BLTC Press Titles


available for Kindle at Amazon.com


Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe


Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross


Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman


Through the Looking Glass

Lewis Carroll


Forms of English poetry

by Charles Frederick Johnson

Excerpt:

60

dance " refers remotely to this original habit. No more than thirty years ago it was possible to hear in parts of this country a ballad sung with a dance or " walk around " by the singer at the end of each stanza. So the derivation of the word "ballad" rests on a deep-rooted sympathy between means of rhythmical expression, but does not prove the antiquity of the present form, since the dirge and the triumphal war song, as well as the popular song, were also originally accompanied by dancing. Still, it is evidence that the ballad was always a folk song and not a literary form, although the original ballad may be as different from a ballad of the fifteenth century as Lead, Kindly Light is from the original tribal lament for a dead warrior chief. Again,the French form, "ballade," has the same derivation, but is entirely unlike a folk song, being extremely artificial and finished in character. We take the connection between "ball," "ballet," and "ballad" as an interesting bit of the "fossil history" embedded in words, but without much evidential value as to the nature of the ballad composed in the English language.

The most general definition of a ballad is that it is a short narrative poem in a simple meter, told in an unaffected, unornamented manner, with very little expression of subjective emotion. It is lyrical in the sense that it is fitted to be recited to a simple, monotonous musical accompaniment, but there is very little lyrism or rapturous, excited feeling in it. Professor Child, it is true, includes in his great collection, English and Scottish Popular Ballads, some metrical riddles which are not narratives, but as a rule the word is restricted to narrative poems. Riddles, the answer to which gains a reward if correct, or involves the payment of a forfeit if incorrect, are, however, found in all ancient popular literature, and if in the form of a song, may, without undue stretching of the definition, be called ballads. Riddle ballads are comparatively modern in the form we have them, as they are on broadsides or printed sheets belonging to the seventeenth century. The following example has the ballad manner: —

"If thou canst answer me questions three,
This very day will I marry thee."

"Kind sir, in love, O then," quoth she,
"Tell me what your three questions be."

"O what is longer than the way,
Or what is deeper than the sea?

"Or what "is louder than the horn,
Or what is sharper than the thorn?

"Or what is greener than the grass,
Or what is worse than a woman was?"

"O love is longer than the way,
And hell is deeper than the sea.
"And thunder's louder than the horn,
And hunger's sharper than the thorn.

"And poison's greener than the grass,
And the devil's worse than woman was."

When she these questions answered had,
The knight became exceeding glad.

And having truly tried her wit,
He much commended her for it.

And after, as it's verified,

He made of her his lovely bride.

So now, fair maidens all, adieu,
This song I dedicate to you.

I wish that you may constant prove
Unto the man that you do love.

King John and the Abbot contains a less primitive humor than the above. It also fulfills the requisite of embodying a narrative. King John hearing that the abbot of Canterbury "kept a far better house" than the king could afford, prtK pounds three questions which the abbot must ^ answer in three weeks or lose his head. The abbot goes to Cambridge and Oxford, but none of the learned doctors can suggest proper answers. Returning home, he meets his shepherd, who, as he resembles his master, undertakes to go before the king "with crozier, and mitre, and rochet, and


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