Folk Poetry


Patriots interested in literature read the following in the January 1782 issue of the Magyar Hírmondó (Magyar Courier) of Pozsony edited by Mátyás Ráth: “It is known with what great diligence the English and the French are gathering the old poems and songs not only of their ancestors but also of peoples living far away. Similar undertakings by the Italians are not less known. It is really necessary to bring up the Germans, since everybody noticed in what great respect old histories, epics and many similar kinds of songs are held among them. Who does not know how they are attracted by old poems heard from the lips of the common folk, called Volkslieder? They began to gather and value these since the time they started to cultivate their own language and with it the belles lettres.

{468.} This is the way the first country-wide summons begins, which combined praise of the national language and of old literary works, urging the collection of Hungarian folk poetry. After a few preliminaries, after almost unconscious collecting, and after the copying of hand-written manuscripts, this summons looked upon research into the national language, the national literature and the poetry of the people as an inseparable unit. The credit for this belongs to the philologist Miklós Révai, who lived in Vienna and observed from there the Western European steps taken in the discovering of folk poetry. Révai’s plan was a great Hungarian lyric collection, which would contain old lyric works, the material of collected manuscripts of songs, and folk poetry which preserved the characteristics of different types of dialects a collection that would also be a good tool for studying the Hungarian language. Ráth supports this appeal; he refers to the European discovery of folk poetry, and urges its collecting at home. And so, though it came late, the collection of folk poetry was launched.

The reason for our limited knowledge of the history of Hungarian folksong is not least of all the persistent persecution of the people’s songs by the Churches through the centuries. It is indeed true that for a long time only the voices of sharp criticism, disapproval and accusation could be heard in regard to folksongs and flower songs. In 1583 Miklós Telegdi raised the following among the questions of Confession: “Did you sing or listen to flower songs with remembrance to physical love and sensual feeling?” What was destroyed of folksongs can be well understood from this one question alone. For the Protestant and Catholic Churches, even listening to such songs constituted a grave sin. Péter Bornemissza, Calvinist preacher and writer, complained in 1578: “All ears are now wishing only for frivolous entertainment... to listen to flower and love songs...” The leading figure of the Hungarian Counter Reformation, Péter Pázmány, speaks of “repulsive flower songs”. In 1679 the Cantus Catholics, in writing the following, represented the dangers even of sacred folk music when sung in the Hungarian vernacular: “The larger part of the congregation was drawn from the Roman Holy See by the sweetness of the sound of songs.” At the same time puritan Calvinist village communities could be found even in the recent past, whose closed, rigid rule reflected the old preacher’s antipathy towards singing.

And yet when we speak of Hungarian folksong, the Hungarian past is revealed to us in all its complexity; indeed, we may say that folksongs accompanied the nation’s history. We know, for example, that lamentations and certain children’s songs carry the memory of thousands of years; they speak to ethnomusicologists about the way the Magyars sang of the period of the Conquest. From later centuries, the legend of Bishop Gerhard recalls to us the serf girl singing while at work. We know that the armies of Dózsa sang their own fighting songs, which, however, have disappeared without a trace. Kuruc poetry flourished during the War of Independence led by Prince Rákóczi; the 1848–49 War of Independence was accompanied not only by Petőfi’s fighting songs but also by longing, hopeful folksongs. That is why Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály maintained along with the poet Ady at the early part of the 20th {469.} century, that folksong and folk music are a sharp weapon of political opposition and struggle; that is why, between the two world wars, the outstanding poet Attila József made use of the metaphoric and structural forms of folksongs in his own poems.

Apart from a few sporadic notations, the discovery of the Hungarian folksong began at the end of the 18th century. Csokonai, poet of the Enlightenment in Hungary, wrote as follows: “Let us descend to the ignorant, simple peasant village, then there shall be less curious pronunciations before us.” Next the words of Kölcsey during the age of literary romanticism, calling attention to the values of folk poetry: “We must seek the real spark of national poetry in the songs of the common people.” Furthermore, János Erdélyi declared that the life and poetry of the people is like an ocean into which the poet must wade to rejuvenate himself. Kriza goes even further: he knows that folksongs, the material of folk poetry, have to be sought among people of the “true class”, namely among the working peasantry. Along the path of such precedents Petőfi carried the Hungarian folksong to triumph.

However, it is unfortunate that we are only still at the very beginning of folksong research. Although Bartók and Kodály completed the major part of their work on the determination of musical structures, and Bence Szabolcsi has completed his into the research of melodic history, similarly complete examination of another important area, the lyric texts, has not yet been done, and the so-called hidden folksong material has not yet been recovered. Consequently, a great future task of research is to develop the progressive traditions which are expressed in folksongs, to develop the total wealth of the idealism and formality hidden in folksongs and to recover every episode of their historical eras. Our survey, therefore, can only be an outline, merely the designation of a few important aspects of the folksong. We owe the first significant examinations in this area to Imre Katona, who helped us with his essays in analysing prosodical, stylistic and formulaic matters, and his works defining categories of genre.

Here, by way of introduction, are a few words about the difficulties. The determination of classical aesthetic genres does not apply to folk poetry, where it is possible to encounter a series of contentual and formal genre transitions. We find strings of such genre transitions, or even the most varied genres, within the genre of the folksong. Lyric love songs, laments, merry lyric songs, work songs, soldier and outlaw songs, herdsmen’s songs, the traditional forms of mocking rhymes and songs, dancing songs, songs of girls and young men may be mentioned, just to list the main types of the folksong. Through so many varieties of genre it would be difficult to find even in the work of a single poet that basic tone, that unified final message which his poetry is trying to express. What should we say about the folksong then? Among its “poets” are the Hungarian centuries, the bitterness, hope, sorrow, and happiness of an oppressed people, of the serfs at first, later on of the peasants, the lyric inspiration, rhythmic playfulness of anonymous poets, and the centuries-old reshaping, recreating, power of the anonymous community. But the influences which the people received and made use of are also present, shaped to their own language. All of this is therefore an {470.} extensive process, and it is in actuality a very difficult task to grasp its unified characteristics, to display the final meaning of the message, to research without controversy the theories organizing its forms, while seeming to fit these into a few generalizing formulae and beautiful expressions. The folksong is a reservoir of messages, genres, and poetic forms.

It is worth pointing out that besides transitions in genre, in general the entirety of folk poetry is interwoven with identical or similar formulae like very fine veins, and often with related content episodes. A widely-known example is an anti-clerical story. One of its suffering heroes is most often a priest, sometimes a cantor or a teacher, who hides in a chest or the fireplace in his fear of the husband, and whose seductive, adulterous intention is unmasked by a clever young servant lad. A song with this theme has also come down to us.

Ruddy tankard, red wine hot,
Up the flue the rector’s got;
Come on down, your reverence,
Gone my man, and good riddance!

                      This song is known in several versions.

On leafing through the collections of folk poetry, the entire peasant life, work, and the customs of the most varied occasions are revealed to us. In truth, on the basis of folksongs a kind of summary could be written of peasant life, of its order, of the rules governing work, of exploitation, of the pains of the peasantry, and of the helpless abandonment, the consequence of which is that the working people–despite all their revolutionary temper and explosive, bloody rebellion–could not for a long time take its own fate into its own hands. The history, the limitations, the prison that was daily peasant life are all present in these folksongs. How clearly, for example, the following folksong speaks of the one-time fate of the Hungarian people!

I shall go and plough His Highness’ land,
Sow my country’s sorrows in that land.
Let it be known to His Majesty
All we reap is bitter agony.
Sorrow springs from bosoms, fields of woe,
Nothing but affliction Magyars know;
Bless him, God, His Royal Majesty,
He should on his subjects have mercy.

Though the song itself may have originated in the early 19th century, it could be the motto of the long centuries of Habsburg oppression. It presents a sombre picture of shackled humility, the bitterness of serfs, the abandonment of the Hungarians, and the hopelessness of failed rebellions. Often, though the fate of the working people appears in songs almost unnoticed:

{471.} Summer shower’s coming down hard
On the kerchief of my sweetheart.
Gentlefolk it never falls on
Nor on them who rot in prison.

It would be interesting to analyse the hidden references of the song: the well-known opening formula of the “Kossuth Song”, the nobility secure in their palaces and the suffering prisoners in the bottom of dungeons, as well as the figure of the peasant working on his field, woven into the lyric of the formula for a love song. An entire feudal society appears in the four lines of a gentle little tune. It is instructive to observe how the election songs (kortesdal) were passed on to the folk or were formulated and changed by the voice of the people. One version of a popularized election song addressed to Mihály Táncsics goes like this:

On my roof with holes and patches,
Not a stork alights or hatches;
And the taxes are so heavy
That the beam near falls upon me.
Sheriff he comes full of power,
Cares he not we cry or cover,
But he takes the clothes we have on,
With our wheat he loads his waggon.
Old King Joe said, just you listen,
He will teach us one good lesson.
Three can only buy one sheepskin,
Yet we bear the taxes’ burden.
This is what the poor man’s lot is,
No one comes to help the cotters;
From the cradle cares attend them.
And the grave alone will help them.

There are also innumerable versions of this song and of songs like it, various formulae which bear a relationship to historical songs. Songs of exile, songs of anger expressed against the Austrian tax assessors, election songs of 1848, dance songs mix and intertwine through the formulae, and what is even more decisive than the formulae, through the continuous reflection of class relations of the working peasantry.

There is no room to do so here, but the analysis of how the slogans of the Hungarian people’s historical struggles and class warfare are expressed in folksongs, open parables and hidden formulae would deserve a special treatise. It would be worth examining how explicitly the folksong presents to us the layers of peasant class division, how precisely it differentiates between the prosperous farmer, the poor peasant eking out a living on his tiny strip of land, and the landless cottier; how it differentiates between the peasant, the pick and shovel man, and the herdsman; and how the separation from the village of the young men {472.} and girls, going off to industrial work, finds its way into the folksong. The folksongs tell what the peasantry thinks of a sly judge, of the servants of the nobility, of rascals who wander off after young wives, of the entire oppressing apparatus of the feudal state. All the oppression, the social conflicts and the alliance of the exploiters appear in the lively melodies of–let us say–an outlaw song or soldier song:

Russet trousers sheath and cover both my thighs,
Under them the coarse cloth drawers none espies;
Torn my shirt is, but it’s hidden by my blouse,
Still I have my beetle-bright-eyed lover’s vows.

However, to introduce the peasant songs that reflect the historical and social battles and the everyday work of the peasantry is an inexhaustibly great task, since to do so we would have to quote the entirety of the folksong wealth.

And just as the folksong reflects the historical and social battles of the people (to avoid misunderstanding, we might mention here that the everyday life of the peasantry, from the gentle forms of love to revelry, to social life, to work, etc., all find a place here), in like manner these songs reflect Hungarian history even in their style and not just in their message. However, this historical-stylistic aspect of the folksong has not yet been suitably defined. But we can confidently say that the stylistic directions of the feudal age can all be found in folksongs, right down to the more uniform, homogeneous peasant tones of the songs that suddenly flourished in the 19th century and created a new era of folksong. Because consciously initiated collecting is related to this period, most of our material is processed and published. It is remarkable that in the period of early capitalism, which fought for national markets and a national language, we can speak of a special blossoming of Hungarian folksongs and of their melodies. The new style of Hungarian folk melodies developed at this period, as has been observed by Bartók and Kodály. The uniform formula system and expressions of folksong lyrics also point at this time towards the development of a new, more permanent style. We can actually speak of the Renaissance of folksong. Folk costume and ornamental folk art also gained a new, enriched, and colourful direction at this time. It was as if during the ascending phase of capitalism the peasantry believed for a moment that the time of liberation had arrived. Briefly now let us take one by one the questions of form related to folksong. The first point is that the lyric text of the folksong is inseparable from the melody. Very often it is also inseparable from the dance of some rhythmic movement. This rule, the organic relatedness of melody, lyric, and dance, refers not only to folksongs but can also be found among certain groups of ballads. It is a normal phenomenon from the 19th century on that in the life of a folksong, melody and lyric can change hands easily, but the laws governing this have not been sufficiently researched.

The question of the verse forms of the Hungarian folksong is so complicated that we more or less have to be satisfied with simply referring to the problems. Some researchers hold that dance rhythm is the most ancient element of Hungarian verse, and that dance rhythm {473.} gives rise to verse through its effect on melody and lyric. Others believe that the structure of the language itself, its manner of presentation, the accentuation, the structure of the fluctuation of long and short syllables, determines the rhythm of Hungarian poetry. It was Kodály who first pointed out that prosody cannot be examined independently from melody.

It is generally held that the ancient structure of Hungarian verse has a strongly accented two-stress line, and has as its oldest structural formula the “ancient eight” and the subsequent folksongs of 3 to 4 beats, which give the basic elements from which Hungarian verse structure has developed. The Finnish Kalevala was built in the eight structure, and 70 per cent of the Hungarian folksongs were written in this form. Beside this, we also meet, although less frequently, with twelve-syllable, fourbeat folksongs, which have descending rhythms. The lines become longer in the newer folksongs, and these in many cases form a transition in the direction of the written song.

One of the most characteristic features of Hungarian folksong is the end-of-the-line rhyme. A less frequently occurring form of this is the cluster rhyme, when all four lines rhyme. We find this mostly in historical songs. In a decisive majority of Hungarian folksongs, double rhymes harmonize at the end of the lines, when two lines following each other end in similar rhyme. The latter can also be looked upon as an old characteristic, because it prevails similarly in the poetry of the related nations.

According to Kodály, the Hungarian verse stanza is constructed on the base of the four-line stanza, and all subsequent narrowing or enlarging comes from this basic formula. Similarly, Kodály pointed out that Hungarian folksongs are characterized by a single-stanza structure in general, and that when several stanzas are also connected to each other in content, it is a later formation (we will not consider at this time the stanza structure of epic poetry).

Besides the inner content and formal elements, we must also speak of those modes of expression, the structural characteristics of the inner form, which are inseparable from the inner message and practically exhibit marks of definition by content. Among these features of Hungarian folk poetry which can be considered general, we shall emphasize the realistic nature of depiction, which insists on verity, and the dramatic method of depiction, the dramatic construction manifested in Hungarian folk poetry and prose.

Aesthetics justifiably distinguishes folk realism, or more precisely, the realism of folk poetry and prose. This realism is not an explicitly Hungarian feature of folk literature, but precisely because it is, in our case, the sensitive expression of Hungarian peasant reality, it is still a particular determinative.

Recently, more than one outstanding poet has mentioned the “surrealism” of Hungarian folk poetry. We think this is only a specious assertion. Even in the earliest poetic forms, playful and grotesque elements already occurred in use: the playful, meaningless mixing of merely tonal elements, the use of exaggerated images, and of comic adjectives and verbs. This method is also alive in Hungarian folk {474.} literature, from tall tales to comic folksongs, folk poetry employs the obviously unbelievable, grotesque elements of exaggeration and caricature. This method of characterization, by the way, exists in the often untranslatable idioms and playfulness of any language. It should suffice to refer to such adjectives as can be found in the expressions tűzről pattant menyecske (a young woman “popped off the hearth”, i.e. lively as popcorn), or hamvába holt (a young man “died in his own ashes”, i.e. very dull), for although we could analyse their folkloristic background, still they show the descriptive power of the language.

Among the stylistic methods of the Hungarian folksong, one of the most important is contrast or contradiction, by which the message is emphasized and underlined. Words, ideas, and expressions of contrary meaning appear within a single work, mostly within a four-line stanza.

I did give some pure wheat
To the gentle pigeon,
But not even tailings
To the churlish pigeon.

The contrasts that occur in Hungarian folksong are for the most part individual variants, although in the final analysis they can be simplified to positive-negative couplets. These behave completely independently and take their places in the centre of the songs. Sometimes the contrast runs through the entire work, at other times it is limited to certain words, in the majority of cases to the noun, less frequently to the adjective. We can assume that this is an old characteristic of the Hungarian folksong, and its occurrence is extremely frequent.

Among the stylistic features of Hungarian folksong, we direct attention to exaggeration, which lends it a graphic quality, expresses the content better, and thus increases its effect to a considerable degree. Two forms are frequent, overstatement and understatement.

Oh, my angel’s lips and eyes are
Worth much more than Castle Buda,
’Cause up there the lords are owners
But she mine is, I alone hers.
Such is the world, such it now is,
It is like the hazel’s flowers;
Much they promise, scantily yield,
What they yield is bitterest yield.

Exaggeration is a relatively frequent phenomenon of folk poetry, but overstatement, often of a cumulative nature, occurs much more frequently than understatement. However, the various phenomena of exaggeration can be observed not only in Hungarian folksong, but in other genres as well, primarily in the folk story.

At one time it was fashionable to discover mystical symbolism among the lyric symbols of Hungarian folksongs, and these symbolic systems were often explained on the basis of unhistorical, and sometimes idealistic theories, and at other times according to various false psychological explanations. Thus, some saw in the colour yellow, {475.} which occurs in folksongs, the hypothetical colour of ancient mourning. They tried to explain this among other things, by the yellow colour of barracks, county seats, and prisons in Hungarian songs. However, the county seat is yellow in folksongs for the simple reason that the hated county seats and barracks were yellow in reality, being plastered in the so-called “imperial yellow” or “Maria Theresa yellow”, fashionable in the 18th century. The reason why the Austrian national colours of black and yellow showed up in Hungarian soldiers’ songs to express a melancholic state of mind is just as obvious. This system of symbols, manifested in colours, is not some kind of an ancient system, a psychological mystery, but the combination of the colour of the oppressive authority with the black colour of mourning, strengthened by connecting black and yellow. We could quote folksongs in which yellow reflects a feeling of happiness and love, instead of separation, sadness, and death. Folksongs take their images, their natural depiction from everyday life.

Colour symbolism changes not only by region and area, but can acquire different meaning in the course of time even in the same place. To take yellow as an example, in a given case it can also mean passing, mourning, and sorrow. There is always a realistic ground for it in this case, since the sick and dead seem pale and yellow:

If you proved a faithless lover
May the graveyard’s clod you cover.
Yellow death should bid you farewell,
Take you in his wings to black hell.

At the same time it can also mean love, and often such a meaning can be demonstrated in folk custom:

Sometimes we choose red apples to cut in two:
Nutbrown lad you’d better not come me to woo.
Don’t sit on the edges of my yellow bed,
If you love me, in the middle lie instead.

In this case even the apple has a special significance. In some places the young man sent it to the girl if he wanted to ask for her hand. If the girl sent it back cut in half, she accepted his proposal.

All of this shows that in the historical research of symbols we must deal very carefully and circumspectly and can come to conclusions only on the basis of cautious and detailed examination of a large body of material.

The same also applies to the flower motifs, which from the earliest known times have been the inevitable elements of Hungarian folksongs, which is why these are called flower songs (virágdal). In the historical songs, the flower generally meant the darling, the lover. Roses, carnations, gillyflowers, rosemary often appear in more recent times. All these are flowers that were generally grown in the gardens of medieval fortresses. Perhaps they found their way into the small gardens of the peasantry, which, placed in front of the house, were tended by the daughter, so the identification of the lover with the flowers growing there is easy to imagine:

{476.} Languish, rose mine, languish,
For you gave me anguish;
While to me belonged you,
What a red rose were you!
There’s a woman with marrying daughters,
One is a pink, marjoram the other.
Pink says this to marjoram so calmly:
My sweet rose been pressed into the army.

These few examples demonstrate the development of a highly advanced symbolic system of folk poetry and, within it, of folksong. However, this system has changed and been reshaped constantly in its content and outer form, because it has always reflected the world around it and always adjusted to new circumstances.

We could build up all the details of peasant life, peasant work, and society from the various groups of Hungarian folksongs and ballads, and could get the entire world, living and inanimate, that surrounds the peasantry. The many images and turns of Hungarian song cannot be understood without a knowledge of the customs or activity of everyday life to which the songs refer. Not only was folk poetry embedded in the everyday life of the peasantry, not only did it reflect their most significant ideas, behaviour, and emotions, but it also took its adjectives, images and its figures of speech from the realm of peasant existence. We can take at random any one work of folk poetry and find that even the finest emotional vibration is expressed by symbols taken from everyday life.

For example, how realistic are these few lines of the following song, and what a great feeling of infinity they arouse:

Nutbrown lassie’s sitting on a laddie’s knee
By the Tisza under a great poplar tree;
Now the lad is gazing at the river’s waves,
While the lass is gazing at her star a-blaze.

This is how the horizon of folk poetry expands to the cool stars, but all the feelings, thoughts, and total life it includes within this spacious infinity is expressed by the poetic methods of perceived, known, immediate reality. In this poetry, even symbols are expressed by the language of reality; they cling to reality and reality is the secret of their monumental simplicity, inner truth and pure power.

We believe, among other things, that exactly this feeling for reality, this folk realism of expression, makes Hungarian folk poetry so economical in its use of formal poetic means. Hungarian folksong applies adjectives sparingly, and positively avoids their accumulation. It does not customarily describe or characterize with adjectives, but rather with visual elements and with the rich uses of verb mood and verbal prefix. We hardly need to prove that this method of description is more compact, more realistic and related to reality. Hungarian folk poetry only uses a few permanent adjectives which really describe the subject and phenomenon, and if we read the Hungarian lyric folksongs with {477.} attention, we are surprised at the almost puritan simplicity of their means of expression. Even in the songs that appear to be the most ethereal, folk poetry portrays, with clearly delienated pictures, a series of actions and scenes which follow one another. On the other hand, it always avails itself of adjectives precisely when the adjective gives a grotesque, peculiar effect, the power of a mood; at these outstanding turning points, certain adjectives glow with an almost conscious care, but to all the greater effect.

This expressive, descriptive method of realism in folk poetry is most certainly closely connected with another of its significant features, the methods of dramatic construction, dramatic condensation, and characterization. We cannot claim that dramatic character is an important feature of Hungarian folk poetry only, but neither can we say that it is a general and prevailing descriptive method of the entirety of European folk poetry. Among the surrounding peoples we find examples of the dramatic method of construction primarily in the Slavic lyric genres.

Can we really speak–no matter how figuratively–of the dramatic character of Hungarian folksongs? Do we have such structural elements as would testify without strain that the theory of dramatic construction can somehow also be achieved here? We must differentiate between the purely lyric folksongs and other folksongs, meaning by those, songs transitional to various epic songs, narrative songs, or to dance songs, to the groups of outlaw, soldier, and herdsmen’s songs, and to those historical folksongs which cannot be classified unequivocally into some artistic category. In these groups of Hungarian folksong we can also find elements of dramatic construction, the active form of presentation, the construction by scenes, living images, dramatic dialogues, or forms of presentation resembling dramatic monologue. We cannot state that this dramatic method of construction is exclusively confined to these groups, since among them we can also find many songs possessing a narrative, epic character and unfolding more clearly. Often the drier, descriptive stanzas or more clumsy structures do not at all resemble a dramatically condensed performance. In other songs, the lyric elements prevail. Still, looking at the entirety of these groups of Hungarian folk poetry, we find that the decisive majority–and precisely the more valuable, the more poetically formed songs–are dramatic in character.

However, what can we say about the simple lyric songs composed of one or two stanzas, or the lyric stanzas independent of each other, and strung on a line of a single melody? What kind of elements of dramatic construction can be discovered in these lyric songs, commonly called folksongs? The goal of these small lyric masterpieces is often just the development of a single image, a single sentiment, a passing thought: it is not likely that they can be forced into the theory of dramatic construction. The overstraining of a thought, its application to everything, is always dangerous. Therefore we mention merely as a supposition that perhaps we could still discover one formal episode of dramatic construction in these small lyric songs, a sort of formal germ of the dramatic method of portrayal, of the dramatic construction which breaks into contrasts. We are thinking of a well-known, permanent characteristic of Hungarian folksong, the natural opening image, and of {478.} the theory of its structure and stanza construction and aesthetic effects. One characteristic of Hungarian folksong is the so-called opening natural image. This is the primary verse-opening element of Hungarian lyric folksong, and even more than that, it very often is not only an image initiating a verse, an opening image, but it appears in every stanza of the poem as well; that is to say, it is a structurally decisive element. The natural image divides the lyric song into two parts, an introductory part, which is the natural image itself, and the second part, which carries the emotional, intellectual content of the poem. The natural image may be an invocatory introductory image, but it can consistently move through the entire song and sometimes divides the stanza with a practically regular construction:

River Tisza rolls on downwards,
Never will it flow up backwards.
Still I have my sweetheart’s kisses,
Let her take back those she misses!

Beside this division of the construction of the verse according to form and content, let us mention the division (of ancient origin) of the melody of the folksong: the so-called fifth construction also divides the melody. Therefore we can say–perhaps with a bit of exaggeration–that this peculiarity of the construction of Hungarian folksong pervades almost every one of its important elements. Insignificantly few are those lyric folksongs in which the natural opening image, or the natural image dividing the verse in two, would not appear in some form as one of the most important structural elements of the construction of the verse.

It is interesting to collect the most important groups of opening images, not as if we would expect from this to illuminate their origin, but rather to make it easier to look them over.

In many cases the opening image and the section following are parallel to each other; the emotional, speculative section that follows the opening image answers it almost as a reflection in the mirror:

Winds of spring the roads are drying,
Chains of frost and ice untying;
Seeking mates the birds are flying.
“Say my sweet rose, who’re you choosing?”
“Lad as straight as reed I’m choosing:”
When the winds begin a-playing,
This way and that he’ll be swaying.

                      Kibéd (former Maros-Torda County)

We can name another analogous group, but we can attach to these songs the so-called local and occasional associations, since they too are only drawn from among the analogous images of folk poetry:

Oh how tall you greenwood have grown!
Oh how far you sweet dove have flown!
If I could that greenwood hack down,
I could take my sweetheart back home.

                      Tata (Komárom County)

{479.} The linking of contrasts is also frequent when the song expresses emotions and thoughts contrary to the mood the opening image:

In my garden skylarks sing so blissfully,
Lover mine a sad letter has sent to me.
Reading it my tears of sorrow fall like rain:
Death alone will, death alone will part us twain.

                      Magyarpécska (former Arad County)

It happens that the natural opening image breaks away from its original setting and is used only as a formula:

Violets put forth blooms that are blue,
Fall in love more, I shall not do.
Rather I shall rein my heart in
Than to let it do its harmin’.

                      Ipolybalog (former Hont Country)

Certain ones are used only for the sake of the rhyme, and these opening images have lost their logical-social connections:

Peeping from behind the trees, the moon has come.
Lily of the valley mine, my peerless one.
How I love that sweetly speaking tongue of yours,
With which you so often have enticed me false.

                      Magyarpécska (former Arad County)

Finally, we also find some which have lost their meaning completely, have become obscure, at least for the purposes of today’s examiner.

Aye the nut tree it has branches high and low,
Only one girl gives me pleasure who I know.
While in her weak mother’s arms she carried her,
Even then she gave me for to marry her.

                      Püspökbogád (Baranya County)

Grouping is not yet an explanation of origin, and it does not shed light on why such construction of the lyric song should be so popular. In the former question we can follow the idea of Béla Vikár, that the natural image developed from pairing and parallelism; at the beginning, the second part repeated the first verbatim, then the parallel image stepped into the place of one of the paired members, which essentially corresponds with the former, and from this beginning, supposedly, the many-branched Hungarian lyric song evolved. Most certainly this notion is attractive, since the repetitive structure indeed stands at the beginning of every versification. Hungarian versification became especially fond of this structure, which divides into two and makes lively even the most simple, small lyric unit.

Hungarian folksong created a marvellous variety of the application of the opening natural image. Often the opening image practically changes the lyric monologue to dialogue, gives room, as it were, to the inner tension of the lyric situation, builds a scene, makes the performance rich, enrapt, intimate. Lyric folksongs show at every step examples of this structure, just as do the examples above. To complete them, let one more stand here, collected by Béla Bartók:

{480.} Flowery hemp of mine,
It’s in the retting-pit,
If you be cross with me,
Do not come spinning it.
I have dropped spindle mine,
No one does pick it up,
If my heart’s sorrowing,
No one does cheer me up.

                      Gyergyóújfalu (former Csík County)

We are thinking primarily of such songs when we look for the germ of dramatic character in the formal structural theory of the opening natural image, when we look, as it were, for its expressive character in the formal element. As we do not want to exaggerate and distort, we should add that this example (and we could point to lyric folksongs that display more or less dramatic liveliness) means only that even in the shortest lyric folksong the method of dramatic construction and portrayal can be found, along with the exposition of the opportunity provided by the natural image. We are thinking of the happy meeting between the melody building and the verse-building structural theory of the natural picture, of the opening picture, that is, and the tendency of Hungarian folk poetry to dramatic formation, its dramatic gift. This is why among the Hungarians the poetic tension, the tense balance of the natural opening image and of the second part that replies to it, emerged with special richness, creating numerous structural forms by starting out from the simple poetic device of the repetitive structure.

Application of the natural opening image has the further merit of helping to assure the purity, the simple beauty of rhyme in the folksong. That is, it deepens, it enriches the connection of the rhymed lines, because it is not only a mere tonal, outward, formal part of the pair of rhymes, but it reinforces emotionally, often even in content, the harmony of the rhymes. And it is unnecessary to emphasize that the perfect effect of rhyme is built on the best possible harmony of the already mentioned three factors–namely, when tonality, emotional mood, and the meaning of the message resound at the same time and together. The Hungarian folksong achieves this pure, inner sound precisely with the help of the natural image.

Comparative research into the opening natural image has taken only the initial steps. We already know that it is not exclusive to Hungarian folk poetry. Research to date has shown that it also occurs in the poetry of the peoples related to the Hungarians; it also shows surprising parallels with the folk poetry of the Bashkirs, Western European parallels have also been found in Italian and Swiss Ladin folk poetry. The further west we go, the less frequently this verse construction occurs. The Rumanian permanent opening natural image is known: it is the green leaf, the frunza verde. This structure is very frequent in the lyric folksongs of the Slavic peoples. The Ukrainian, Russian, and Slovak folksongs in particular favour introductory natural images of lyric tone.

Although this summary is very compact, with all the potential errors {481.} of enforced condensation, perhaps it still demonstrates the wealth, beauty, and power of Hungarian folk poetry. We thought that by way of introduction we should speak of the kinds of ideas which have directed the historical development of Hungarian folk poetry, and of the kind of inner, shaping force which has worked in every period of folk poetry in the most varied genres, and finally of how and through what creative theories the national form manifested itself in folk poetry.

We shall introduce in the following few groups the most characteristic types of the Hungarian folksong, but naturally we cannot attempt even an approximation of completeness.