Ballads are old poems or songs, which narrate stories. It is a rhythmic tale of a past affair, which may be heroic, romantic or ironic, almost inevitably catastrophic. We do not know where the word ‘Ballad’ originated from, however it is thought to come from the French ‘Ballade’; which means song with a dance. Ballads are simple repeating rhymes, which often have a refrain, and they have been existent as far back as the 14th Century. They were written to be sung, as a majority of people were illiterate. Alternatively Ballads were written to be catchy and memorable; as minstrels went around singing them. Due to them being attractive, people who heard them kept them in mind. Due to this Ballads have been passed down through generations, and some are still around today.
Modern day Ballad writers/singers use different techniques and skill. This could maybe be why they’re more popular and successful. Some lucrative modern day balladeers consist of Robbie Williams and Alicia keys; these are very well known names in the music industry. The reason of thrive that they write more complex ballads, and they are longer; also they use more rhyme scheme.
Typical Ballads include quatrains, rhyming couplets, repetition, chorus, social and historical context, themes, language of the time and sometimes a moralistic story. The language of the time is important as it shows us how they used to speak, and how it is different from modern time writing. Also the types of themes that Ballads include are hatred, love, murder, death and cruelty. The lines in a Ballad are regular and contain about eight syllabuses each.
In this topic I have studied 5 ballads: ‘Ballad’, ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, ‘Bishop Hatto’, ‘Twa Corbies’ and ‘Young Lochinvar’. From these I have chosen to study ‘Ballad’, ‘Porphyria’s lover’ and ‘Bishop Hatto’.
The first poem I have chosen to study is ‘Ballad’. This poem is of a young woman who falls in love with a man and devotes her life to him. However after he gets her pregnant he leaves her, alone, to bring up a fatherless child in a harsh and cruel society. Due to this we are given the impression that in the end she kills herself and her baby. I get the impression that the woman in this poem may have killed herself due to the pressure of society; as anything like this was unheard of. To have sex before marriage was outrageous and immediately people would obstracised from society and treated very ruthlessly. This show the societies was forbidden from breaking traditional laws, and were prohibited from having children or sexual relations before marriage; so had to remain virgins.
The moral of the poem shows us that the poem was written a long time, as today people are not banned from society for being single mothers or losing their virginity before marriage.
The poem indicates that it was written in the 17th Century as archaic language is used
“A faithless shepherd courted me”
The word ‘courted’ is quite an unusual word to be used nowadays, so it is quite noticeable that this poem was written quite far back.
As this poem is a Ballad, its typical features are included. The rhyming scheme for this poem is rhyming couplets and contains a chorus; the reason for this was that it had to be as memorable as possible so by including a chorus it was easier to remember. This was because people could not read so the easiest form of communication was song. This ballad uses repetition which is a typical feature of a ballad,
“I wish, I wish- but it’s in vain-
I wish I was a maid again”
The repetition of those words gives it a choric effect. It also shows she regrets it a lot and she wants her virginity back. Those quotes also tell the reader that she has got strong feelings about the past.
We know from line 7 that she had no experience with men, and that she did not have boyfriends
“When my poor heart was strange to men”
This line uses economical flow and allows us to know she had never been involved with men before.
Poetic Fallacy is used too
“When summer bought no fear to fright
He came to guard me every night”
When summer arrives everyone is happy, and it is a cheerful time and that is when he came. However when winter arrived he didn’t’t come
“When winter nights did darkly prove
None came to guard me or to love”
Winter is a depressing time, it a sad, gloomy time. The theme of the seasons is contrasted, however when she became pregnant he did not love her anymore.
Also alliteration has been used
“When will green grass cover me?”
This line shows us she wants to die. The alliteration builds tension to the part it draws attention. It also manages to create rhythm and manages to show how desperate she is.
Another part in the poem where the writer has used contrasting images is in lines 17-18
“I wish my babe had ne’er been born; I’ve made its pillow on a thorn”
The words pillow and thorn are contrasting images. A pillow is soft and comfortable whereas a thorn is sharp and dangerous. It tells the reader that the situation she has put herself in is very unstable for the baby, although the contrast is very simple; it is very effective because they are both such strong opposites.
In line 21
“He promised beds as fine as silk and sheets for love as white as milk”
We find out that he promised her lots of lust and passion, however towards the end of the verse
“Left me to want a bed of clay”
We find out that she wants nothing but death and she no longer wants sexual desire; a metaphor is used to make it more understandable and exaggerate the feelings a little
“His heart seemed soft but it was steel”
This verse tells the reader that he was nice to her but after she became pregnant, he didn’t’t like her. It also creates an image and tells us the man was unable to love and show his true emotions. In addition I think it also suggests that his heart must me made of steel if he would leave her on her own to bring up a child.
Finally in the end we get the impression that she has killed herself and her baby;
“I wish our sorrows away
Our souls with god our bodies clay”
We do not know what happens but these two lines play on the readers’ emotions a lot as it keeps them in suspense.
The main themes of this poem are sadness, betrayal, suffering, love, hatred and death.
The second poem I studied was Porphyria’s lover. In this poem Porphyria’s Lover, the poet describes the speaker of this dramatic monologue as a man who lives in a cottage in the countryside. In a cold and windy night, his lover, Porphyria, comes to his cottage and lights a fire to keep them warm. The girl then talks of how she loves him. However, the man in this poem has a relatively low social state, since he talks about how Porphyria’s struggles to set her passion free from pride. The speaker soon realized that Porphyria will eventually give in to the society’s pressure, and he wants to keep her love to him forever. As a result of his possession the speaker strangles Porphyria to death, and then he sits with the corpse for the entire night. At the end he mentioned that he thinks God has not yet moved to punish him
The social relevance of this poem is that people had affairs so this gives us the impression that this poem was not set long ago; maybe it was set in the 19th century. At the beginning of the poem pathetic Fallacy is used; to set the mood of the writing,
“The rain set early in to-night,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,”
This quatrain sets a negative scene and lets the reader know something is not right. This causes a lot of tension and it gives the impression something bad is going to happen.
Also in the poem personification is used to create a negative atmosphere. The next line is the point where very cleverly, the poet manages to change the focus of attention of the reader to the lover without losing any of the effect that the imagery created so far:
“I listened with heart fit to break.”
This line shows that the lover was waiting desperately and has reached a certain degree of impatience when his beloved enters the sordid cottage.
The room where the lover is waiting also signifies a certain level of sorrow that is caused throughout the poem.
When Porphyria ‘glides’ in she changes the mood
“When glided in Porphyria straight
She shut out the cold and the storm”
From this line we know Porphyria meant a lot to the writer, and that she brings a lot of sense and warmth to him. Also when she enters the mood changes this clearly shows that Porphyria means a lot to someone.
It is very strange as the poem shows the woman is called Porphyria; which is a sexually transmitted disease. This gives the impression that the name was used as a metaphor; maybe like a disease she could not be rid of and maybe caused a small level of unease too.
The poem uses erotic language and is quite seductive:
“Which done, she rose, and from her form
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl
And laid her soiled gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp hair fall”
It shows how keenly and decisively the poet was waiting for her that he noticed every single detail- as how she came in straight to him and how dearly Porphyria wanted to meet him. Moreover they also show that the girl is absolutely at ease with her beloved meaning there by that she felt completely at home. Furthermore the way in which she takes off her gloves, and then her hat all show that she meant to spend some time and was not in a rush, and that she felt comfortable with her lover.
However as we read the poem the true side of the lover comes out.
“That moment she was mine, mine, fair perfectly pure and good: I found”
The writer uses repetition, and at this point we know that he is crazy. As soon as we read this line, we get a picture of a maniac; due to the repetition that is used. Also he states that killing someone is perfectly pure and good, and after this we indefinitely know that he is mad, as it is a horrific thing to kill someone.
A simile is also used
“As a shut bud that holds a bee,
I warily opened her eyes again”
This simile is used to describe Porphyria’s closed eyes; they are being compared to a shut bud that captures a bee.
Furthermore alliteration is used
“Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss”
When this sentence is pronounced the first three words create a beat, however not a normal beat but maybe the beat of a heart, however in this case the heart is not beating anymore; so maybe of a heartbeat that was there but isn’t anymore.
While reading “Porphyria’s Lover” the main idea that stood out most in the poem was love. Also, an important part of this theme was the effects love may have on people such as fear, joy, pride, vanity, suffering, murder, death and obsession as demonstrated by the speaker. The theme of love appears to be simple, but is actually complex in this poem. “Porphyria’s Lover” is not a sensitive love poem; it is a poem that shows what love can sometimes do to people. In the poem, the speaker describes feelings of fear and of heartache or heartbreak.
The third ballad that we studied is ‘Twa corbies’. This ballad is one of the best known Scottish border ballads; it is of two ravens discussing were they will dine. They talk about a murdered knight and are unconcerned about the tragedy. They want to dine of the corpse.
We are not too sure on when this was written, however we know that it was at the time of the war as it is based on a soldier who fought for the country.
“I wot there lies a new- slain knight”
Also the social relevance tells us that people who went to war were forgotten about, and were not cared about after the war.
Twa Corbies does not contain many features of a ballad however it consists of quatrains
“As I was walking all alane
I heard twa corbies making a mane
The tane onto the tither did say
Whar sall we gang and dine today?”
The ballad consists of four line stanzas which are short, with AA BB rhyme scheme. This was done so when it was sang people would learn it more easily and sing it over and over.
Furthermore more it consists of language of the time; also as the language is Scottish it is a little harder to understand
“In behint yon auld fail dyke
I wot there lies a new-slain knight;
And naebody kens that he lies there
But his hawk, his hound and his lady fair”
We discover in the end that the knight is left with nothing. His hawk, hounds and lady quickly forget him and his body is lost. He has left no legacy and in fact his body is subsumed by nature. Additionally it states he is a new slain knight so he hasn’t been away for months; this revelation reinforces the feelings of desertion and futility. Instead of the knights family staying to protect and honour him after death the
“Lady’s ta’en another mate”
Everyone that has ever meant anything to the knight deserts him and this shows us how selfish people were; they no longer care about respecting the knight when they have nothing to gain from the friendship. This makes the reader wonder how much he was loved in the first place.
Repetition is used
“But his hawk his hound and his lady fair”
It is used to
This ballad comes across as sad and cruel and describes the ravens as malicious; however they are merely following the laws of nature. The last section reminds the reader that no one will remember the knight now that he is gone, and also emphasizes that nature and living will not change with the death of one person.
In the end, however, the ravens reveal that relationships that are significant, but the understanding that life is an unending cycle and an important part is death.
The themes of this ballad are betrayal, selfishness and hopelessness, sadness, death and life.
In conclusion all the poems I chose had similar themes, but one definite one was sadness. The first poem ‘ballad’ was one I enjoyed very much. This was because there was a meaning behind each stanza and it seemed like there was true emotions behind the words. Also AA BB rhyme scheme was used which I found very and enjoyable to read. Also many poetic devices have been used which makes the poem more interesting and plays on the readers emotions and creates dramatic irony.
The second poem ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ I thought was ok as the storyline was very dramatic and kept me interested. However the language was very complex and the storyline was a little confusing. Apart from that I enjoyed learning to use the poetical devices and seeing how they were used.
Finally the last poem ‘Twa Corbies’ I did not enjoy very much. This was because I did not find anything outstanding about it. Also as it is written in Scottish I found many words hard to understand. The one thing I did enjoy about it was when I heard it in audio as I thought it was very memorable. Lastly there are hardly any poetic devices so the ballad is not that effective or appealing.