printed page.nSince the time of Davidson’s death there has been muchncritical attention to the special characteristics of the lyricnpoem as act and cultural gesture. But none of it quitensupersedes the Tennessee poet’s reflections on the origins ofnhis calling and its ancient, indissoluble connections withnmusic and song. In his system irony, eloquence, andndramatization have their place, but are not all of poetry.n”The Lyric of Tradition” should be compared to “Poetry asnTradition,” the opening chapter in Davidson’s most memorablenbook of criticism. Still Rebels, Still Yankees (1957), tonDavidson’s own verse, and to his commentary on the best ofnother modern poetry.n— M.E. BradfordnThe Middle Ages cannot be exactly delimited as anhistorical period. In her anthology, Mediaeval LatinnLyrics, Helen Waddell goes as far back as the poem “CopanSurisca” (“Syrian Dancing Girl”), attributed ijto Vergil bynServius in the fourth century A.D. and quoted in anninth-century manuscript as well as in the Benedict-beuernnmanuscript of the 13th century now famous as, the CarminanBurana. Miss Waddell explains this inclusion as “for thensake of the unbroken tradition.” The “Copa” is notnmedieval in any usual sense. But the “Copa”‘and somenlyrics of the Latin Silver Age illustrate the “line of descent”nthat allies medieval verse with the older tradition — withnAusonius, Petronius, and the unknown author of PervigiliumnVeneris. Even so, Petronius “is closer to the first Italian’nsonnet writers than he is to Horace.” But for Miss Waddellnthe medieval period ends with the year 1200 or thereabout.nFor Sir Edmund Chambers, writing both of Old French,nMiddle English, and some Latin lyrics in “Some Aspects ofnMedieval Lyric,” the Middle Ages go back into thenindefinite realm of folk song and forward into the 16thcenturynbeginnings of the English Renaissance. For GeorgenK. Anderson, writing of Anglo-Saxon and Middle Englishnliterature, the term “medieval” is similarly flexible andnindefinite. “Within the framework of history, all Englishnliterature is either medieval or modern. To designate anynpart of it as medieval is to describe it, explicitly or implicifly,nas belonging to the era that formed the great bridge overnwhich the Western world advanced from the confusionnfollowing the collapse of Rome to the complex modernnworld.”nEvidently the term “medieval lyric” will have a waveringnkind of indefiniteriess if we try to look at it in straightnhistorical terms. A hymn to the Virgin Mary, a courtly lovensong, a ballade by Chaucer may be “placed” in the 14thncentury. But such placement tells us littie about its actualnpoetical quality, still less about it as a lyric. What if wenencounter a lyric by Wyatt or Surrey in the 16th centurynwith much the same poetical characteristics as the 14thcenturynpiece? Are we to think of it as “medieval”?nHistorically, it is “Renaissance.”nIf we reject the historical label as unsatisfactory for criticalnpurposes, what will serve better?nIt is helpful to consider the difficulties that have besetnscholars in their attempts to place the “ballad” historically.nTo Bishop Percy the old poems that he took from thenfamous folio manuscript and other sources were mosflyneither “ballads” or “romances,” and all were to his notionnproperty tided in his collection as Reliques of AncientnEnglish Poetry. They were either the work of “minstrels” —nand hence in our terms “medieval” — or of still morenancient “bards” and therefore in his terms “Gothic.” By thentime of Francis J. Child, a century and more later, the ideanof popular origin and a slow development or even evolutionnthrough the workings of oral tradition took foremost place.nEnglish ballads might be medieval, but few documentaryntraces of medieval ballads could be salvaged. The titie ofnChild’s great collection very properly expresses a dominantntheme of 19th-century scholarship: English and ScottishnPopular Ballads. But “popular” does not quite avail. WalternScott’s “literary” ballads, Byron’s fashionable love lyrics.nBurns’ more homely “songs” were all popular in the sensenof .being immensely liked, indeed of being absorbed andnpossessed by the “people” if not by the “folk.”nBy 1932 ballad scholarship had passed into a new phase,nand Gordon H. Gerould arrived at a more realistic andnuse^ful solution to the problem in his book The Ballad ofnTradition. Here at last, in Gerould’s discussion, the ballad isndisengaged from its merely historical associations and studiednas an art product that owes its distinction to certain socialnarid* cultural^ conditions. “The popular ballad,” Gerouldnwrifes, “or the ballad of tradition as I believe we may morenjustly call it, has no real existence save when held in memorynand ^, sung by those who have learned it from the lips ofnothers. . . . Strictly speaking, the ballad as it exists is not anballad . . . until it has been in oral circulation. . . . For thenballad is a folk-song, and is subject to all the conditions ofnproduction and transformation peculiar to folk-song, thoughnit is distinguishable in respect of content and purpose.”,nGerould’s emphasis is on the “moulding” process of traditionnas it shapes, or fails to shape, the ballad, and not onnthe nature of tradition itself or the traditional society, and henis still involved with that most ill-defined of critical andncultural terms, the “folk.” But the very term “ballad ofntradition” promises and indeed brings clarity and light intonareas that have been as foggy as Poe’s misty mid-region ofnWeir.nIs there also such a thing as the lyric of tradition? Withoutnhesitation I would say yes. If “ballad of tradition” is a betternterm for the popular ballad than “folk ballad,” and if,npossibly, “story of tradition” might be a better name fornpopular story than “folk tale” —and I believe they are morensensible terms — then “lyric of tradition” is the right termnfor most of the English lyrics composed between the lastnstand of Harold in 1066 and the much less edifying death ofnHenry VIII in 1547. The term “folk lyric” —like “folknsong,” “folk tale,” and “folk ballad” — involves any critic innthe baffling- mystique built up around the word folk by thenenthusiastic yet fruitless efforts of anthropologists and literarynscholars to force our more ancient stories and poemsninto a conjectural sequence that will somehow correspondnwith Darwin’s theory of evolution. Since Herder came forthnin 1771 with his tempting question. War nicht Ossian unsernBruder? and Wolf in 1795 issued his Prolegomena adnHomerum, “the folk” have had almost divine creative powernattributed to them, but seem to flourish more in the realm ofnanalogy and conjecture than of solid fact. George LymannnnDECEMBER 1989/17n