mainstream literature as something with its own rationale but which, while no doubt splendid in its own terms, need not be taken into account when discussing literature proper. Equally, such poems are rarely considered significant for the sociology of literature,

-i-

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Oral Poetry: Its Nature, Significance, and Social Context
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • To David *
  • Oral Poetry - Its Nature, Significance and Social Context *
  • Contents v
  • Plates *
  • Preface to the Midland Edition *
  • Corrigenda *
  • Preface to the First Edition *
  • Acknowledgements *
  • 1 - Introductory i
  • 2 - Some Approaches to the Study of Oral Poetry 30
  • 3 - Composition 52
  • 4 - Style and Performance 88
  • 5 - Transmission, Distribution and Publication 134
  • 6 - Poets and Their Positions 170
  • 7 - Audience, Context and Function *
  • 8 - Poetry and Society 244
  • Concluding Comment 272
  • References 276
  • Index 289
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