But these are examples from homogeneous cultures. How representative of the American nation would you say Negro folklore is?
The history of the American Negro is a most intimate part of American history. Through the very process of slavery came the building of the United States. Negro folklore, evolving within a larger culture which regarded it as inferior, was an especially courageous expression. It announced the Negro’s willingness to trust his own experience, his own sensibilities as to the definition of reality, rather than allow his masters to define these crucial matters for him. His experience is that of America and the West, and is as rich a body of experience as one would find anywhere. We can view it narrowly as something exotic, folksy, or “low-down,” or we may identify ourselves with it and recognize it as an important segment of the larger American experience—not lying at the bottom of it, but intertwined, diffused in its very texture. I can’t take this lightly or be impressed by those who cannot see its importance; it is important to me. One ironic witness to the beauty and the universality of this art is the fact that the descendants of the very men who enslaved us can now sing the spirituals and find in the singing an exaltation of their own humanity. Just take a look at some of the slave songs, blues, folk ballads; their possibilities for the writer are infinitely suggestive. Some of them have named human situations so well that a whole corps of writers could not exhaust their universality. For instance, here’s an old slave verse:
Ole Aunt Dinah, she’s just like me
She work so hard she want to be free
But ole Aunt Dinah’s gittin’ kinda ole
She’s afraid to go to Canada on account of the cold.
Ole Uncle Jack, now he’s a mighty “good nigger”
You tell him that you want to be free for a fac’
Next thing you know they done stripped the skin off your back.
Now ole Uncle Ned, he want to be free
He found his way north by the moss on the tree
He cross that river floating in a tub
The patroller give him a mighty close rub.
It’s crude, but in it you have three universal attitudes toward the problem of freedom. You can refine it and sketch in the psychological subtleties and historical and philosophical allusions, action and whatnot, but I don’t think its basic definition can be exhausted. Perhaps some genius could do as much with it as Mann has done with the Joseph story."
His shirt torn open, a song on his lips and wine cup in his hand
With eyes looking for trouble, lips softly complaining
So at midnight last night he came and sat at my pillow…"
— خواجه شمس دین محمد حافظ شیرازی
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through –
And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum –
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My Mind was going numb –
And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,
As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race
Wrecked, solitary, here –
And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –
— from the poem “Not Near the End, But” by Adam Clay
Saul Bellow, Humbolt’s Gift
— Saul Bellow, Henderson, The Rain King (via talesofpassingtime)
I say, ‘Yes, why not? That’s possible.’ I want to please him, though I don’t remember writing that way. I would like to try to tell such a story, if he means the kind that begins: ‘There was a woman…’ followed by plot, the absolute line between two points which I’ve always despised. Not for literary reasons, but because it takes all hope away. Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life."
— "A Conversation with My Father" by Grace Paley