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Narrative basis

The word ballad is of French provenance. It is a type of poetry or verse which was basically used in dance songs in ancient France.


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Later on, during the late 16th and 17th centuries, it spread over the majority of European nations. Owing to its popularity and emotional appeal, it remained a powerful tool for poets and lyricists to prepare music in the form of lyrical ballads, and earn a handsome income from it. The art of lyrical ballad, as well as ballad poetry, lost popularity during the latter half of the 19th century.

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However, it is still read and listened to with interest in most European countries, including the British Isles. Two schools of thought, namely the communal school of thought, and the individualist school of thought, have dominated the world of ballad throughout its development. Communalists believe that the evolution of the ballad was a result of the joined and shared literary endeavors of many people. Poetry Near You. Academy of American Poets. National Poetry Month.

American Poets Magazine. Ballad: Poetic Form. It begins: It is an ancient mariner And he stoppeth one of three. Academy of American Poets Educator Newsletter. Teach This Poem. Follow Us. Find Poets. Read Stanza.

Definition of Ballad

Jobs for Poets. In romantic terms this process is often dramatized as a narrative of degeneration away from the pure 'folk memory' or 'immemorial tradition'. For Scott, the process of multiple recitations 'incurs the risk of impertinent interpolations from the conceit of one rehearser, unintelligible blunders from the stupidity of another, and omissions equally to be regretted, from the want of memory of a third. European Ballads have been generally classified into three major groups: traditional, broadside and literary. In America a distinction is drawn between ballads that are versions of European, particularly British and Irish songs, and 'Native American ballads', developed without reference to earlier songs.

A further development was the evolution of the blues ballad, which mixed the genre with Afro-American music.

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For the late 19th century the music publishing industry found a market for what are often termed sentimental ballads, and these are the origin of the modern use of the term 'ballad' to mean a slow love song. The traditional, classical or popular meaning of the people ballad has been seen as beginning with the wandering minstrels of late medieval Europe.

A reference in William Langland 's Piers Plowman indicates that ballads about Robin Hood were being sung from at least the late 14th century and the oldest detailed material is Wynkyn de Worde's collection of Robin Hood ballads printed about He published his research from to in a three-volume work, Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. Burns collaborated with James Johnson on the multi-volume Scots Musical Museum , a miscellany of folk songs and poetry with original work by Burns.

Both Northern English and Southern Scots shared in the identified tradition of Border ballads , particularly evinced by the cross-border narrative in versions of " The Ballad of Chevy Chase " sometimes associated with the Lancashire-born sixteenth-century minstrel Richard Sheale.


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It has been suggested that the increasing interest in traditional popular ballads during the eighteenth century was prompted by social issues such as the enclosure movement as many of the ballads deal with themes concerning rural laborers. Key work on the traditional ballad was undertaken in the late 19th century in Denmark by Svend Grundtvig and for England and Scotland by the Harvard professor Francis James Child.

Ballad Lyrics Generator

Since Child died before writing a commentary on his work it is uncertain exactly how and why he differentiated the ballads printed that would be published as The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. Unlike the traditional ballad, these obscene ballads aggressively mocked sentimental nostalgia and local lore. Broadside ballads also known as 'broadsheet', 'stall', 'vulgar' or 'come all ye' ballads were a product of the development of cheap print in the 16th century. They were generally printed on one side of a medium to large sheet of poor quality paper. In the first half of the 17th century, they were printed in black-letter or gothic type and included multiple, eye-catching illustrations, a popular tune title, as well as an alluring poem.

These later sheets could include many individual songs, which would be cut apart and sold individually as "slip songs.

Glossary of Poetic Terms

Among the topics were love, marriage, religion, drinking-songs, legends, and early journalism, which included disasters, political events and signs, wonders and prodigies. Literary or lyrical ballads grew out of an increasing interest in the ballad form among social elites and intellectuals, particularly in the Romantic movement from the later 18th century. Respected literary figures Robert Burns and Walter Scott in Scotland collected and wrote their own ballads.

Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats were attracted to the simple and natural style of these folk ballads and tried to imitate it. In the 18th century ballad operas developed as a form of English stage entertainment , partly in opposition to the Italian domination of the London operatic scene. Rather than the more aristocratic themes and music of the Italian opera, the ballad operas were set to the music of popular folk songs and dealt with lower-class characters. The first, most important and successful was The Beggar's Opera of , with a libretto by John Gay and music arranged by John Christopher Pepusch , both of whom probably influenced by Parisian vaudeville and the burlesques and musical plays of Thomas d'Urfey — , a number of whose collected ballads they used in their work.

Later it moved into a more pastoral form, like Isaac Bickerstaffe's Love in a Village and Shield's Rosina , using more original music that imitated, rather than reproduced, existing ballads. Although the form declined in popularity towards the end of the 18th century its influence can be seen in light operas like that of Gilbert and Sullivan's early works like The Sorcerer as well as in the modern musical.