After bringing forward examples of the identity of features in European ballad poetry, we shall proceed to show that the earlier genre of ballads with refrain sprang from the same primitive custom of dance, accompanied by improvised song, which still exists in Greece and Russia, and even in valleys of the Pyrenees.
There can scarcely be a better guide in the examination of the notes or marks of popular poetry than the instructions which M. Ampère gave to the committee appointed in 1852-1853 to search for the remains of ballads in France. M. Ampère bade the collectors look for the following characteristics: - "The use of assonance in place of rhyme, the brusque character of the recital, the textual repetition, as in Homer, of the speeches of the persons, the constant use of certain numbers, - as three and seven, - and the representation of the commonest objects of every-day life as being made of gold and silver." M. Ampère might have added that French ballads would probably employ a "bird chorus," the use of talking-birds as messengers; that they would repeat the plots current in other countries, and display the same non-Christian idea of death and of the future world (see "The Lyke-wake Dirge"), the same ghostly superstitions and stories of metamorphosis, and the same belief in elves and fairies, as are found in the ballads of Greece, of Provence, of Brittany, Denmark and Scotland. We shall now examine these supposed common notes of all genuine popular song, supplying a few out of the many instances of curious identity.
As to brusqueness of recital, and the use of assonance instead of rhyme, as well as the aid to memory given by reproducing speeches verbally, these are almost unavoidable in all simple poetry preserved by oral tradition. In the matter of recurring numbers, we have the eternal -
"Trois belles filles
L'y en a'z une plus belle que le jour,"
who appear in old French ballads, as well as the "Three Sailors," whose adventures are related in the Lithuanian and Provençal originals of Thackeray's Little Billee. Then there is "the league, the league, the league, but barely three," of Scottish ballads; and the τριὰ πουλακιά, three golden birds, which sing the prelude to Greek folk-songs, and so on. A more curious note of primitive poetry is the lavish and reckless use of gold and silver. H. F. Tozer, in his account of ballads in the Highlands of Turkey, remarks on this fact, and attributes it to Eastern influences. But the horses' shoes of silver, the knives of fine gold, the talking "birds with gold on their wings," as in Aristophanes, are common to all folk-song. Everything almost is gold in the Kalewala (q.v.), a so-called epic formed by putting into juxtaposition all the popular songs of Finland. Gold is used as freely in the ballads, real or spurious, which M. Verkovitch has had collected in the wilds of Mount Rhodope. The Captain in the French song is as lavish in his treatment of his runaway bride, -
"Son amant l'habille,
Tout en or et argent";
and the rustic in a song from Poitou talks of his faucille d'or, just as a variant of Hugh of Lincoln introduces gold chairs and tables. Again, when the lover, in a ballad common to France and to Scotland, cuts the winding-sheet from about his living bride - "il tira ses ciseaux d'or fin." If the horses of the Klephts in Romaic ballads are gold shod, the steed in Willie's Lady is no less splendidly accoutred, -
"Silver shod before,
And gowden shod behind."
Readers of Homer, and of the Chanson de Roland, must have observed the same primitive luxury of gold in these early epics, in Homer reflecting perhaps the radiance of the actual "golden Mycenae."
Next as to talking-birds. These are not so common as in Märchen, but still are very general, and cause no surprise to their human listeners. The omniscient popinjay, who "up and spoke" in the Border minstrelsy, is of the same family of birds as those that, according to Talvj, pervade Servian song; as the τριὰ πουλακιά which introduce the story in the Romaic ballads; as the wise birds whose speech is still understood by exceptionally gifted Zulus; as the wicked dove that whispers temptation in the sweet French folk-song; as the "bird that came out of a bush, on water for to dine," in the Water o' Wearies Well.
In the matter of identity of plot and incident in the ballads of various lands, it is to be regretted that no such comparative tables exist as Von Hahn tried, not very exhaustively, to make of the "story-roots" of Märchen. Such tables might be compiled from the learned notes and introductions of Prof. Child to his English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1898). A common plot is the story of the faithful leman, whose lord brings home "a braw new bride," and who recovers his affection at the eleventh hour. In Scotland this is the ballad of Lord Thomas and Fair Annie; in Danish it is Skiaen Anna. It occurs twice in M. Fauriel's collection of Romaic songs. Again, there is the familiar ballad about a girl who pretends to be dead, that she may be borne on a bier to meet her lover. This occurs not only in Scotland, but in the popular songs of Provence (collected by Damase Arbaud) and in those of Metz (Puymaigre), and in both countries an incongruous sequel tells how the lover tried to murder his bride, and how she was too cunning, and drowned him.
Another familiar feature is the bush and briar, or the two rose trees, which meet and plait over the graves of unhappy lovers, so that all passers-by see them, and say in the Provençal, -
"Diou ague l'amo
Des paures amourous."
Another example of a very widespread theme brings us to the ideas of the state of the dead revealed in folk-songs. The Night Journey, in M. Fauriel's Romaic collection, tells how a dead brother, wakened from his sleep of death by the longing of love, bore his living sister on his saddle-bow, in one night, from Bagdad to Constantinople. In Scotland this is the story of Proud Lady Margaret; in Germany it is the song which Bürger converted into Lenore; in Denmark it is Aagé und Elsé; in Brittany the dead foster-brother carries his sister to the apple close of the Celtic paradise (Barzaz Breiz). Only in Brittany do the sad-hearted people think of the land of death as an island of Avalon, with the eternal sunset lingering behind the flowering apple trees, and gleaming on the fountain of forgetfulness. In Scotland the channering worm doth chide even the souls that come from where, "beside the gate of Paradise, the birk grows fair enough." The Romaic idea of the place of the dead, the garden of Charon, whence "neither in spring or summer, nor when grapes are gleaned in autumn, can warrior or maiden escape," is likewise pre-Christian. In Provençal and Danish folk-song, the cries of children ill-treated by a cruel step-mother awaken the departed mother, -