Oral poetry: its nature, significance, and social context

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Indiana University Press, 1992 - Literary Criticism - 287 pages
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This classic study is an introduction to “oral poetry,” a broad subject which Ruth Finnegan interprets as ranging from American folksongs, Eskimo lyrics, and modern popular songs to medieval oral literature, the heroic poems of Homer, and recent epic compositions in Asia and the Pacific. The book employs a wide comparative perspective, to consider oral poetry from Africa, Asia, and Oceania as well as Europe and America. The results of Finnegan’s vast research suggest fresh approaches to many current controversies: the nature of oral tradition and oral composition; the notion of a special oral style; possible connections between types of poetry and types of society; the differences between oral and written communication; and the role of poets in nonliterature societies. The reissue of this text, widely used in folklore, anthropology, and comparative literature courses, comes at an appropriate juncture in interdisciplinary scholarship, which is witnessing the breakdown of traditional disciplinary boundaries and an increase in the comparative study of oral poetry. Finnegan provides a new foreword relating the text to these recent developments.

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Contents

Introductory
1
The importance of oral poetry
3
Some forms of oral poetry
7
What is oral in oral poetry?
16
The poetry in oral poetry
24
Performance and text
28
Some approaches to the study of oral poetry
30
Thehistoricalgeographicalschool
41
Prosodic systems
90
Repetition style and structure
102
Language and diction
109
Performance
118
Is there a special oral style?
126
Conclusion
133
Transmission distribution and publication
134
Poets and their positions
170

Sociological approaches and the sociology of literature
44
Two ideal types of society and poetry
46
Composition
52
Compositioninperformance and the oralformulaic theory
58
How valid is the oralformulaic theory?
69
Prior composition memorisation and performance
73
Conclusion
86
Style and performance
88
Are oral poets anonymous?
201
The poet as seer
207
Audience context and function
214
Poetry and society
244
Concluding comment
272
Index
289
Copyright

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About the author (1992)

RUTH FINNEGAN is a visiting research professor and emeritus professor in the faculty of social sciences at the Open University in the U.K.

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