The Flowering Thorn: International Ballad Studies

The Flowering Thorn: International Ballad Studies

The Flowering Thorn: International Ballad Studies

The Flowering Thorn: International Ballad Studies

Excerpt

Thou’ll break my heart, thou warbling bird,
That wantons thro’ the flowering thorn:
Thou minds me o’ departed joys,
Departed never to return.

Robert Burns

The flowering thorn expresses the dual nature of the ballad: at once a distinctive expression of European tradition, but also somewhat tricky to approach from a scholarly perspective, requiring a range of disciplines to illuminate its rich composition. Much of this latter quality has to do with the very features that characterize ballads, erzählenden Lieder, or narrative songs. These include an appearance of fragmentation, a wide range of cultural and social referents, complex, evocative symbolic language, and variation.

The notable multiformity of meaning, text, and tune is mirrored in scholarship, too. The Flowering Thorn is therefore wide ranging, with articles written by world authorities from the fields of folklore, history, literature, and ethnology, employing a variety of methodologies—structuralism to functionalism, repertoire studies to geographical explorations of cultural movement and change. The twenty-five selected contributions represent the latest trends in ballad scholarship, embracing the multidisciplinary nature of the field today. The essays have their origins in the 1999 International Ballad Conference of the Kommission für Volksdichtung (KfV), which focused particularly on ballads and social context, performance and repertoire, genre, motif, and classification. The revised, tailored, and expanded essays are divided into five sections—the interpretation of narrative song; structure and motif; context, version, and transmission; regions, reprints, and repertoires; and the mediating collector—offering a range of examples from fifteen different cultures, ten of them drawing on languages other than English, resulting in a series of personal journeys to the heart of one of Europe’s richest, most enduring cultural creations.

While articles are tightly focused on their central themes, they naturally create cross currents that enrich the entire book. Some of these common themes, seen from very different perspectives, include gender issues, collecting and editing as cultural translation, the vigorous life of literary ballads in the oral tradition . . .

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