English & Scottish Ballads
The people’s poetry
I. The Purpose
To entertain
No movies? No TV? Can’t read?
Go down to the town square and listen to the
wandering minstrel sing stories.
II. The Origin
A. The oral tradition
Literature passed on by word of mouth, mostly
sung, in the 15th century
B. The folk process
…is the process by which songs and stories are
passed along orally and, as a result, undergo an
evolution or change.
C. They are anonymous, but authorship is shared by
the community.
III. Characteristics of the Ballads
A. Subject Matter
1. Stories came from everyday life of the common folk.
2. Common themes:
a. disappointed love
b. jealousy
c. revenge
d. sudden disaster
e. adventure and daring
f. activities of the nobility
III. Characteristics of the Ballads, cont’d
B. Style
1. Narrative Style
a. simple and direct
b. single incident
c. little characterization
d. little description
e. little background information
f. story usually told through dialogue
g. use of refrain or repetition (for participation)
h. some information is implied rather than stated
III. Characteristics of the Ballads, cont’d
B. Style, cont’d
2. Form, usually:
a. 4-line stanza
b. 4 metric feet to the line
c. contain end rhyme
3. They were meant to be sung
III. Characteristics of the Ballads, cont’d
For example…
Fair young maid all in the garden
Strange young man, passer-by
Said, “Fair maid, will you marry me?”
This then, sir, was her reply.
“Oh no, kind sir, I cannot marry thee,
For I’ve a love who sails all on the see.
He’s been gone for seven years;
Still no man shall marry me.”
III. Characteristics of the Ballads, cont’d
Notice the stresses:
Fair young maid all in the garden
Strange young man, passer-by
Said, “Fair maid, will you marry me?”
This then, sir, was her reply.
“Oh no, kind sir, I cannot marry thee,
For I’ve a love who sails all on the sea.
He’s been gone for seven years;
Still no man shall marry me.”
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English & Scottish Ballads