top of page

Native Melody

Native melody is a poetic term coined by the Serbian poet Momčilo Nastasijević (1894-1938). It is characterized as an "avant-garde-neo-primitivist creative stance" (Aleksić, 2019, p. 2), first described in Nastasijević's manifest essay In Favour of Native Melody (Za maternju melodiju). In the essay, Nastasijević presents his views concerning the nature of language, poetry, and music in a way that gives his ideas a spiritual or mystical dimension. He incorporated this unique aesthetic ideal effectively in his poetry book Seven Lyrical Circles, in his collection of short stories From the Dark Vilayet, and even in his dramas. He dived into the deep layers of his native language, creating unusual metonymic and metaphoric figures, phrases, and neologism. His writing is hermetic, meaning it is difficult to understand or translate. Literary creations aside, his poetic contemplations around native melody were influential for prominent Serbian writers of later generations.

Figure 1. Ž. Nastasijević: My Brother Momčilo (1927).

The term native melody was defined in the aforementioned essay as follows:

Native melody is the line of sound which, coming from the deepest layers of the spirit, binds notions in a mysterious unity of the living expression. It is affective in nature (a mathematical abstraction expressed, thus containing its degree of singing). It is rudimentary and collective, to this day operating through the branching of language and dialects, down to the individual idiom, in a unifying manner. (Nastasijević, 1939, p. 40)

Indeed, the notion of native melody, as the name suggests, is related to the native language but it is not a category that can be extrapolated and analyzed. Nastasijević emphasizes that the melody he refers to is neither in the objective audibility of spoken sounds, nor the melody of accents and intonation. Native melody precedes and determines the actual language used in reality. It is not a logical category, but rather an intuitive sensation (Grdinić, 1994).

Poetry, for Nastasijević, lies between speech and musical melody. What's more, music is the most important element of poetry, a thought Nastasijević owes to the French Symbolists, most of all Stéphane Mallarmé. However, Nastasijević believed that the only way a poet of any language could truly express himself in the highest manner is by paying special attention to the melody of his mother tongue – of the collective from which he came into being. Emphasizing the importance of the Serbian language was not a coincidence, because writers of his time and country sought to find ways of resisting copying European influences and instead strived to create authentic artwork. That is why the title of his essay is In Favour of Native Melody, and the cases where such a melody could be heard most clearly were in the language of primitive societies and young children, with special emphasis on oral poetry as the main source for true poets of any language (Nastasijević, 1939).

Momčilo Nastasijević comes from a family of artist. Their house was turned into a museum.
Figure 2. Momčilo Nastasijević's home.

His poetical concepts do not simply revolve around the idea that one should regress into previous modes of creation, nor simply repeat language patterns of oral poetry. Self-expression is always an authentic, spontaneous experience that shows one's own vitality and strength of spirit. Creation, whether it came from an individual artist or a collective one, even Creation itself as an ontological category, is melodic in nature for Nastasijević. Thus, any form of art hides a certain type of melody, no matter if it is a painting, a musical piece, a dance, or a poem. The difference between a painting and a song is that the former is a melody existing in the dimension of space that can be consumed momentarily in its entirety. In contrast, a song is a melody stretched in the dimension of time (Nastasijević, 1939). The fundamental idea is of the Totality of Art, described in another of Nastasijević's essays Notes on Absolute Poetry (Beleške za apsolutnu poeziju). This means all artwork arises from the same source, then disperses into different directions or forms. Similarly, all poetry is rooted in absolute poetry, yet it manifests itself through the beauty of each individual language. Consequently, to betray one's own language and create by mirroring what exists in foreign languages, is to deny oneself access to absolute poetry.

There have been many attempts at explaining the exact nature of native melody, all of which hold a certain degree of truth. On a cognitive level, Dr. Robert Hodel defines the concept of native melody in the framework of language and thought "whereby the poet extracts the primordial dimension of language, which results in a peculiar synesthetic causal operation of three categories - concept, image, and voice - and a synthesis of music and thought" (Aleksić, 2019). This conceptualization is regarded as correct, considering Nastasijević's explicit depiction of poetry as thought that gives shape and structure to the native melody (Nastasijević, 1939). Additionally, the melody is clearly a product of the vitality of creative spirit, meaning it can be understood via Sigmund Freud's concept of libido. Language seen as a manifestation of Desire has, below its surface, a non-verbalized flow or pulsation of psychic energy which is not crystallized into words but can be described as a rhythm. This underlying stream of energy that pushes the subject to verbalize to the rhythm of the fundamental driving force of the psyche, Desire, is indeed akin to the concept of native melody (Vladiv-Glover, 2002). However, by looking at Nastasijević's own explanations, it becomes evident that the concept of Absolute Poetry, where native melody emerges, is closely associated with what can be named in many different ways, that which Nastasijević names God.

Art is One, just as God is One and Life is One. (Nastasijević, 1939, p. 39)
Figure 3. Momčilo Nastasijević (lower left-hand corner) with his brothers.

Conclusively, the aesthetic of Momčilo Nastasijević was created in a time when there was still belief in a possible totality, where artists struggled to find the central concept around which the world could be comprehended, or in fact, constructed. Nastasijević believed in the totality of Absolute Poetry which could never be fully realized but only partially revealed through the experience of native melody. Every language has, in its source, the same vital energy of creation while at the same time possessing its own unique beauty. He believed that by expressing through native melody, the artist could truly contribute to the evolution of world literature, not just the literature of his nation.

Bibliographical References

Aleksić, M. (2019). "The Native Melody of Momčilo Nastasijević: Interdisciplinary Reflexions." New Sound 54, II.

Grdinić, N. (1994). "Problem maternje melodije u srpskoj avangardnoj književnosti." Poetika Momčila Nastasijevića: zbornik radova.

Nastasijević, M. (1939). Eseji. Štamparija Drag. Gregorića, Beograd.

Vladiv-Glover, S. (2002). "The Sexual Poetics of Native Melody: At The Eternal Tap." Southeastern Europe/L'Europe Sud-Est, Vol. 18, pp. 37-63.

Image References

Figure 1. Ž. Nastasijević (1927) My Brother Momčilo [Image]. Avant Art Magazin

Figure 2. Momčilo Nastasijević's home. Part of the Nastasijević brother's legacy. [Photograph]. Wikimedia Commons.

Figure 3. Momčilo Nastasijević (lower left-hand corner) with his brothers [Photograph]. O.Š. Momčilo Nastasijević.


Author Photo

Jelena Martinec

Arcadia _ Logo.png


Arcadia, has many categories starting from Literature to Science. If you liked this article and would like to read more, you can subscribe from below or click the bar and discover unique more experiences in our articles in many categories

Let the posts
come to you.

Thanks for submitting!

  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
bottom of page