Karikázó, 1984. július - 1985. január (10. évfolyam, 1-4. szám)

1984-07-01 / 1. szám

Next, I would like to discuss the apple as image and symbol in Hungarian folk poetry. I collected "In the Fall Ripens" in our vineyard about 19A0. A year or two later, there was another new song. It was new for me and - judging by the gusto with which it was sung - it was new for the grape-harvesters also. This was a men’s song. The church steeple of Kecskemet is very tall, On the top of it, my dear, there's an apple, very red. That apple must be cut into two. If you don't love me, my dear, there's no need to come to see me. If you don't love me, turn me over to a blonde; This is the time when the girls are begging the boys! It was unusual that when the lads finished their teasing song, the girls disregarded the ancient taboo of girls singing boys' songs; spiritedly, and managing to produce a very adequate rhyme, they countered with: If you don't love me, turn me over to a brunet; This is the time when the boys are begging the girls! The rejoinder would have been perfect, except that there is nothing unique about "the time when the boys are begging the girls." That is the standard situation. The novelty of the men's song was just that: suggesting that there may be times - the present one especially - when girls are so hard up for marriageable men, they are begging for their love. As it happened, this being at the height of World War II, they were living through precisely such a time. But there was no trace of sadness or self-pity in either young men or young women. Now please note the image and the symbol. First the image: "The church steeple of Kecskemet is very tall." The statement happens to be true, the steeple is very tall, but that is irrelevant; it just introduces the symbol of the apple. "On the top of it, my dear, there's an apple, very red." No need to try to imagine this as being literally true. An apple on the top of the church steeple of Kecskemet would be invisible from below, hence its color womuld be, at best, of theoretical interest. We are obviously dealing with a convention. The question is: what does the apple symbolize? The Encyclopaedia of Superstitions tells us, "To this day, it (the apple) receives in the cider districts (of England) exceptional respect. The Devonshire women carry bowls of wassail into the orchards and sprinkle a few drops upon each tree, to make it fruitful...In Soaersetshire, the apple trees are 'wassailed* by singing certain songs to insure a good crop." It is obvious that in the customs attested to here, the apple tree serves as a fertility symbol. The tree is fertilized by the wassail. The fruit of the union, the apple, is the symbol of love. The connection between red apples and normal, healthy, earthy love is clearly shown in another new-style Hungarian folksong also: A red apple fell down into the mud; Whoever picks it up will not remain single. I will pick it up, wipe it clean, eat it; I love my sweetheart truly. So, to get back to the church steeple of Kecskemet, the rather Freudian symbol of the red apple placed on the tall steeple is not too hard to explain. As for cutting the apple into two, the implication is likewise clear; the time has come to break up the affair. "If you don't love me, my dear, there's no need to keep coming to me. There are others - a certain blonde especially - who would be glad to have me." But there is a deeper level too on which the apple-symbolism works. The roundness of the apple has early suggested totality or perfection to the myth-making faculty of mankind and, related to it, ideas of eternal life and immortality. The Encyclopaedia of Superstitions gives a panoramic view of the subject: The apple plays its part in the fables of every race. It was the forbidden fruit of Eden; the wedding gift of Zeus to Hebe; the prize for beauty offered by Paris; borne in the hand of Aphrodite; watched by dragons in the gardens of the Hesper­­ides; vainly grasped at in hell by Tantalus; comforted the love-sick maiden in the Song of Solomon; ruined Troy, and saved Hippomenes. Iduna, wife of Bragi, Odin's son, keeps in her magic casket the apples of which the gods must eat to ob­tain perpetual youth. It formed the groves of the blessed isle of Avalon; conveyed the poison to Snowflake; and was pierced by the arrow of William Tell. Is there any trace of such mythical use of apple-symbolism in Hungarian folk poetry? There is indeed, but to reach it, we have to turn to earlier strata, to the classical ballad "Julia Fair Maiden" and, closely allied to it, to the magic incantations of winter solstice rites and children's songs. In this ballad, a fair maiden is invited by a mythic animal - a curly white lamb - to go to Heaven with it. After revealing the story of the encounter to her mother, she asks the mother to lament her; then, she is led away. Continued on p.4 DALMA HUNYADI-BRUNAUER: and fdlobema'iy IMAGES AND SYMBOLS IN HUNGARIAN FOLK POETRY PART n. 3