Sunday, 11 February 2018

Peasant love-songs

Mary Mudie wrote in The Vineyard in May 1914 the lead article entitled 'The Woman's Part in Peasant Life'.  This was the write-up of an "address given before the Peasant Arts Fellowship, March 11, 1914".  In this article, Mudie states:

Spine design from
The Vineyard
"The position and influence of women in any country, it seems to me, may best be shown by its love-songs, because they reflect man's ideal of womanhood.  Tried by this test Italy would stand high, for her love-songs set woman on a throne, and they are true folk-songs made by the people.  Women may well bear themselves with dignity whose lovers court them in such home-made lyrics as those sung among the Tuscan hills.  One begins:

O shining star!  O soul serene and mild,
I trust to make with thee a lasting peace ....

and the lover goes on to describe her gentle manner and lovely ways, and the speech so sweet and so noble that the birds stop their singing, the river its flow to listen to her words.

Even the best translation fails to render the simple yet exquisite music of the originals, but in her Folksongs of the Tuscans Hills, lately published, Miss barrack's translations may give some idea of the peasant woman as her lovers and her neighbours see her.  In one of the Fiori a little maid says to her lover:

Nettle flower fair!
Please do not mind my dress that is threadbare;
It is not in the clothes that Love doth dwell,
It is within the heart, - thou knows well.

His answer is:

For riches, O Sweetheart, I'd love thee ne-er,
Not if three mountains all of gold were thine;
But for thy lovely looks, thy manners fair:
Thy nobleness is worth a Duchy old,
A pearl thou art that's threaded in the gold:
Thy nobleness is worth a treasure found,
A pearly thou art upon a golden ground.

Sometimes it is the lover who regrets his poverty; he sings:

I'm born in poverty and have no claim
To court a maid so noble and so bright
For poverty indeed spoils every aim.
I've set myself upon too great a height.
Yet gentlehood I have in seeking thee,
So thou - for poverty dismiss not me.

What is her answer?:

How many folks there be who wed for wealth!
But he can work for goods who has good health,
Our goods they come and go as doth the wind -
What use for them without content of mind?
Riches!  they, like the sea, return, depart.
What use for them without content of heart?

When he has to go away to work he tell:

When from my village late I did depart,
Weeping I bade my love farewell - but she,
Who is most noble, courteous of heart,
Held me to ask when my return should be.

And I made the answer with such words as these:
My coming back shall be when God doth please -
And I made answer with humility,
 The coming back shall be unless I die - 
And I made answer with these words of faith,
The coming back shall be - unless for Death.

She, grieved at his tears, tries to keep up his courage and says:

Be happy, love, and if you needs must leave,
Do not take gloom upon you heart for load.
See! if I knew it 'twould be mine to grieve
That sadly you should go along your road.
By all means go - and quickly come again.
Leave sighing unto me - who must remain.

That is how the lover thinks of his girl; she is gentle, noble and courteous; she is to be the high white column of his home, and he longs for the day when he shall bring her, as the peasant custom is, to his father's house:

O! when will that one day of glory come
When softly thou shalt mount my stair and stand
With all thy brothers round thee in our home!
I shall be first to take thee by the hand.
O when will come, Sweetheart, that glorious day
When to the priest we go, our yes to say.

Long after they are married he still sings to the wife of many years, how she is like an olive tree which sheds its fruit but keeps its silver leaves; like the sea which winds and waves may trouble, but which keeps its level, however much rain may fall; she is like the tender grass of spring that every day grows lovelier to the sight."

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