A daina or tautas dziesma is a traditional form of music or poetry from Latvia. Lithuanian dainas share common traits, however have been more influenced by European folk song traditions. Latvian dainas often feature pre-Christian themes and legends, drone vocal styles and can be accompanied by musical instruments such as the Baltic zithers (kokle). Dainas tend to be very short (usually four-liners) and are usually in a trochaic or a dactylic metre.
Poetic metre and its limitations
The trochaic metre is most popular with around 95% of dainas being in it. Characteristic to this metre is that an unstressed syllable follows stressed syllable, two syllables forming one foot. Two feet form a dipody and after every dipody there is a caesura, which cannot be in the middle of the word. The dainas traditionally are written down so that every line contains two dipodies. If caesura is followed by three syllables, the last syllable i.e. at end of line, is long, if four syllables follow it is short. Syllable is considered short, if it contains short vowel or short vowel and s, all other syllables are considered long. This results in rather limited vocabulary as dipody can consist of either one four syllable word, two two syllable words, one one syllable and one three syllable word or two one syllable and one two syllable word. Exceptions are mostly found in Eastern Latvian dialects, which allow words to start one syllable before or after where caesura normally would be, thus allowing five syllable combinations. This inconsistency is usually found only in one or two lines, most often in second or forth. The notion of short and long syllables at end of lines is retained. However syllable after lost caesura is often unstressed as it is in everyday speech. Elsewhere to increase vocabulary a sound may be added or removed. In particular addition of sounds is explained with structural changes in language itself (loss of vowel in word endings). The sound added at end of the word usually is I, in some rare cases also A, U or E (the later mostly at some regions of Courland). Occasionally both contraction occurs and I is inserted instead of diminutive ending in I i.e. the ending is retained, but separated from the rest of the word by caesura. This can be perhaps explained by diminutives being so popular in dainas that people didn't find it appropriate to replace it with the same word without it, which would be a syllable shorter. However the opposite also might be true with diminutive being added to increase number of syllables, even when meaning of words is quite opposite to what usually is expressed with diminutive. Similarly the need to match the metric might cause disagreement in tenses.
Dainas feature several stylistic devices to ensure euphony. Common devices use repetition, these include alliteration – repetition of similar consonants in stressed, anaphora and epiphora - the use of same words at, respectively, beginning or end of lines, repetition of a word, combination of words or previous line, or starting new sentence with word that has same root as last word of previous sentence. Comparisons and other symbolic devices are also found their range including straightforward comparisons, epithets, metaphors, synecdoches, allegories, personifications and parallelisms where seemingly unrelated concepts are used likening events from nature to human life and different social classes.
Lyrically, dainas concern themselves with native mythology and traditional festivals but, in contrast to most similar forms, do not have any legendary heroes. Stories often revolve pre-Christian deities like the sun goddess Saule, the moon god Mēness. There are dainas that do not have mythical theme as well - many simply describe the daily life of agrarian society and nature. However these still often include personifications of natural phenomena. Another major theme is human life cycle, especially three major events - birth, wedding and death (including burial). The dainas concerning birth are deeply emotional, they usually feature mother figure, not only as the person who gives birth, but also as determining the fate of the child. These also often feature the fate deity Laima and were historically sung directly after birth, which traditionally took place in bathhouse. Many dainas are set apart from others by erotic and sexual themes and mockery. These are commonly known as nerātnās (naugty) dainas. The dainas devoted to death describe individual preperaing for the death and often relate funeral customs. These often feature a female god related to world of dead, variously known as kapu māte, veļu māte, zemes māte or smilšu māte (mother of graves, mother of dead, mother Earth, mother of sand). The first collection of dainas was published between 1894 and 1915 as Latvju Dainas by Krišjānis Barons. There are well over two hundred thousand collected dainas in written form.
- Biezais, Haralds (2005). "Dainas". In Jones, Lindsay. Encyclopedia of Religion 4 (2nd ed.). Thomson Gale. pp. 2127, 2128.
- Tautasdziesmu metrika
- Daži apcerējumi par latviešu tautas dziesmu metriku (Filologu biedrības raksti XVI sējums. R., 1936)