The Motif of Nature in Macedonian and Chinese Folk Poetry

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The Motif of Nature in Macedonian and Chinese Folk Poetry

„The Young Lass Weaves Three Green Garlands “

This folk song falls under the category of wedding songs, as it is sung “when the groom weaves a garland for the bride “. This ritual is reflective of the relationship between the collective and nature, as well as the importance of marriage as the embodiment of the aspect of fertility within the community. The ritual character is further emphasised by the weaving of three garlands, whereas the number three has always possessed a special meaning in magical and ceremonial rites. The nature of this song is depicted on the micro level through the garlands, but also on the macro level with the transformation of the garlands that occurs within community-related locations – the court, the vineyard and the village. The motif of the metapmorphosis can be seen through the transformation of the crane’s bill into a clean bill of health, the sheave of white wheat into a whole harvest and the black grapes into red wine. Certainly, the main motifs that bind the song together are those of love, marriage and fertility. The garland represents all the values that the maiden brings to marriage: health as symbolised by the crane’s bill, fertility embodied by white wheat, and happiness and joy as brought by the red wine.

Analysis of the songs from the Book of Songs

During the course of our analysis of the songs in the Book of Songs, we came across numerous examples containing similar motifs and thematic treatment of nature. In the song “The Grasshoppers”, similar to “Hey Ljulje” in Miladinov’s Collection, nature is metonymously represented through the grasshoppers which possess its attributes. At the same time, they determine the topos where nature and the human community merge. In this case, the flight of the butterfly is replaced by the sound of the grasshopper chirping filling the air. Their music is overflowing and establishes contact with the people, thus serving to introduce the motif of fertility in nature. The folk minstrel achieves this through the message for healthy children and offspring in the family as told by the song of the grasshopper. The rhythmical aspects which are characteristic for Chinese classical songs can be seen in the onomatopoeic refrain in the grasshopper’s song.
In the “Plantain Seed”, the folk author speaks about the need to follow the cycles of nature. The farmer has to gather the plantain seed when it is still green in order to be able to use all of its medicinal properties. Here we have an example how the colour of the plantain serves as an indicator of the fertility and health that are derived from nature, a slightly reductive though effective approach to incorporating signifiers of the presence of nature in the song. If the farmer fails to recognise the signs in nature, then the very survival of the community is in peril. Which is why an imperative tone dominates the song and is also echoed in the commanding rhythm of the song.

Nature as the source of the ritual motif can be found in the song “Picking Duckweed”, where through a series of rhetorical questions we are introduced to the patriarchal world of the community. Moreover, these questions also help to establish the relationship between nature and people, which is illustrated by the journey of the harvesters from the lake in the valley to the mansion of the clan. The landscape in the song is depicted and structured in the best manner of the Impressionists, with every verse resembling an economic stroke of the brush that paints the ancient rite on the song’s canvas. The lake and the duckweed are mirror images of the clan’s mansion and its members and inhabitants. Akin to the harvesting maidens in “Hey Ljulje”, the duckweed is to be transformed into food for the clan by being cooked in the cauldrons located in front of the house. By describing this ritual the minstrel puts the spotlight on the motif of metamorphosis, because the goal of the boiling of the duckweed is to bring fertility and life to the community. Finally, the motif of fertility is intensified by the fact that the only person who can perform the rite is an innocent maiden. Thus, the importance of respecting the hierarchy and the laws of the patriarchal community are highlighted.

The motif of love as realised through nature can be found in the song “A Quiet Maiden“. In this song, the love, devotion and purity of the maiden are presented through various scenes taking place in several locations in nature. The landscape of the field in which she hides from the young man serves to highlight her purity. Her beauty is symbolised by the reed flute that she gives as a gift to the young man, while her humility is shown by the fact that only the young man can play the flute. At the end of the song, she also brings him healing herbs from the field, demonstrating her unity with nature. Last, but not least, the symbolism of marriage as a unity with nature is confirmed by the last verse in which the young man says that anything which the maiden brings from nature is dear to his heart.

Perhaps the most beautiful and lyrical depiction of the unity of nature and love can be found in the song “The Beautiful Peach”. Here, the beauty of the girl is personified by the lovely pink blossom of the tree. Then, the fecundity of the young bride is emphasised by the ample fruits that weigh down the branches of the peach tree. The motif of the family and the family home is illustrated by the tree itself and the deep roots that connect it to the soil and nature. Additional proof of the timelessness and rootedness of this motif in Chinese culture is the fact that even in the 21st century, in some parts of the People’s Republic of China, the bride is given a peach on the day of her wedding. This allows us to make a parallel with the well-known Macedonian folk song “The Cherry Tree Tore From Its Roots” which is sang to all brides on their wedding day, thus highlighting how similar and relevant are these motifs in two such distant cultures.


At the end of our short text, we cannot provide any definitive conclusion because of the fact that the small corpus of songs does not allow for any such statements. However, based on our analysis, we can state our view of the universality of the theme and motif of nature in folk poetry. Besides the fact that we took examples from two cultures and folk literatures which have few things in common as seen from a temporal and geographical perspective, the analysis of the poems has shown that they still share common themes, motifs and thematic interests. Most certainly, this comes from the fact that people from ancient times all the way to the recent process of industrialization and modernization, have always lead lives closely connected to nature, regardless of their geographical location. Humanity has developed its view of life through the prism of nature, its seasons and phenomena, whereas all those aspects important to our lives have been reflected in the nature related themes and symbolism. This is why the motif of the landscape, which can be found both in Chinese and Macedonian literature, has such a productive function in the creation of folk songs, as well as in folklore in general. Which is what allows us to conclude that this will represent fertile ground for drawing parallels between Macedonian and Chinese culture, tradition and literatureа in some future and more comprehensive research.


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Translated into English: Milan Damjanoski

AuthorElena Damjanoska
Translated byMilan Damjanoski
2019-10-21T10:13:05+00:00 October 1st, 2019|Categories: Reviews, Literature, Blesok no. 128|0 Comments