Published in German by Goethe as the Finnisches Lied, and translated early into tens of languages, the Ingrian, Karelian and Finnish runosong If the One I Know Came, belongs to the heritagized canon of folk poetry. Its identity, life in oral tradition and literary renditions, as well as its treatment by folklore editors and researchers, offers an intriguing example of the methodological choices and the theoretical, implicit and explicit presuppositions in art and research. What, if any, are the laws governing its variation and stability within and across the oral-literary interface, and how do these laws relate to the meanings conveyed in the versions? Who, if anyone, created the poem, and how can we understand its elusive textuality?
The lecture takes us through the history of the song in oral tradition and literary editions, its return to the oral field, and finally its use as an example of the imaginative power, memory lapses, and endless, kaleidoscopic or mechanical reiteration in vernacular poiesis. By doing so, it illustrates the ways in which expressive traditions and individual or collective human creativity as well as authorship have been conceptualized in the history of folklore studies in and since the times of Walter Anderson.