Orphan songs in a cultural context
The paper is an attempt at describing the genre of orphan song in terms of the following parameters: context of performance, originator and recipient, plot, poetics, function and intention of the message, and the subject [inspired by the concept of genre description by Bartmiński and Niebrzegowska-Bartmińska 2009, 140; earlier: Bartmiński 1990].
The bulk of orphan songs can be internally divided into social orphan songs, wedding songs, love songs, and menial songs – the division is primarily based on thematic diversity and the criterion of the performer and recipient (who was singing and to whom), as well as the purpose that it was sung for. The primary originator (in the sense of the intratextual lyrical I, not necessarily the actual performer) of orphan songs is an orphan at various moments of his or her life (a child complaining of misery; a bride who has no mother/parents; a girl abandoned by her boyfriend). Common to all songs is the spirit of sadness; they all contain a complaint about the misery of an orphan’s fate. They are a reflection on the fate of an orphan.
Actual orphanhood acquires a symbolic dimension; it is understood from the existential point of view [Janion 1975, 2001]. The metaphor of orphanhood was particularly often evoked at times of national bondage, with the concept of homeland-mother as its basis.
The motif of an orphan’s lot is found in conventionalized contexts of different genres — it is present in tales, proverbs, lullabies, ritual (wedding and funeral) songs, estate songs, courtship and love songs, emigration songs; it can also be found in St. Martin’s songs and written peasant poetry.