The ballad

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Introduction to narrative poetry and the ballad. Border, broadside and literary ballad.

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The ballad

  1. 1. Poetic Forms & Genres<br />Narrative Poetry: The Ballad<br />Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />
  2. 2. Narrative Poetry<br /><ul><li>Remember we have a broad division of poetry into three main genres: epic (narrative), dramatic and lyric. Narrative poetry tells a story.
  3. 3. Nowadays the novel is the dominant literary form, so it’s easy to forget that telling stories in prose was preceded by narrative poetry
  4. 4. Story telling in verse began as an oral rather than a literary form. It was spoken or sung by a poet or bard, and it was heard by a live audience. Both the ballad and the epic had these oral origins.</li></ul>Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />
  5. 5. Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />Both the ballad and the epic have long histories as spoken communal forms, (‘orature’), before they were finally written down. The ballads only began to be collected in the 18th and 19th centuries. <br />One sign of the fact that ballads were orally transmitted for a long time is that many ballads exist in multiple forms. <br />Oral poetry contains elements of improvisation<br />
  6. 6. Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br /><ul><li>In some epic poems, we have interesting descriptions of a bard actually performing a recitation. E.g. from Beowulf:
  7. 7.  </li></ul> At times the scop, <br />a thane of the king, glorying in words,<br />the great old stories, who remembered them all,<br />one after another, song upon song,<br />found new words, bound them up truly,<br />began to recite Beowulf's praise,<br />a well-made lay of his glorious deed,<br />skillfully varied his matter and style,<br /> He sang all he knew of famous Sigemund,<br />his feats of courage, many strange things,<br />the Waelsing's strife, far-off journeys<br />feuds and crimes unknown to men <br /><ul><li>The scop (bard) here is depicted as remembering the old stories, but finding new words for them ‘skilfully varying the matter and the style’. </li></li></ul><li>How did they remember?<br /><ul><li>The poet would have had the basic structure and plot in his mind, but would vary the actual language from telling to telling, and to aid him he would use certain devices, or what scholars call oral formulae. A formula is a stock phrase, stock sequence of lines or stock plot mechanism.
  8. 8. E.g. The phrase ‘Once upon a time’ is a stock phrase</li></ul>Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />
  9. 9. Example stock phrases from Beowulf<br />swefanaeftersymble(asleep after banquet)<br />grim and graedig(fierce and ravenous)<br />reoc and rede(savage and reckless)<br />formulaic features are found in all oral poetry, including the ballad <br />Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />
  10. 10. Three main types of ballad<br /><ul><li>There are three main types of ballads – the traditional ballads, the broadside ballad and what is called the literary ballad.
  11. 11. traditional ballad is folk art, and older in origin than the other two. The authors of traditional ballads are unknown, since they were oral in origin;
  12. 12. the broadside ballad was printed on a sheet of paper known as a broadside, and
  13. 13. the literary ballad, the most recent of the three, is written by educated poets in imitation of the form and style of the popular ballad.</li></ul>Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />
  14. 14. Traditional Ballad<br /><ul><li>‘A short narrative song preserved and transmitted orally among illiterate or semi-literate people’.
  15. 15. In the British Isles the folk ballad is medieval in origin; and it flourished into the 16th and 17th centuries .
  16. 16. The most famous group of ballads in the British isles is known as the Border Ballads, because they originated around the English-Scottish border.
  17. 17. Narrative songs of this kind are found in all European countries, and in other places such as the American West in the 19C or the Australian outback. </li></ul>Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />
  18. 18. Border Ballads<br />They onlystarted to be systematically collected and published in book form during the 18th and 19th centuries. Famous compilations:<br />1765 Percy’s Reliques<br />19thC. Child’s Ballads (compiled by an American Scholar)<br />Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />
  19. 19. Characteristics of Border Ballads<br /><ul><li>Because ballads begin just before the catastrophe or change which concludes the story, the time span is short. Ballads have been compared to the last act of a play
  20. 20. Ballads engage your attention at once. They begin in medias res (in the middle of things).
  21. 21. Usually, the action is presented by means of a sequence of little dramatic scenes, or in a question and answer format. </li></ul>Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />
  22. 22. The Narrator<br />The narration of ballads is impersonal - we don’t get any clue as to the personality and nature of the narrator<br />There may be an ‘I’ in a ballad, but the singer tends to be a representative of some larger social structure – a community or nation.<br />Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />
  23. 23. More Ballad Characteristics<br /><ul><li>People are often depicted as they are being led to their doom, or in the build up to the crucial scene where they die, or after the tragedy has already taken place.
  24. 24. Because of the intense focus, there’s no time for an account of the people’s characters or for explorations of motives.
  25. 25. Often we don’t even get the physical appearance of characters </li></ul>Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />
  26. 26. Literary/ Linguistic Devices<br />Many of the literary and linguistic devices we find in ballads are there to help the memory of the performer.<br />Rhyme – simple and predictable, usually monosyllabic rhyme. <br />Formulae: ‘magic numbers’ 7 or 3; stock phrases such as ‘milk-white steed’, ‘blood-red wine’<br />Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />
  27. 27. Repetition<br />An important feature of ballads<br />Refrain – repeated lines or phrases.<br />A particular version of this is called incremental repetition – a line or stanza is repeated but with additions that take the story forward by introducing new details<br />The question and answer format common in many ballads is another form of parallelism, especially...<br />Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />
  28. 28. Repetition<br />... One common form of repetition is the use of the oral testament, when a person – often a dying person - is asked how he or she is going to dispose of his possessions, and he or she answers in a striking and often ironic fashion, usually ending with a curse on the victim <br />Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />
  29. 29. Metre and Stanza Form<br /><ul><li>A common form is the so-called ballad stanza – a quatrain (4 line stanza), rhyming abcb in which lines of 4 and three stresses or beats alternate.
  30. 30. E.g. (‘Lord Thomas and Fair Annet’) </li></ul>He had a rose into his hand<br />He gave it kisses three,<br />And reaching by the nut-brown bride,<br />Laid it on fair Annet’sknee.<br />Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />
  31. 31. Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />Another common form is a quatrain with 4 stress lines rhyming abcb, or lines rhyming abab, or 4 stress aabb quatrain.<br />The ballad can take many different stanza forms (sometimes not in quatrains) but the ballad stanzais an important one.<br />
  32. 32. Ballad content<br />In the ballads we find the same thematic mix we would find in modern bestsellers: <br />Love and sexuality in various forms: requited and unrequited, <br />Tragic love, <br />Betrayal, murder and revenge. <br />Magic and the supernatural. <br />Stories of heroism, battle, adventure.<br />Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />
  33. 33. The Broadside Ballad<br /><ul><li>A broadside is a large sheet of paper printed on one side only. The broadside ballad refers to ballads which were sold on the streets and at country fairs in Britain from 16-20th centuries. They were sung to well-known tunes and often dealt with current events, issues or scandals.
  34. 34. The equivalent of contemporary tabloid papers.
  35. 35. Entertainment for urban rather than rural population</li></ul>Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />
  36. 36. Francis Child (19thC compiler):<br />Approved of and compiled folk ballads. Disapproved of broadside ballads:<br />‘The vulgar ballads of our day, the ‘broadsides’ which were printed in such large numbers in England and elsewhere in the 16th century or later . . . are products of a low kind of art, and most of them are, from a literary point of view, thoroughly despicable and worthless.’<br />Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />
  37. 37. The Literary Ballad<br /><ul><li>Whereas the popular ballad is a piece of folk art, orally transmitted and of unknown authorship, literary ballads are written by educated poets in imitation of the form and style of the traditional ballad.
  38. 38. from the time of Wordsworth on, the ballad became an accepted and reputable part of the genre system of English poetry. In 1798, Wordsworth and Coleridge published a collaborative volume called Lyrical Ballads.</li></ul>Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />
  39. 39. Ballad continued...<br /><ul><li>Since that time the ballad genre has been a significant part of the mainstream of English poetry. Keats’s ‘Belle Dame’; Kipling’s Barrack Room Ballads; Yeats; Auden and others.
  40. 40. Many people, particularly those who started out in the folk music movement in the 1960s have either sung old ballads, or written new ballads drawing on the devices of the traditional ballad. </li></ul>Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />
  41. 41. Ballad continued<br /><ul><li>The ballad has also been associated with marginalized groups – for instance, in the US Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
  42. 42. E.g. Dudley Randall, ‘Ballad of Birmingham’ based on a historical event - the bombing in 1963 of Martin Luther King's church in Birmingham, Alabama by white terrorists. The poem portrays one girl's life and death. (Four girls actually died in the real bombing.) </li></ul>Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />
  43. 43. "Mother dear, may I go downtown         Instead of out to play,  And march the streets of Birmingham In a Freedom March today?" <br />"No, baby, no, you may not go, For the dogs are fierce and wild, And clubs and hoses, guns and jails Aren't good for a little child." …<br />Sarah Law Poetic Forms & Genres<br />

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