BALLADS

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BALLADS
Originally derived from an Old
French word meaning “dancing song”
FOLK BALLADS
Author is of unknown origin
Originally meant to be sung
Of the common or illiterate people
English-Scottish border
LITERARY BALLADS
Known authors
Studied imitation and replica of the folk
ballad
Tend to contain more elevated language and
diction
The intellectual or purposefully “artful”
form
ELEMENTS OF A BALLAD
Narrative poem
Focus on a single, dramatic event
Told impersonally through action and
dialogue
May start in the middle of the event
Leaves out key parts
Almost never in first person (but always
exceptions)
ELEMENTS OF A BALLAD
Quatrains (4-line stanzas)
Second and fourth lines usually rhyme (abcb)
Often first and third lines have 8 syllables and
second and fourth have 6 syllables
(not a hard and fast must have)
Generally follow iambic pentameter
Ballad Stanza: rigidly adheres to the above traits.
ELEMENTS OF A BALLAD
Refrain
Repetition
 Line at end of stanza
 Entire repeated stanza
 Strong, simple beat

Refrain
May be:
Incremental: (most often) words slightly
altered end of each stanza, help to advance the
action
 Internal: repeated lines within each stanza
 Terminal: repeated after each stanza

ELEMENTS OF A BALLAD
May find the use of any poetic
device/figurative language to help establish
effect:
Metaphor, rhyme, alliteration, rhythm,
hyperbole, simile, etc.
BALLAD THEMES
Usually relate to
tragedy or violence
Unhappy love affairs
Domestic tragedy
Family feuds
Murder
Popular Outlaws (Robin
Hood)
Historical Events
Heroes
ELEMENTS OF A BALLAD √
For each of the ballads you read you should
compare it to the elements of a ballad.
Does it contain all the elements listed?
(identify each element and its effect)
If not, where does it vary? Why might it
have the variation? What effect/difference
does it make?
OLD TEXTBOOK
“Sir Patrick Spens” (p. 105)
“The Twa Corbies” (p. 110)
“Sir Patrick Spens”
Historical ballad
Warrior-Mariner Hero
Beloved by all (except enemies!)
“Sir Patrick Spens” Questions
What is the theme and
how does it reflect the
medieval ages?
How does this ballad
conform to the
standards of a ballad?
Where is there
foreshadowing?
Identify lines with
incremental repetition.
Is Sir Patrick Spens in
a “no win” situation?
Explain.
Compare the language
between the two
versions. Identify five
words whose spellings
have changed.
“The Twa Corbies” Questions
What view of human life
and death does the ballad
present? How is it a
reflection of the time
period?
A ballad traditionally had
no introduction. This
ballad is an exception.
What motive might its
author have had?
What effect would be lost
if the incident were
described by a human
speaker rather than a
conversation between two
ravens?
In an English version of
the poem, a “lady full of
woe” is discovers the
body, buries him, and dies
before evening. Which
ending do you think you’d
prefer? Why?
“Barbara Allan”: The Dead-Bell
“the passing bell” “the soul-bell” “the death
bell”
Rung by clergy when a parishioner died
Announcement and request for prayers
Superstition: kept away evil spirits
“Barbara Allan”: Discuss
The name Barbara Allan is repeated in
nearly every quatrain. In what way does this
repetition serve the song?
Sample Answer
The name generally appears at the end of a line,
where it rhymes with another word. The name
Barbara Allan also contain internal repetition,
which has the onomatopoetic effect of a bell. The
repetition of the name has an incantatory quality
which adds to the ballad’s feeling of doom and
helps to build suspense.
“Barbara Allan”: DEBATE
Is Sir John Graeme spineless and gives up
on Barbara Allan too easily? Yes or no?
Why or why not?
“Get Up and Bar the Door”
Many ballads and songs contain slant
rhyme, or two words that sound similar but
don’t quite rhyme. What conclusions can be
drawn about changes in the English
language based on the slant rhymes of
“then/pan” (lines 2,4) and “black/spake”
(26, 28)?
Sample Answer
Chances are that the words in at least some
of the pairs both had the same vowel sounds
hundreds of years ago, and did not become
distinct, separate sounds until later.
“Get Up and Bar the Door”: Satire
Is this a satire? If so what does it satirize?
What does it suggest about marriage?
After listening questions
Are your reactions different after hearing
the ballads? Explain.
How important was characterization to the
success of the ballads?
Critique: Which ballad told the most
interesting story? Explain.
“Robin Hood and the Three Squires”
Discussion Agenda
1.
2.
3.
Lines 1-72. Many songs
contain a repeated line or
lines with catchy nonsense
words. Identify in the ballad.
What purpose do these lines
serve in this ballad?
Lines 73-116. Restate Robin
Hood’s greeting to the sheriff.
How is his greeting verbal
irony? Is the dramatic irony in
the scene effective? Explain.
Explain the author’s purpose
in this ballad? Who is the
intended audience?
4. What is the narrator’s tone
toward Robin Hood? Toward
the sheriff?
5. What does the ballad suggest
about the social system of
Robin Hood’s day? What
assumptions did the audience
probably make about the sheriff
and Robin Hood based on their
knowledge of the social
system?
6. What conclusions can you draw
form the ballad about
technology, poverty, religion
and old age in medieval days?
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