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 or the Pacific. The book employs a broad comparative perspective and considers oral poetry from Africa, Asia, and Oceania as well as Europe and America. The results of Finnegan's vast research illuminate and suggest fresh conclusions to many current controversies: the nature of oral tradition and oral composition; the notion of a special oral style; possible connection between types of poetry and types of society; the differences between oral and written communication; and the role of poets in non-literate societies.
Drawing on insights from anthropology and literary scholarship, Oral Poetry attempts to create a greater appreciation of the literary aspects of this fascinating form of poetry. Finnegan quotes extensively from a wide variety of sources, mainly in translation. The discussion is presented in non-technical language and will be of interest not only to sociologists and social anthropologists, but also to all those interested in comparative literature and in folk poetry from cultures around the world.
The re-issue 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. For this volume Ruth Finnegan has provided a new foreword relating the text to more recent developments.