The Wayfarer’s Song, Installment 5

November 8, 2014

An Experiment in point of view.

I believe, ballads ought only be sung by old spinsters by the fire:

Old maids and futzy batchelor with wonton widows too,

   When you intend to marry, know what you must go through,

But rather than lead apes into hell, along with us do go…

   No horned brother dare makes game, they are cuckolds all-a-row.

Ballads tell stories while folksongs consist of floating verses. Ballads convey epic themes both human and supernatural with plots containing adventure, comic, love, and tragedy told in verse. Ballads are literature of the people. The narratives in ballads generally develop by means of dialogue. Now our American ballads chronicle adventures, scandals and tragedies that were similar in scope to subjects found in chapbooks. The early ballad singers of course performed without instrumentation. They might chronicle a specific incident, but they often get adapted with hearsay and rumor over time, creating and reinforcing legends. Ballads are true indicators of the values of the society and times in which they were written and performed. Conversely, broadside ballads are songs published on single sheets of paper. They are sentimental, declamatory, or scandalous in content and sold on the streets in large urban areas with other broadsides, almanacs, chapbooks, and satirical prints. The ballad known as “James Bird” tells the story of Marine soldier James Bird who demonstrated great bravery during the Battle for Lake Erie in 1813, only to be convicted and executed for desertion when he took off to see his beloved for a long weekend.

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