Ballads are poems that tell a story. These ballads are distinguished by such features as few characters, dramatic plots, and may include dialogue, as well as action because it tells a story. They are considered to be a form of narrative poetry. They are often used in songs and have a very musical quality to them. According to the dictionary, Ballad is a narrative poem, often of folk origin and intended to be sung, consisting of simple stanzas and usually having a refrain. It is the music for such a poem. It is also defined as a popular song especially of a romantic or sentimental nature. Here is an example: (Ballad of a Mother’s Heart)
There have been many theories about the originators of the ballads all of which have some validity when applied to the different types of ballad, the main ones are as follows:
· Minstrels: A minstrel is a musician or a poet. Originally, the minstrels were paid entertainers who worked for the Court and influential personages. They wrote songs about current events and historical victories of their patron and they included rewritings of old songs, legends and ballads in their theatre. The theory that the minstrels were the originators of the ballads was held for quite a long time. They are certainly a factor in the spreading of the ballads into the community; ballads were a stock item in the theatre of the minstrels even when their status had declined to that of street singers. ·
– Dance: Certainly some of the ballads were tied to dances. The word ballad probably comes from medieval French dance songs or ballet (“ballares” dance).
· Ceremonial dance and songs. Some ballad refrains contain ceremonial chants and responses
· Monks: The monks were the amongst the few who could read and write in the early times of the ballad history and that it follows that they must have had a hand in the composition and writing of the ballads. · Communal composition: It has been suggested that ballads may have developed as a communal effort; particularly those that contain refrains and rhythms that are connected with work such as weaving and spinning. Example is the walking songs of the Hebrides. · Cante-fable. This is a story, which is classified with verses that are sung or chanted. Some ballads are distinctively English or Scottish in origin but the older ballads are more likely to have a European source as their beginnings, deriving from earlier poems and old folk tales brought into Britain by its many invaders, immigrants and soldiers returning from foreign wars.
Scholars of ballads are often divided into two:
The ‘communalists’ who argue that ballads arose by a combined communal effort and did not have a single author. They tend to lead to the view that more recent, particularly printed broadside ballads are a debased form of the genre. The ‘individualists’ who assert that there was a single original author. They tended to lead to the view that later changes in the words of ballads are corruptions of an original text. More recently scholars have pointed to the interchange of oral and written forms of the ballad.
European Ballads have been generally classified into three major groups: traditional, broadside and literary. * Traditional ballads
Traditional folk ballads exhibit certain characteristics which help to identify them as being genuine in origin. Traditional ballads or folk ballads were universal songs meant to be understood by everyone, so writers would choose words that even the uneducated might understand. Traditional ballads follow a standard format and tell lengthy stories that call on imagery.
Broadside ballads are descriptive or narrative verses or songs sung or recited in public places or printed on broadsides for sale in the streets. It is commonly in a simple ballad form. Broadside ballads appeared shortly after the invention of printing in the 15th century and were hawked in streets, fairs, and marketplaces of Europe into the 19th century. Among the topics were love, religion, drinking-songs, legends, and early journalism, which included disasters, political events and signs, wonders and prodigies.
* Literary ballads
A literary ballad (also known as “art ballad”) is a narrative poem written in imitation of the old anonymous folk ballad; the author is most often a known professional poet. Usually the literary ballad is more elaborate and complex. Literary ballads were quite popular in England during the 19th cent. The literary ballad, unlike the traditional ballad and the broadside ballad, is a sophisticated rather than a popular form.
Importance of Ballads
Ballads are important to look at because they show how the form has developed over time. A ballad is not simply a romantic song, although that definition will still apply in the field of music. Romance can be infused into ballads, especially if they are a narrative tale of love (or hate) as seen in the ballad by the anonymous Spanish poet. However, they are so much more as well. Anyone who knows the ballad knows how complex the story is in terms of theme, imagery, characters, symbolism, and many other literary devices and significations.