Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Epic Songs: The Poetry of Religion or the Religion of Poetry

The traditional oral epic singer is not an artist; he is a seer. The patterns of thought that he has inherited came into being to serve not art but religion in its most basic sense. His balances, his antitheses, his similes and metaphors, his repetitions, and his sometimes seemingly willful playing with words, with morphology, and with phonology were not intended to be devices and conventions of Parnassus, but were techniques for emphasis of the potent symbol. Art appropriated the forms of oral narrative. But it is from the dynamic, life principle in myth, the wonder-working tale, that art derived its force. Yet it turned its back on the traditional significance to contemplate the forms as if they were pure form, and from that contemplation to create new meanings.

(Albert Lord, Singer of Tales, 220-21)

I appreciate the emphasis on singer as seer, the poet as prophet (something Ovid would capitalize on!), but I wonder what he means by "religion in its most basic sense"; what is "religion in its most basic sense"? I think he is trying to get to some rawness in this phrase, some sort of romantic effervescence of the moment of oral composition/creation, a golden age of orality betrayed by later literati, who contemplate pure forms in a phrase fraught with Platonism; this raw, dynamic, and, yes, romantic moment of continual recreation has displaced and destroyed the equally or more romantic notion of "origins," a concept the Parry/Lord theory has utterly demolished by making it incomprehensible in the context of oral tale-telling.

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