Maine, a Guide down East

By Workers of the Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of Maine | Go to book overview

FOLKLORE AND FOLKWAYS

BESIDES a considerable body of folklore peculiar to Maine, the State also possesses a larger body of racially inherited lore, particularly that of Great Britain and of France. The comparative isolation and independence of many a 'down-East' community have helped to preserve not only old customs, beliefs, and legends, but even characteristics of speech that hark back to Elizabethan or earlier days. The familiar use of the word 'butt'ry' for 'pantry,' and of the old Anglo-Saxon word 'gore' as a unit of land measurement, are obvious examples.

Maine is rich in an inherited knowledge of herbs and cure-alls, spells, weather signs, and omens which has gradually become characteristic of most rural sections through the country, and therefore does not require treatment as a cultural feature peculiar to Maine or even to New England. In sending forth pioneers to build up new territories to the west, Maine and its neighboring States contributed as well a great treasury of saws and sayings, songs and stories, which became a part of the common heritage in far distant regions, and are now only Maine's or New England's as the sociological or literary scholar may trace them back to their original source. Nevertheless, there is still a good deal of folklore, much of it as yet unrecorded, that is indigenous to the Pine Tree State.

There was a time in Maine when nearly everybody sang and composed his own songs. And he who was especially gifted as singer or story-teller was a person of consequence in his community, like the minstrel of an older day. It was as if the unlettered populace unconsciously sought and found in this way an esthetic relief from the harsh facts of their daily existence. As a result, there gradually came into being many stories and poems, some of them local and temporal, some universal and lasting. They were a sort of communal product, just as were the ancient English and Scottish ballads that are still recited or sung by many Maine folk; and they originated wherever men came together, in logging camps in the deep woods and in fo'c'sles on the sea. Verse or prose, they were passed on and further embellished by denizens of the village store or by idlers on the lee side of a wharf whittling shavings in the sun and passing plug or jug from mouth to mouth. This material is a heritage not widely known today, even in Maine itself.

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