Folk or Traditional
ballad
XV – XVI CENTURIES
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Anonymous oral form which appears in
the late Middle Ages throughout
Europe.
The oral mode makes the sound
aspect very important for the ballad
singer because:
in order to memorize the ballad
singers can only make use of sound
devices such as:
Rhyme (Dominant rhyme scheme ABCB
or ABAB)
Stress Pattern (Alternation of 4 stress
lines and 3 stress lines)
Repetition of keywords, phrases,
whole lines and refrains
Alliteration
Themes
Ballads are usually about love which may be:
1. erotic love, like in “Elfin Knight”, a ballad
describing the courting between a married
man and a girl, or
2. tragic love, like in “Lady Diamond”, where a
kitchen boy is murdered by the king’s men
because of his love for the king’s daughter.
In the end the king’s daughter herself dies
because of her sorrow for the loss of her true
love;
• magic and the supernatural are other typical
themes of medieval ballads, see for example the
ballad “Cruel sister” where we are told the story
of a young girl who is killed by her sister for
jealousy, but the crime is revealed on her
wedding day by a magic harp made of the bones
of the victim’s breast and three locks of her hair.
The language of the Ballad
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Large use of
simple syntactic structures (there are no subordinate
clauses )
simple lexis mainly:
monosyllabic words and concrete nouns of
Anglo-Saxon origin.
stock phrases (= a fixed set of words to describe
someone or something: e.g. “fair pretty maid” is used
in “Geordie” to refer to the female character; and
“my milk-white horse” is used to refer to her horse).
formulae (= Idea or concept expressed in identical or
almost identical words: e.g. in the ballad “Geordie”,
in the first two lines of the second stanza, to express
desperate hurry Geordie’s wife says: “Come bridle me
my milk-white horse, come bridle me my pony”
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Narrative technique
The story is usually told by a narrator and
through the voice of one of the characters
involved in the story,
this implies that dialogue is largely used.
Authorship
The origins of this anonymous poetic form are a
mystery;
Questions on Who exactly composed the
ballads, or where and when these were
composed remain unanswered;
Something more may be said about the area
where the English ballads were composed
thanks to the fact that many of them contain a
lot of words of Scottish origin, this makes us
think that they were probably composed in an
area on the border between England and
Scotland.
Audience
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Ballads were intended for the common
people who lived in the villages, this is the
reason why they mainly deal with events
and situations in the everyday life of
common people.
Source of ballad texts
The existence of many versions of the
same ballad can be easily explained by the
fact that ballads were mainly an oral form
and even if ballad singers had exceptional
memories, they did not aim at reproducing
a text exactly, they simply aimed at telling
old stories in the old traditional way.
The Bonny Swans
A (1) ______ there lived in the (2) ______
country
 A hey ho bonny o
 And he had (3) ______ one, two, three
 The swans (4) ______ so bonny o
 These daughters they (5) ______ by the river’s
brim
 A hey ho bonny o
 The eldest (6) ______ the youngest in
 The swans swim so bonny o
 Oh sister, oh sister , pray (7) ______ me your
hand
 With a hey ho a bonny o
 And I will give you (8) ______ and land
 the swans swim so bonny o
 I’ll give you neither hand nor (9) ______
 with a hey ho a bonny o
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The Bonny Swans
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(10) ______ you give me your own true (11) ______
the swans swim so bonny o
Sometimes she (12) ______ , sometimes she swam
with a hey ho a bonny o
(13) ______ she came to miller’s dam
the swans swim so bonny o
The miller’s daughter, (14) ______ in red
with a hey ho a bonny o
She went for some (15) ______ to make some bread
the swans swim so bonny o
Oh father, oh daddy, here swims a (16) ______
with a hey ho a bonny o
It’s very like a gentle (17) ______
the swans swim so bonny o
They placed her on the (18) ______ to dry
The Bonny Swans
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with a hey ho a bonny o
There came a harper (19) ______ by
the swans swim so bonny o
He made harp pins of her (20) ______ fair
with a hey ho a bonny o
He made harp (21) ______ of her golden hair
the swans swim so bonny o
He made a harp of her (22) ______ bone
with a hey ho a bonny o
And straight it began to (23) ______ alone
the swans swim so bonny o
He (24) ______ it to her father’s hall
with a hey ho a bonny o
And there was the (25) ______ , assembled all
the swans swim so bonny o
The Bonny Swans
 He (26) ______ the harp upon a stone
 with a hey ho a bonny o
 And straight it began to play alone
 the swans swim so bonny o
 And there does (27) ______ my father the King
 with a hey ho a bonny o
 And (28) ______ sit my mother the Queen
 the swans swim so bonny o
 And there does sit my (29) ______ Hugh
 with a hey ho a bonny o
 And by him (30) ______ , sweet and true
 the swans swim so bonny o
 And there does sit my (31) ______ sister, Anne
 with a hey ho a bonny o
 Who (32) ______ me for the sake of a man
 the swans swim so bonny o
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