The subject of this monograph is the lullaby
genre in the traditions of Russian folklore and literature. In previous
research this genre has not received due attention. Furthermore, the literary
lullaby has not been considered as a special poetical phenomenon.
This analysis of the folklore lullaby is structural-functional in its approach. Four thousand texts from different regions served as the basis for this study. From an examination of the texts one can conclude that a stable narrative pattern is virtually absent from the lullaby tradition. It would therefore be a mistake to try and classify the lullabies on the basis of narrative. The structuring element of the genre appears to be the motif. Motifs occur in different combinations although stable motif structures are found as well. The number of motifs recorded in this work is 21, the majority of which have a formulaic character.
The lullaby is the first genre of folklore encountered by the child. The situation in which the lullaby is performed and the special status of the recipient create a certain functional field in which the oral tradition is perpetuated.
The infant, according to traditional ideas and ritual practice, is a transitional and incomplete being. Such beliefs directly effect the functions of the lullaby, which are the following: lulling to sleep, protection, prognostic function and epistemological function. Each of these is conditioned by a dominant arrangement of motifs.
The function of lulling to sleep is realized through the poetics and phonetics of the song, directed towards calming the infant. Certain motifs with a figurative content are also aimed at the lulling of the child.
According to traditional belief the child is a liminal being and susceptible to particular danger even to the point of being taken over by evil spirits. This gives the lullaby its special protective function. The words of the lullaby take part in a protective ritual and therefore anything that would disturb the infant’s health and safety is excluded from its semantics. Space and time are clearly marked, certain colours are excluded from the spectrum and when bogies (harmers) appear they are of special “childish” nature. The singer of the lullaby continuously uses the possessive pronoun “my” which gives a sense of safety (mine not theirs) and the name and the gender of the recipient is emphasized. A special function is performed by the divine characters who in various situations gather around the infant. The child is always placed in a protective environment, - dangerous figures are chased away. The lullaby replicates on a verbal level a series of protective rituals (girdling, putting on a crucifix, a shirt etc.) by constantly referring to such protective objects. The functional similarity between the lullaby and the charm creates an inter-genre relationship which makes us better understand the appearance of charm formulas in the lullaby.
The lullaby’s prognostic function is realized in several motifs among which the motifs of sleep-growth and future success are dominant. Other motifs with a prognostic content are rocking, bathing-washing and feeding-tending, in which a symbolic “development of the child’s organs” can be detected. The prognostic function of the lullaby explains why elements of Christmas carolling with its ritualistic blessings have crept into lullaby texts. The group of lullabies containing death wishes can also be understood in the context of prognostication as a kind of ritualistic initiation.
The epistemological function is realized in the creation of a certain world view through such categories as time and space, “one’s own” and “theirs”, family/kin, life and death.
In the Russian lullaby’s set of characters four types of figures can be identified: divine, human, mythological and animal. Among these there is a clear division between harmer-characters and helper-characters, soothers. Harmers such as bogies Buka and Babai appear as figures of threat only, - they never actually carry out the aggressive acts attributed to them. The analysis of the animal figures revealed eight groups of characters (a total of 25 animal figures were analyzed): soother-animals; harmer-animals; animals mediating between “one’s own” and “their” space; animals destined for sacrifice; sleeping animals; symbolic animals; animals that are connected with the child’s future occupations; animal figures borrowed from other genres; animal figures originating in literary lullabies. The source of the animal sacrifice motif was traced to the fundamental mythological opposition “life-death”, which allows one to discover initiation rites in its subtext.
The functional-semantic model of the folklore lullaby laid the foundation for the study of a unique phenomenon in Russian poetry, the literary lullaby. The literary tradition of the genre dates back to A. Shishkov’s “The Littel Lullaby which Aniuta sings rocking her doll” in 1773. Since then approximately 500 lullabies have been published, illustrating the unusual scale of literary output.
The functional differences between folklore and literature condition some essential textual differences. The priority of the folklore lullaby is to perpetuate a practical tradition, whereas the literary is directed towards revealing the author’s voice within an aesthetic tradition. Consequently the creation of meaning is fundamentally different in folklore and literary lullabies. The semantics of the folklore lullaby can only be fully revealed in the context of a traditional world view, inherent in the formulas and motifs of the text. The text of the literary lullaby is self-contained, the written text functions as a vehicle for the author’s feelings. The folklore lullaby’s strictly functional setting gives rise to important transformations when transferred into the literary tradition. One might think that the functional aspect would be reproduced in the literary lullaby, but the functions as presented in the poetical text are not real functions but only their artistic representations since the real lulling situation is missing – the poet creates in a different universe than the folklore singer.
The literary lullabies, especially the ones addressed to the child, make free use of motifs from the folk lullaby. However, when placed in a literary text a folklore motif’s meaning undergoes profound transformation. For instance the motif “everyone’s asleep – you sleep too” acquires a didactic tone, even turns into an instruction. The motif of calling forth a soother is realized in figures that aesthetically and ideologically are foreign to those in folklore. The motif of the singer’s relationship with the recipient results in a poetical phenomenon that could be called “the lullaby adoration”. The motif of the future develops into a lesson of civic behavior. The most complex transformations occur in the motif of scaring – the fright contained within it emerges in different ways depending on the historical-literary and poetical contexts (“No?l. Fairy Tales” by A. Pushkin, the lullabies by A. Timofeev, A. Fet, I. Annenskii, V. Briusov, A. Remizov, F. Sologub, M. Tsvetaeva).
The literary lullaby lacks the realistic scenario of lulling, but retains a “generic memory”, which in many poems brings the “lullaby situation” into the work. The literary lullaby reproduces the lulling situations in the most diverse forms: “frame” lullabies (A. Polezhaev), dramatic lullabies (I. Annenskii), imitations of “lulling dialogue” (S. Solov’eva, A. Barto) and lullaby improvisation (S. Gorodetskii, A. Shiriaevets). The setting of lulling generates motifs which are unknown to the folklore lullabies: the motif of the sleeping child (K. Bal’mont, S. Gorodetskii, M. Tsvetaeva) and the motif of “fairy tales”. The latter have given rise to a specific poetical tradition “fairy tales in the lullaby” (A. Blok, B. Fedorov, M. Kuzmin, F. Sologub, A. Remizov).
The literary tradition’s main discovery is the possibility of addressing the lullaby not only to the child. The lullaby can be addressed to an adult: to oneself, to a beloved or to other characters. The opposition “not asleep – asleep ”a key-factor of the folklore lullaby and replicable in literary lullabies addressed to the child, can be replaced by the opposition “non tranquility – tranquility” (in other words “worry”- “peace”).
One of the most interesting developments in the genre is the lullaby addressed to oneself. Here the function of soothing finds expression in varied ways: in love or the overcoming of it (A. Fet, A. Apukhtin); in realizing the immortality of one’s own poetry or in finding artistic comfort (N. Nekrasov, I. Brodskii); in indifference, oblivion, sleep, death, wise acceptance of existence. The lyrical paths towards soothing are diverse, - from the elegiac “self-soothing”( A. Apukhtin) to the philosophical meditation (I. Brodskii).
If the lullaby to oneself makes use of the soothing process per se, the selection of “the beloved” as recipient actualizes the emotional and semantic field of the infant, more precisely the special pitch of feeling inherent in the lullaby. The lullaby thus enlarges the tradition of love lyrics (A. Tolstoi, V. Khodasevitch, O. Berggolts). Such experimenting with the recipient is one of the basic developments in the lullaby genre. One more literary lullaby type should be mentioned, tentatively called “lullaby to a hero”. Such lullabies can be sung to the dead (S. Gorodetskii, I. Savin, N. Kliuev), they are lullabies of lamentation (A.Akhmatova) or of incantation (M. Tsvetaeva).
The development of the literary lullaby has not by any means destroyed the specific character of the genre. For two centuries folklore and literary lullabies have existed in parallel, in close interrelationship with each other. Moreover, the genre’s unity has been reinforced by the process of literary lullabies becoming folklore. There exist poems which went the whole round: from the original folklore source to literature, and from literature to the living folklore. Such as the “Cossack Lullaby” by M. Lermontov and “The Lullaby ” by A. Maikov. Both texts are rooted in foreign sources – “Lullaby of an Infant Chief” by Sir Walter Scott for the former and a folklore song from contemporary Greece for the latter. For one and a half centuries people have performed these literary lullabies in real lulling situations. The reasons for this process of folklorisation are the wide dissemination of them in school textbooks and anthologies through all levels of education and their unique similarity in form, motif and function with folklore lullabies. Lermontov's “Cossack Lullaby” even produced a special phenomenon in the genre’s history as over time it became the matrix of a great number of literary lullabies, especially of a parodistic character. This tradition of parodic lullabies was started by the poet N. Nekrasov who first used Lermontov's lullaby as his model. Gradually the subtextual presence of Lermontov’s poem even vanished from the imitations.
During its two centuries of existence the Russian literary lullaby has assimilated a remarkable broad range of other poetical genres. We find today ballad lullabies, lullaby versions of Horace’s "Exegi monumentum”, romance lullabies, dramatic lullabies, lamentation lullabies, various lullaby lyrics, even a barcarole lullaby. The lullaby is incorporated within the traditions of “civic poetry”, “winter poetry”, “dream poetry”, “fright poetry” and “forced labour camp poetry”. Having been born at the end of the 18th century the uninterrupted literary tradition continues today and seems to have a stable future ahead of it.