English Ballads | Ballad in English literature

The English ballad is a simple short story in verse. 

English Ballad | Ballad in English Literature

The ballad is a lyrical folk song. The term "Ballad" is derived from Latin and Italian "Ballara" which means to dance. Ballad is a song that rotates a story with musical accompaniment to dance. It is mainly sung by minstrels and folk dancers.

Ballads has a long history and some of the English ballads were written even before Chaucer. Although they originated in the later Middle Ages, but were not collected and printed until the 18th century.

As mentioned above, ballad is a short story in verse. The subject matter is common events and actions. Love,  war,  adventure,  harvesting  etc.  are the popular themes of it. Sometimes the themes are fierce or tragic.

Structure of Ballads in English literature

The ballads have a measure in writing. The stanzas in a ballad is a quatrain in alternate four and three stress lines. The second and the fourth lines rhymes with each other. Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is written in this measure. Keat's "La Belle Dams Sans Merci" is also a ballad.

Types of Ballads in English literature

Ballads are of two types, namely, authentic and literary . The authentic ballads are of unknown authorship. They were sung by a strolling singer or singers, who earned their livelihood by singing. They offered entertainment to listeners. 

These ballads are long interesting popular folk stories, sung to the accompaniment of a harp or some musical instrument. "Chevy Chase" and "The Wives of Ushers Well" counts among the well known authentic ballads.

The literary ballad is an reproduction of the traditional form in matter and manner. Keat's "La Belle Dams Sans Merci" and Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" are literary ballads.

Again, there are the mock ballads which treats the theme comically. Cowper's "John Gilpin" is a fine example of mock ballads. 

The ballad, usually, begins abruptly. In "La Belle Dams Sans Merci" the poet introduces the ailing knight in the first line all of a sudden. The theme is unfortunate love.

With the advent of other kinds of popular entertainment, the ballad lost it's place as an entertainer in the course of time. The literary ballad too lost its appeal with the change of taste. The basic modern collection of 305 ballads is "English And Scottish Popular Ballads" by Francis J.  Child. 


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