skip to main | skip to sidebar
Home » » Write a brief and illustrative note on Middle English songs and ballads

A brief and illustrative note on Middle English songs and ballads

Chaucer's dominance in Middle English literature is unquestionable. His influence is found all pervasive. Yet, there are other poetical works in different forms, not totally ignorable even in that great age if chaucerian literature. In this respect, mention may be made of popular songs and ballads.
popular songs and ballads
Popular songs and ballads

It fact,in the transition of English literature from Middle English to the Renaissance,an interesting literary feature is the emergence of popular songs and particularly ballads. Those songs and ballads are found both in English poetry and in Scottish. They do not ballads are found both in English poetry and in Scottish. They do not belong  exactly to the fifteenth century, and may be traced in the literary history of the earlier period as also of the later. In fact, it is different to assign place or date, with precision and definiteness to them. their authorship has also remained mostly anonymous.

Moreover, a good many such songs and ballads are also lost altogether. as a result, no full and comprehensive account, which might have been quite rich, about them is at all possible.

These songs and ballads ,however, occupy a queer position in English literature. They are mostly old, belong to autiquity, to the tradition of medieval literature. At the same time, some of them are found to approach new literature -the literature of the Renaissance. Chaucer's influence on them is undeniable, though indirect, and like him, they seem to stand at the cross-roads of a literary change from medievalism to modernity. 

Those songs and ballads do not definitely deserve any special recognition. What makes them noteworthy is their unique popularity, and here they seem to bear the tradition of medieval romances in their popular tales in verse and simple style. They deal with the themes of heroism, adventure and love and exhibit a remarked rhythmic balance and a pleasing metrical harmony so as to touch and catch common hearts.

Because of their common characteristics it is difficult to identity these songs and ballads separately. They seem to belong to the same genre in their subject -matter and style, and may better be styled simply as ballad poetry.

The ballad is a light simple song that narrates certain events or incidents in simple modes and harmonious and sonorous verses. It is more or less a kind of narrative poetry, and contains a short story in verse. It presents generally a tale of romance and the rhythmic and melodious verses that have the instinctive appeal of a song. Simplicity in theme as well as technique is the primary requisite of ballad poetry. Moreover ,a good ballad, as the from of popular poetry, possesses an enchantment of melody. This a wonderful metrical beauty that has a haunting effect on the ear that hears and thereby spells the heart of the hearer.

The earliest known ballad is the Canute Song. This is,of course, fragmentary, yet it has much historical and literary value. The kings actual part in it is quite doubtful and perhaps. not very important. The anecdote is that Canute , while coming by a boat , with his queen and nobles,  to Ely,  stood up , bade his men to row slowly , called all who were in the boat to from a circle around him and asked them to join him in his song.  That is supposed to be the first composition of ballad poetry in English . It is the first known English poem to break away from the stereotyped metre of old English poetry and to introduce the new order of rhythm which is found to characterise so much of the subsequent ballads of tradition. There are also numerous ballads,  relating different adventures in the life of Robin Hood , a well celebrated name in folk-tales and legends . But there are doubts about the dates of the composition of these ballads,  which have such titles as Robin Hood and the Monk,  Robin and Gandeleyn , Robin Hood and the Potter , The Gest of Robyn Hood, and so on. Some of them , as their style indicates, seem to belong to the period closer to the Renaissance . Some earlier ballads on the subject might have been lost , but most Robin Hood ballads are found preserved. Some ballads , relating to Randolph, earl of Chester , are mentioned in Piers the Plowman, as  known to common men, but these are all lost.  Sone account is available of the similar outlaw balladry,  but their actual origin and authenticity has remained yet quite doubtful . One such popular ballad is The Maid remained yet quite doubtful.  One such popular ballad is The maid Freed from the Gallous in which the faith of true love is vindicated. Some ballads are also found derived from romances, such as Hynd Horn (from King Horn) and Sir Orfeo (from Sir Orfeo). In some cases , ballad poetry seems to have something of epical grandeur, as  in the famous ballad of Adam Bell, Clim O' the Clough, and William of Cloudeslee, and of lyrical impulsiveness , as in the ballad of Sir Patrick Spens , and of tragic intensity as in the ballad of Robin Hood's Death.

In fact, Popular ballads are found abundant in the literary age, following Chaucer   and particularly in the beginning of the fifteenth century. A remarkably fertile soil for such ballads appears to be the 'Border' ,the scene of so many bloody encountered between the English and the Scots for long years. In this context, two particularly well known ,popular ballads may be mentioned here.

Chevy Chase

One of the outstanding popular ballads on 'border'matter is Chevy Chase.This presents an engaging account of the conflict between percy of Northumberland and Douglas of Scotland. The former wishes to hunt in the territory of his foe in order to defy him and provoke encounter. The poem describes the fierce fighting between provoke encounter. The poem describes the rival parties. Douglas is slain and Percy is shown to lament for the death of his valiant enemy. Gallantry gives way to chivalrous nobility. 

Chevy Chase stands out as a classic example of the epical ballad that is found inspired with the ideals of The Battle of Maldon and The sing at Brunanburh. It contains matters, both fierce and chivalrous.It has the grandeur of the fragmentary epic in its details of warfare and note of chivalry. Again it possesses too, epical directness and simplicity in its narrative details . Indeed,  the work breathes a martial ardour,  a chivalrous outlook , a homely simplicity and ab all -pervasive harmony.  It is found inspiring for subsequent ballad writers,  and has much significance in the history of English balladry.

The Nut Brown Maid

Another popular and successful poem of the time is The Nut Brown Maid. This is not strictly a ballad of the Border and differs much from Chevy Chase. The theme here is altogether different -not rivalry but love. It is all about the story of a nut-brown maid ,a barons daughter and her devoted love for a squire. She follows. with utmost constancy .her beloved man who tries to avoid her. Ultimately, the steady maid gets her reward and the squire, who is actually a noble lord in disguise, agrees to marry her. The end is happy, unlike the sad ending of Chevy Chase.

The Nut Brown Maid , as stated already , is a song of love,  and not a tale of fighting,  like Chevy Chase.  This is also much more intricate in versification than the other poem . It is rather enlivened with a courtly and cultivated approach and spontaneity of expression.  The work bears all through a dramatic interest.  The very pattern of presentation is quite novel,  too. The whole tale is related through the lyrical dialogue of a lady and a gentleman , who are shown engaged in the discussion of the charge of inconstancy against women,  often brought by men.

Popular English ballads are no grand works of art,  but they are also no verbose artifice.  Their mode is simple and appeal,  straight .They are not primitive,  but essentially native in inspiration . Their tales are well told and they bear the freshness of the open air,  with wind and sunshine playing through them .They are found to enrich English poetry definitely and to pave the ground for the emergence of Renaissance poetry .


Post a Comment

Back To Top