Friday, 15 November 2013

Medieval Ballads


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Hi everyone,

Have I told you how much I love medieval ballads? No?... really?

I was first introduced to them when I was about twelve and we had to read some of them for school. As I’ve said in the past, I was already in love with myths, legends and medieval history, so this was a natural extension of it.

I love the imagery, emotion and the story telling in each ballad. Some tell cautionary tales, others celebrate true love whilst there are some that are dark and eerie.

The ballad derives its name from medieval French dance songs or "ballares" (ballare, to dance). It is also the word from which 'ballet' is derived. As a narrative song, their theme and function may originate from Scandinavian and Germanic traditions of storytelling that can be seen in poems such as Beowulf.

Many of the ballads originate from Scotland and England. They have been dated to late medieval period of the 14th century. However as they are of an oral tradition one could assume that they were older.

Scottish ballads in particular are distinctively un-English, even showing some pre-Christian influences in the inclusion of supernatural elements such as the fairies in the Scottish ballad "Tam Lin”.

The ballads do not have any known author or correct version; instead, having been passed down mainly by oral tradition since the Middle Ages, there are many variations of each.


I’m always surprised at the amount of emotion and vividness in each of the ballads. Even though ‘The Douglas Tragedy’ is just that... a tragedy and a violent one at that – some of the images are quite beautiful. Here’s a few stanzas.
 

He’s lifted her on a milk-white steed,

And himself on a dappled grey,

With a bugelet horn hung down his side,

And slowly they baith rade away.

 

O they rade on, and on they rade,

And a’ by the light of the moon,

Until they came to yon wan water,

And there they lighted down.

 

They lighted down to tak a drink

Of the spring that ran sae clear;

And down the stream ran his gude heart’s blood,

And sair she gan to fear.

 

‘Hold up, hold up, Lord William,’ she says,

‘For I fear that you are slain!’

‘’Tis naething but the shadow of my scarlet cloak,

That shines in the water sae plain.’

 
The Unquiet Grave is my favourite. It’s been in my head ever since school. There is something sad and unsettling about it and I love the alliteration of the ‘clay-cold lips’. As with all the ballads, I find the atmosphere and imagery rich.
 

The Unquiet Grave
"The wind doth blow today, my love,
And a few small drops of rain;
I never had but one true-love,
In cold grave she was lain.

"I'll do as much for my true-love
As any young man may;
I'll sit and mourn all at her grave
For a twelvemonth and a day."

The twelvemonth and a day being up,
The dead began to speak:
"Oh who sits weeping on my grave,
And will not let me sleep?"

"'Tis I, my love, sits on your grave,
And will not let you sleep;
For I crave one kiss of your clay-cold lips,
And that is all I seek."

"You crave one kiss of my clay-cold lips;
But the call of death is strong;
If you have one kiss of my clay-cold lips,
Your time will not be long.

Love, where we used to walk,
The finest flower that ere was seen
Is withered to a stalk.

"The stalk is withered dry, my love,
So will our hearts decay;
So make yourself content, my love,
Till God calls you away."



I added ‘Edward, Edward’ even though the language can be a little challenging. Think Scottish brogue and run with it. It’s about a man who is sickened by guilt and remorse at the terrible crime he had just committed on the urging of his mother.
 
Edward, Edward

Why dois your brand sae drap wi bluid,
Edward, Edward,
Why dois your brand sae drap wi bluid,
And why sae sad gang yee O?"
"O I hae killed my hauke sae guid,
Mither, mither,
O I hae killed my hauke sae guid,
And I had nae mair bot hee O."
"Your haukis bluid was nevir sae reid,
Edward, Edward,
Your haukis bluid was nevir sae reid,
My deir son I tell thee O."
"O I hae killed my reid-roan stied,
Mither, mither,
O I hae killed my reid-roan steid,
That erst was sae fair and frie O."

"Your steid was auld, and ye hae gat mair,
Sum other dule ye drie O."
O I hae killed my fadir deir,
Mither, mither,
O I hae killed my fadir deir,
Alas, and wae is mee O!"

"And whatten penance wul ye drie for that,
Edward, Edward,
And whatten penance will ye drie for that?
My deir son, now tell me O."
"Ile set my feit in yonder boat,
Mither, mither,
Ile set my feit in yonder boat,
And Ile fare ovir the sea O."

"And what wul ye doe wi your towirs and your ha,
Edward, Edward?
And what wul ye doe wi your towirs and your ha,
That were sae fair to see O?
"Ile let thame stand tul they doun fa,
Mither, mither,
Ile let thame stand tul they doun fa,
For here nevir mair maun I bee O."

"And what wul ye leive to your bairns and your wife,
Edward, Edward?
And what wul ye leive to your bairns and your wife,
Whan ye gang ovir the sea O?"
"The warldis room, late them beg thrae life,
Mither, mither,
The warldis room, late them beg thrae life,
For thame nevir mair wul I see O."

"And what wul ye leive to your ain mither dear,
Edward, Edward?
And what wul ye lieve to your ain mither deir?
My deir son, now tell me O."
"The curse of hell frae me sall ye beir,
Mither, mither
The curse of hell frae me sall ye beir,
Sic counseils ye gave to me O."


When I was writing ‘Rain’ I wanted to use a ballad. The heroine, Nuri sings it throughout the book. My first thought was to use one of my favourites but then I decided to try my hand at writing one. Now, I’m not saying that mine is anywhere near the calibre of the originals... but I gave it a go. J
 
Rain will be published next week by Jupiter Gardens Press.
Anyway here is ‘Thrice More’. And yes I know they say the word is ‘archaic’ but I like it and it has so much more of a ring to it than... three times more.
 
Oh come my pretty one, my love,
And follow me to the lee.
And I will love thee, lass,
Thrice more than he.
 
I cannot come, my knight, my love,
And follow to the lee.
For I have given sworn oath, my love,
To him and not to thee.
 
Oh come away my lady love,
Oh come away with me.
For I do swear I love thee,
Thrice more than he.
 
I cannot go. I cannot come.
For the vow I spoke so free.
But I do love thee, my heart –
Thrice more than he.
 
A kiss, a kiss – to farewell my love,
A kiss that will never set me free.
Thou art my world and I do love thee,
Thrice more than he.
 
I cannot go, I cannot come.
Yet my heart will never be free.
Farewell my knight and I will love thee always,
Thrice more than he.

Thanks for stopping by.
Nic√≥le  xx
 
 


Images & poems – public domain & Bigstock
Wikipedia
The World’s Conracted Thus
Edited by J.A & J.K McKenzie
Mostly Medieval – Exploring the Middle Ages
 
 
 


 
 
 

 
 
 


 




 

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