Reference > Cambridge History > The End of the Middle Ages > Ballads > Babylon
  Robin Hood The Maid Freed from the Gallows; The Making of Ballads; General Outlines of Ballad Progress  

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

XVII. Ballads.

§ 7. Babylon.


Babylon, local only by name and place, is familiar in its plot or situation “to all branches of the Scandinavian race,” and has long wandered on its path of tradition. The reader should repeat or sing aloud both the burden and the stanzas throughout:
       
There were three ladies lived in a bower,
Eh vow bonnie,
And they went out to pull a flower
On the bonnie banks o’s Fordie.
They hadna pu’ed a flower but ane,
When up started to them a banisht man.
He’s taen the first sister by the hand,
And he’s turned her round and made her stand.
“It’s whether will ye be a rank robber’s wife,
Or will ye die by my wee pen-knife?’
“It’s I’ll not be a rank robber’s wife,
But I’ll rather die by your wee pen-knife.”
He’s killed this may,  3  and he’s laid her by,
For to bear the red rose company.
He’s taken the second and by the hand,
And he’s turned her round, and made her stand.
“It’s whether will ye be a rank robber’s wife,
Or will ye die by my wee pen-knife?”
“I’ll not be a rank robber’s wife,
But I’ll rather die by your wee pen-knife.”
He’s killed this may, and he’s laid her by,
For to bear the red rose company.
He’s taken the youngest ane by the hand,
And he’s turned her round, and made her stand.
Says, “Will ye be a rank robber’s wife,
Or will ye die by my wee pen-knife?”
“I’ll no be a rank robber’s wife,
Nor will I die by your wee pen-knife.
For I hae a brother in this wood,
And gin ye kill me, it’s he ’ll kill thee.” 4 
“What’s thy brother’s name? Come tell to me.”
“My brother’s name is Baby Lon.”
“O sister, sister, what have I done!
O have I done this ill to thee!
O since I’ve done this evil deed,
Good sall never be seen o’ 5  me.”
He’s taken out his wee pen-knife,
Eh vow bonnie,,
And he’s twyned  6  himsel o’his ain sweet life
On the bonnie banks o’Fordie.
  13
  It needs no deep critical insight to see how near this little ballad is to the choral throng. The characters, of course, can be “said” or told instead of being presented and acted, and a word of information must be given about them; but no attempt is made, as later epic curiosity would demand, to tell more particularly who and what they were. The situation is the main thing, and it is developed by a method which, evidently, depends upon choral and dramatic conditions. The refrain of the throng is constant; and the action advances not by continuous narrative but by a series of repetitions, in sets of three stanzas, each repetition, however, containing an increment, a new phrase or word to match the new posture of affairs. This incremental repetition is the main mark of old ballad structure; it is woven into the stuff, retained its importance long after the choral conditions which were responsible for it had been forgotten and occurs whenever a situation needs to be expressed in an emphatic form. Only in the long narrative ballads, the chronicles, the pieces that have been submitted to the most urgent epic demands, does this incremental repetition fade away. Moreover, it furnishes the connection with that source of balladry—not of mended ballads—in improvisation and communal composition, with the singing and dancing throng so often described by medieval writers. Studies in old Portuguese popular song show a corresponding growth of interlaced repetitions, in fixed formula, out of choral iteration in the communal dance.  7    14

Note 3. Maid. [ back ]
Note 4. The rimes in this and the next two stanzas are, evidently, disordered. [ back ]
Note 5. Of=by. [ back ]
Note 6. Deprived, parted. [ back ]
Note 7. See H. R. Lang, “Old Portuguese Songs,” in Festgabe für Adolfo Mussafia, Halle, 1905, and his earlier Liederbuch des Königs Denis von Portugal. [ back ]

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  Robin Hood The Maid Freed from the Gallows; The Making of Ballads; General Outlines of Ballad Progress  
 
Loading
Click here to shop the Bartleby Bookstore.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2014 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors