Write an essay analysing three contrasting examples of one poetic genre, paying close attention to conventions, techniques and idiom.
The Ballad is a poetic genre usually used to convey a particular narrative. It is one of the oldest poetic forms in English poetry, originating in the medieval times. However, a revival of the form occurred during the 19th century which is also known as the “romantic period”. A poet would consider this form of poetry when trying to convey a story or to raise an ethical or political issue for the reader to ponder. Originally, this form of poetry was meant to be set to music, meaning the poetry in this genre oftentimes contains a musical quality. In strict ballads, the poem contains alternate lines of four and three beats in stanzas of four or “Quatrains”. However, because a ballad is more concerned with the oral aspect of poetry, ballads lack the formal consistency as some other poetic forms. To further explore the ballad as a poetic genre, this essay will examine and analyse three different poems, written by different poets and differing themes. The poems referenced are John Keats’ ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci. A Ballad’, Amy Levy’s ‘A Ballade of Religion and Marriage’ and Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Ballade of Reading Gaol’.
John Keats poem; ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci. A Ballad’ tells the tale of a knight who fell in love with a beautiful woman, “a faery’s child” who seemed to reciprocate his love but left him alone on a “cold hill’s side” . This narrative style is typical of a ballad. It also includes themes of the supernatural, unrequited love, tricks/jests, chivalric characters and beautiful women which are all also typical characteristics of the ballad. The poem contains 12 quatrains, each with alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and trimeter. This obeys the normal conventions of poetic ballad writing. However, the fourth line in each stanza is shortened slightly. This technique is used to slow down the poem, adding to the over-all melancholic feel of the ballad. It is a line cut too short, which reflects the love between the knight and the woman with the “wild wild eyes”. The deliberate interference of the form is a by-product of the ‘Romantic Period’ where poets rebelled against the obsession of order and strict form of the 18th Century. There is also an inclusion of idiom in this poem. When asked why he is so “woe-begone”, the knight is described as having a “lily on thy brow”. This idiom isn’t particularly a popular one, however, one interpretation can mean that the knight had death on his mind as lilies are often associated with death. The placement on the “brow” would represent what he would be pondering, and being so devastated, one would assume such thoughts of death are not too far a stretch when attempting to understand the idiom.
While John Keats’ ballad tells a tale, Amy Levy’s poem ‘A Ballade of Religion and Marriage’ instead conveys a moral message. Although not a story narrative, this poem still fa...