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MUSIC

MARCH, 1893.

BOHEMIAN POPULAR POETRY:

RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED TO DR. ANTONIN DVORAK.

Bohemia is one of those happy countries whose people may be truly called a race of poets and musicians. Even in this prosaic age of steam and electricity, popular poetry is flourishing in the "country of song and romance," as Samuel P. Putnam calls Bohemia. Thousands of songs-most of them real pearls of uncommon beauty-the invention of the people themselves, may be heard in the fields, the meadows, the forests of the country, in the cottages and gardens of the villagers, as well as in the dancing halls of the bourgeoisie and the barracks of the military.

What we mean by a popular song may best be understood from the following words of Karel Jaromir Erben (from his preface to a collection of Bohemian popular songs):

What is a popular song? All the folk-lorists agree that a song which the common people sing need not be a popular song on that account, even though it were sung a hundred years; and, on the other hand, a true folk-song never loses its character, even though a century ago it might have vanished from the lips and memory of the people. It is likewise of no importance whether the song be more or less widely known, for even if it were sung in but one place it

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may still be a true popular song. The characteristic marks of a folk-song must be sought elsewhere. As a matter of fact, the question, 'What is a popular song?' depends upon another primary question, What is a people?' how does its national being manifest itself in poetry? It is left to physiologists and philosophers to answer these questions; I shall only attempt to state briefly the difference between a folksong and one written by a cultured poet.

"Every nation that has not yet been alienated from its own self has its own peculiar national sentiment, and its own mode of thinking, its individuality, based upon peculiarities of mind and body, which clearly distinguish it from other nations. As the nation or its parts pass through various vicissitudes, this natural, general and permanent character of the nation acquires its peculiar outward form; and as the fortunes of the nation are liable to change, so also its national character constantly changes its outward form, like wax which yields to every form, never ceasing to be what it is-wax. The sentiment of a nation, shaped and defined by the nation's external condition, is what we call the national spirit. If a song is to be a popular one, it must reflect the national spirit. If its main idea-the tropes, idioms and structural form-differ from the popular ones, there is no folksong.

The idea finds its body and form in words joined in sentences which compose verses and stanzas. Each stanza contains at least two verses. But the form of the stanza and the verse, aye, even the order of words and the rhyme, all rest on certain rules of popular esthetics, formed in accordance with national music, and ennobled by the national spirit, which have been consecrated by long usage. None of the popular poets is conscious of those rules, none knows them by heart, but every pupil of the national school feels and follows them, for they spring up from the very being of the nation. The form of the song is so definitely fixed that the community of songs among the various branches of the Slavonic nation depends on it alone. The more similar the form, the more likely will there be songs in common. For this reason there are a great many songs common to the Bohe

mians, Moravians and Slovaks; fewer common to the Bohemians and the Poles; the least similarity is between the Bohemian and the Russian or Illyrian songs, for here the form differs the most, and hence songs common to these nations are very rare.

Finally, if a song is to deserve the name of 'popular,' it must not belong to any definite poet, but the whole nation must be held for its author. If anybody claims the song as his product and property, it belongs to that person, though it may possess both the spirit and the form of a popular song. A popular poet has only the singing in view. He sings because his heart forces him to, or because for a moment's glory he desires to distinguish himself before his fellows by a new song; he claims no other merit and takes no care of his song. If it has pleased others, they learn it and sing it, with or without occasional changes; they consider I do not mean to it as much their own as the poet himself.

say that a popular poet must necessarily be a plain, uncultured countryman, but as it is difficult, if not impossible, for one who is not accustomed to think and feel with the people, to understand the people's heart, its philosophy and the canons of its esthetics, for this reason a person that has not sprung from the very core of the people, or has estranged himself from the people through scholarly education or otherwise, will seldom become a popular poet."

Indeed, if a poet's works are to survive their maker, they must breathe the national spirit. There is no chauvinism in this assertion; it is based upon psychological laws. If the poet is to speak to the hearts of men, he must be truthfulhe must be true to himself, else his words will find no echo in the bosoms of others. To be true to himself he must be true to his people, or his poems will be like exotic flowers, they will excite cold admiration only, and will fail to touch and sound the strings of the reader's heart. Popular poetry is a living spring in which the poet will find recreation and refreshment, the same as is the case with popular music and the composers of to-day.

Bohemian popular poetry has preserved its individuality to this day. Its subjects usually are love, nature and do

mestic scenes of every-day life. Gentleness of pathos is its chief characteristic; its figures and tropes are taken from nature; its actors from among the country maidens and the country swains. We do not mean to say, however, that all the songs are love songs. The rustic bards sing of joy and grief, of love and hate, of war and peace, of man and beast. The principal motives of the songs may be said to be the following, which we shall speak of more specifically: Song, Love, Wedding, Farmer's Life, Various Occupations and Trades of Men, War, Beer and Wine, Satire, Events Historical and Mythical.

Songs of song are not uncommon. "Songs, songs, whence have you come? Have you fallen down from heaven or have you grown up in the grove?" queries a Slovak youth, and they answer: "We have not fallen down from heaven, we have not grown up in the grove, but the young lads and the maidens have found us out." How the people cherish the songs and singing may be gathered from their own words: " We like better a master that pays us less but permits us to sing freely." "I have to work, to work I have all day long-I cannot work if I don't sing," is the confession of a weary workman. "Sing, my girl, make the fields merry; make the fields merry, my heart!" another song reminds the maiden. By singing a maiden makes it known to her lover that she is near. About to marry, a young maiden is wooed by men of various vocations and trades. She gives a farmer preference over all others, because she says, "He likes to sing in the fields." Even in their last hour the people think of singing. The lover is dying. The girl wants to call a doctor. "Don't call a docrather than to the

tor," says the lover, he can't help me; doctor give the money to singers; they will sing at my funeral." Grief cannot stop the singing. My lips are singing, my eyes are smiling, though tears stream forth from my heart," tells us a Slovak maiden.

Most of the songs, however, naturally spring from love for love is the noblest and the mightiest of human passions. And here it is love unreturned that gives rise to the greater portion of erotic poems, for the unhappy lover seeks

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