The Ballad of Tradition

The Ballad of Tradition

The Ballad of Tradition

The Ballad of Tradition

Excerpt

One could not well begin to write a book about ballads without a certain boldness, for the difficulties in the way of studying the subject are apparent to all who have approached it; and one must inevitably finish such a book in a humble state of mind. The difficulties do not vanish when one has coped with them. 'Ballad' has been used as a name for a number of different forms in music and poetry, each of which has as much right as any other to be so called. It is not easy to establish a definition of what we call nowadays the popular or traditional ballad; it is still harder to find how it came into being; and it is quite impossible to make a satisfactory canon of specimens. Yet no one denies the existence of such ballads, and few lovers of music and poetry can resist their charm.

I have been led to attempt a new treatment of this very thorny subject by the unexpected evidence that has come to light within the last twenty-five years. The time has seemed to me ripe for a survey of the whole matter, taking into account what has been learned and pointing out the urgent need of further investigation in a good many different directions. We can no longer ignore, for example, the part that music has played in the history of balladry, and less than ever can we look at ballads as verses printed in books. The field-workers of the past generation have gathered a rich harvest of material, which awaits the attention of other students. I have tried to make a new appraisal of our present knowledge about ballads, and to draw whatever conclusions I could about their history. The reader will note that I have followed the plan of devoting a good many chapters to description and analysis before proceeding to a discussion of theory. I have tried, indeed . . .

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