Oral Poetry: Its Nature, Significance, and Social Context

Oral Poetry: Its Nature, Significance, and Social Context

Oral Poetry: Its Nature, Significance, and Social Context

Oral Poetry: Its Nature, Significance, and Social Context

Synopsis

This classic study is an introduction to "oral poetry," a broad subject which Ruth Finnegan interprets as ranging from American folksongs, Eskimo lyrics, and modern popular songs to medieval oral literature, the heroic poems of Homer, and recent epic compositions in Asia and the Pacific. The book employs a wide comparative perspective, to consider oral poetry from Africa, Asia, and Oceania as well as Europe and America. The results of Finnegan's vast research suggest fresh approaches to many current controversies: the nature of oral tradition and oral composition; the notion of a special oral style; possible connections between types of poetry and types of society; the differences between oral and written communication; and the role of poets in nonliterature societies. The reissue of this text, widely used in folklore, anthropology, and comparative literature courses, comes at an appropriate juncture in interdisciplinary scholarship, which is witnessing the breakdown of traditional disciplinary boundaries and an increase in the comparative study of oral poetry. Finnegan provides a new foreword relating the text to these recent developments.

Excerpt

The first edition of this book was published in 1977, reflecting the state of the art in the mid-1970s — a whole era ago, it seems. So much work has appeared since then that it might seem doubtful whether anything but a radical revision and amplification, or perhaps a totally new volume, would by now be acceptable. Such works by others will, I trust, be appearing. But in the meantime I am happy that many readers have found Oral Poetry useful enough as a general overview of the subject to wish for a re-issue, and that Indiana University Press has been willing to produce it. Re-reading the text after many years, I am somewhat surprised myself to find that — though there are many additional points of content or emphasis that I would of course include if I were writing it afresh today — many of its central questions still remain at the heart of the subject, and that the viewpoint from which the book was written is one I still recognise and value.

There has obviously been great expansion in the subject since the original version went to the press in the mid-1970s, both in theoretical or comparative terms, and in the welcome number of closely studied ethnographic analyses. Summarising all of this or trying to update the references comprehensively is not possible within the constraints of time and space here, while picking just a selection of citations would be invidious (although I admit that a little later I may not be able to resist mentioning a few illustrative examples). It is however illuminating to look at some major trends that have been emerging over the last fifteen or so years, ones which, looking back, I wish I could have taken on board in the original version.

Most important is the increasing interest in the significance of performance. The 1977 edition already gave some attention to performance and to the role of audiences — perhaps surprisingly so, given its date and scope. This is an emphasis that I like to date back in a general way to my Irish upbringing, to reading through Homer and other classical texts aloud during my undergraduate years at Oxford, and to study of the wider comparative literature — but also more directly and specifically to what I was taught in my initial field research among the Limba people in West Africa. This concern with performance has been . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.