(Poem #548) Barbara Allen
In Scarlet town, where I was born, There was a fair maid dwellin', Made every youth cry Well-a-day! Her name was Barbara Allen. All in the merry month of May, When the green buds they were swellin', Young Jemmy Grove on his death-bed lay, For love of Barbara Allen He sent his men down to her then, To the town where she was dwelling: "O haste and come to my master dear, Gin ye be Barbara Allen." So slowly, slowly rase she up, And slowly she came nigh him, And when she drew the curtains by-- "Young man, I think you're dyin'." "O it's I am sick and very very sick, And 'tis a' for Barbara Allen." -- "O the better for me ye'se never be, Tho your heart's blood were a-spillin'!. "O dinna ye mind, young man," said she, "When the red wine ye were fillin', That ye made the healths gae round and round, And slighted Barbara Allen?" He turned his face unto the wall, And death was with him dealin': "Adieu, adieu, my dear friends all, And be kind to Barbara Allen!" And slowly, slowly raise she up, And slowly, slowly left him, And sighing said she could not stay, Since death of life had reft him. As she was walkin o'er the fields She heard the dead-bell knellin', And every jow that the dead-bell geid, Cried, "Woe to Barbara Allen!" "O mother, mother, make my bed! O make it saft and narrow: My love has died for me today, I'll die for him to-morrow." "Farewell", she said, "ye virgins all, And shun the fault I fell in: Henceforward take warning by the fall Of cruel Barbara Allen."
(Child Ballad #84) c. 17th Century, but at least a few centuries older in oral tradition. A classic folk ballad - life and love, drama and death, with a strong dash of moral judgement thrown in. (Perhaps the true contemporary heir to the folk ballad is the soap opera!) The morality might seem slightly archaic today, especially the very androcentric slant, but that shouldn't preclude enjoyment of the poem. I've been planning to run a Child ballad for a while, and today's was the obvious choice, being a friend of my youth. I remember what mostly caught my fancy back then was the sound of the poem, a combination of the dialect and the rhythm; interestingly, I'd forgotten most of the poem completely, except for the last two verses, and therefore remembered it as a poem about a woman who scorned her true love, and then killed herself out of repentance. Rediscovering the fact that he had slighted her first was quite a surprise.  or perhaps just discovering - many versions leave that bit out, no doubt to strengthen their 'moral' On the Child Ballads: Francis Child's five-volume work, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882-1898), is considered by many as the basis of traditional Anglo-Celtic folk music, as both the motifs like the popular characters like the mythical Tam Lin and the might have been real Robin Hood, and the actual songs still played by many a musician are contained within this work. And just as importantly, the Child Ballads are crucial to present day writers who use the old folk ballads. [...] So why is the English and Scottish Popular Ballads so valuable? First we need a definition of what a ballad is. Funk & Wagnall's Online Dictionary defines a ballad thus: "short narrative folk song that fixes on the most dramatic part of a story, moving to its conclusion by means of dialogue and a series of incidents. The word ballad was first used in a general sense to mean a simple short poem. Such a poem could be narrative or lyric, sung or not sung, crude or polite, sentimental or satiric, religious or secular; it was vaguely associated with dance. The word is still commonly used in this loose fashion. In the field of folklore, however, ballad is applied specifically to the kind of narrative folk song described in the opening lines. These narrative songs represent a type of literature and music that developed across Europe in the late Middle Ages. Unlike the medieval romances and rhymed tales, ballads tend to have a tight dramatic structure that sometimes omits all preliminary material, all exposition and description, even all motivation, to focus on the climactic scene (as in the British "Lord Randall"). It is as though the ballad presented only the last act of a play, leaving the listener or reader to supply the antecedent material. When the ballad emerged, it was a new form of art and literature, distinct from anything that had gone before." [...] Child's contribution in researching, compiling, and publishing the English and Scottish Popular Ballads, was that he documented the very roots of English speaking ballads as versionthey still existed in the late Victorian period. This -- and its effects on popular folk music and written literature -- is why the Child Ballads (as they are most often called) remain a seminal work. -- [broken link] http://www.greenmanreview.com/child_ballads.html Follow the link and read the whole piece - it's well worth a look. Links: Some other versions of the lyrics ('Barbara Allen', like most ballads, has no 'definitive' text) - http://ingeb.org/songs/barbaraa.html - [broken link] http://www.contemplator.com/folk2/brballen.html Both links contain MIDI files of the melody Bob Blair draws an interesting parallel between ballads and urban legends: - http://www.geocities.com/~bblair/000224.htm An excellent page on folk music: - http://www.contemplator.com/history/epedia.html#child The complete catalogue of Child ballads: - http://www.contemplator.com/child/cmpltchl.html The androcentricity reminds me of Goldsmith's 'When Lovely Woman Stoops to Folly': - http://www.bartleby.com/106/138.html -martin