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CANADIAN FOLK-SONGS MARIUS BARBEAu THE folk-lore of French Canada is too vast and varied to lend itself to summary-treatment. Its hoard, whether amassed and centralized or still awaiting the harvester, is so rich in cultural traits, in traditional narratives, pictorial patterns, tunes, and verse-forms, that it cannot be rendered by mere statistics and and chapter-heads. It must be sampled in actuality, as a gourmet samples old wines or cheese; its contents have to be picked up o,n sunny mornings, as a gardener culls flowers or ·scented herbs. In ·this culling there is a need for wisdom, knowledge, and profound·humap interest. · · To indicate the extent of this literature it is enough to declar"e that more than 9,000 folk-songs with over 5,000 melodies have so far been recorded either for the phonograph or in musical script. These compositions' belong to every conceivable type of oral literature-chronicles, miracles, mysteres et jeux, complaintes or "come-all-ye's," mnemonic lines, cantides, "exempla," love lyrics of all sorts, shepherd tunes, workaday songs with long and lilting refrains, dances of several kinds, rigmaroles, drinking chants, lullabjes, and carols. The majority of these originated in France, over two hundred years ago; yet, one must not forget, a minority were made up. on: this side of the Atlantic...;__about one out of twenty on the St. Lawrence, and one out of fift~en or so in Acadia. Folk-tales and legends, it is needless to say, also abound.everywhere inFrench America. They now seem to surpass the present-day resources of the motherland. Traditional crafts and folk-arts have thriven in the older parts of Canada to a surprising degree. Rhymes and sayings expressive of folk-wisdom are almost inexhaustible. The language itself, by its archaic terminology, phonetics, and local diversities, offers untapped materials to the linguist. And the slow cultural adaptation of Europeans to the New Wo~ld is itself worth careful observation: the co·ntact of. the European with American elements and geographic features brought about a unique ' racial experience. Let a few samples of titles .(only titles unfortunately) of songs} of tales and legends, of specialized and folk arts and crafts, perhaps also of linguistic. features} tell the story. Folk-songs and tales form the major part of the French repertory. in - North America·. The hoard of folk-songs includes, besides that of Quebec and Acadia, the materials from the old French colonies of ·the upper Missouri, the Red River) and Louisiana. vVithin Canada, the French field is split into two or three semi-independent areas: the St. Lawrence valley, Acadi~ (mostly in the Maritime Provinces), and the North-West where the Metis· population of the prairies still survives. Th~ repertory of songs embraces those brought over from the northern 183 184 ' THE UNIVERSITY OF TO~ONTO QUARTERLY and western provinces of France by the colonists of the second part of the seventeenth century; these colonists, about 9,000 in number in 1680, were . the true founders of New France. The remainder of the collection is ·made up mostly of crude compositions by untutored singers who, had inherited the spirit, but not the technique, of. the ancient jongleurs de France. The jong{eurs were responsible for much of the folk repertory of the motherland and its wandering sons in .the New World. Some of the songs brought over. from France went back centuries, if not a millennium, for instance "Dame Lombarde," of the northern Italian princess who poisoned her impetuous husband with a serpenes venom which she poured into his wine. Indeed, this story of poisoning commemorates· an in'cident of the Lombard conquest,· of the sixth century. Almo~t as old in conception are the three. versions of the folk-canticle ~~saint Alexis": tpe theme itself seems to have originated. in Asia Minor as early as the fourth century, and to have entered Italy at the port of Ostia not long·after·; it certainly had made its appearance in France some time in the e1eventh century, since a poem on S~int Alexis is one of the three oldest records in the French langue vutgaire-the "Passion de Notre-Seigneur" and 0...


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pp. 183-187
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