The word Ballad is of French provenance. It is a type of poetry or verse which was basically used in dance songs in the ancient France. Later on, during the late 16th and 17th century, 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. However, it is still read and listened to with interest in most of European countries including the British Isles.
Evolution of Ballad
Two schools of thoughts, namely Communal school of thought and Individualists school of thought, have dominated the world of ballad through its development. Communalists believe that the evolution of the ballad was a result of the joined and shared literary endeavors of many people. Individualists negate this approach to the extent that they consider the later development as a modification of the archetype.
Most of the ballad examples in ancient times used to be passed to the next generation through oral traditions. This is because there was no language in which to write them down.
However, in the modern world, the preservation and transmission of such literary treasures has become easier. The availability of advanced technology and common languages has not only improved the documentation but the accessibility of these resources for people in every part of the world, as well.
Distinguishing Features of Ballads
Ballads, no matter which category they fall in, mostly rely on simple and easy-to-understand language or dialect from its origin. Stories about hardships, tragedies, love and romance are standard ingredients of ballads. This is irrespective of geographical origins.
Another conspicuous element of any ballad is the recurrence of certain lines at regular intervals. Ballads can also be in interrogative form with appropriate answers to every question they ask.
Divisions of Ballad
Following is the list of broad categories of ballad;
- Stall ballads
- Lyrical ballads
- Popular ballads
- Blue ballads
- Bush Ballads
- Fusion ballads (pop and rock)/Modern ballads
All these categories are primarily meant to convey popular messages, stories or historical events to audiences in the form of songs and poetry.
The world of literature and music is replete with examples of ballad. The following paragraphs offer extracts of some of the popular ballads.
“Tam Lin” is an example of a popular (traditional) ballad.
‘O I forbid you, maiden all,
That wears gold in your hair,
To come or go by Carterhaugh
For young Tam Lin is there.
“Rime of an Ancient Mariner” is an example of a lyrical ballad.
‘Day after day, day after day
We stuck nor breathe, nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean’
“Stagolee” is an example of a blue ballad with roots in American folk music.
Stagolee was a bad man
They go down in a coal mine one night
Robbed a coal mine
They’s gambling down there’
“Drover” is an example of a bush ballad.
‘From the sunburnt plains of far off North Australia
Came a fella born to ride the wide brown land
Oh he grew up running wil
But soon by all was styled
As the country’s greatest-ever droving man’
“The Ballad of Billy the Kid” is an example of a modern ballad.
‘From a town known Wheeling, Wes Virginia
Rode a boy with six gun in his hands
And his daring life crime
Made him a legend in his time
East and west of Rio Grande’
Functions of Ballad
Ballads, as stage performance, enjoyed the status of being one of the main sources of entertainment in ancient times. Legends and historical events were narrated in the form of a ballad which would comprise song and dance.
Ballad was a perfect substitute for our current day technology-based entertainment, albeit with more emotional appeal. In the 18th century, the ballad based stage entertainment came to be known as Ballad Opera. According to ballad aficionados, the first formal Ballad opera was staged in the first half of 18th century with the theme of “the Beggars Opera”.