Spontaneous Poetics (Ballads) – Helen Adam 3 (Edward & The Wife of Usher”s Well)

“Edward, Edward”, Child Ballad 13 – sung and performed by Raymond Crooke

HA: Oh here it is [looking through Norton Anthology]. Uh-huh. This one is eerie too – “The Wife of Usher’s Well”.

AG: Before you get to it, what do you mean by “eerie”?

HA: “Eerie” is uncanny

AG: Uh-huh

HA: It’s always that Scots word, “eerie”.

AG: Why are ballads uncanny? Is that a characteristic of ballads?

HA: Not all of them. No, some of them are very practical but they move in and out of the supernatural world all the time, and this I like because again it hints at more than the story is really saying.

AG: There’s one other thing that you said the other day which was that the ballads had no conscience or mercy.

HA: No conscience. No, absolutely merciless. No, nobody is going to let anybody off, and, as for forgiving people’s sins, Christian, they’re absolutely pagan. Nobody ever turns the other cheek or anything like that. It’s just swipe their heads off at one blow if they’re your enemy.

AG: So they’re definitely realistic that way. Totally empty of amy kind of attachment.

HA: Uh-huh, I have to find a nice savage one. Well, actually, there is this gorgeous “Edward, Edward” one, which sort of goes with “Lord Randal” – You know that one, of course?

AG: Yeah.

HA: Should I do “The Wife of Usher’s Well” then..?

AG: Yeah, whatever. “Edward, Edward” is kind of long.

HA: Yes, well, perhaps..

AG: Give a stanza or two of “Edward”, so we hear the..

HA: Well, I just..

AG: It’s also a classic.

HA: Yes, it is a classic. It’s almost the same thing as “Lord Randal”, but it begins – “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.” – and then, the lovely line – “Your haukis bluid was never sae reid,/ Edward, Edward…”  Well, anyway, he goes on saying what he’s killed, and he’s really killed his father, because of the.. his mom.. the end is so terrific. When she, again, is doing this greedy Scotch trick of what he’s going to give to the various members of his family, this seems to matter more, then she says –
“And what wul ye leive to your ain mither, deir,/ Edward, Edward?/And what wul ye leive to your ain mither, deir?,/ My deir son, now tell me O.”/ The curse of hell frae me sall ye bear,/ Mither, mither,/ The curse of hell frae me sall ye beir,/ Sic counseils ye gave to me O.” – And so the mother has really been asking him to kill the father, you know..and he’s not going to forgive her.

AG: So it’s a totally intractable situation.

HA: It exactly is.   Now, well this (next) is “The Wife of Usher’s Well”

“The Wife of Usher’s Well ” (Child Ballad, 79) – sung and performed by Steeleye Span (lead vocal – Maddy Prior)

AG: That also was (‘s form too, that “Edward, Edward” (and) “Lord Randal”  – “What have you seen, my blue-eyed son?”

HA: Well Dylan is in the real ballad tradition, you know. He could have been a reincarnation of some of those old balladeers from the ancient world.  [Helen Adam, then, proceeds to sing all 12 verses of “There lived a wife at Usher’s Well,/] And a wealthy wife was she/ She had three stout and stalwart sons/ And sent them o’er the sea…” – I love the thought. I can see the peat fire-place and the glow of the fire and the beautiful girl there and the three ghosts.
And now I’d like to read one of my own, Allen…

AG: Yeah (but) before we jump to that..

HA: Yeah uh-huh

AG: …since I was assigning..

HA: I was just thinking…

AG: ..how about… what is the structure metrically?

HA: I really don’t know, you know. I’m totally ignorant of metrical structure. I just do it by ear.

AG: Does anybody here know how to count by meter?, know how to make a ballad? In this case, it’s generally, basically. Duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah.  “Duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah“. So it’s…

HA: Yeah

AG: ..a four-line..or four-beat, three beat, four beat, three beat – because four lines. Four-three, four-three (as far as the main accents). There’s a lot of syncopation…

HA: Um-hum

AG: …like, in the last poem you read ..where was that?

HA [looking through the Norton Anthology]: Where did that go?  Bear with me.. No I didn’t.. I must have.. I don’t think I have a mark or any…

AG: Because in the next-to-last stanza had a pretty good… where is that?…yeah, I’ve got it – “The cock doth craw,/ The day doth daw,/ The channerin’ worm doth chide/ Gin we missed out o’ our place/ A sair pain we…  How do you do it?

HA: “A sair pain we maun bide”.

AG: “A sair pain we…” So the “pain” isn’t accented.  “A sair pain we maun bide”. So you can shift back and forth. So it’s total syncopation, jazzed up.

HA: Uh-huh

AG: But it’s, basically, your paradigm, or the structure, or the bones on which you can hang it, or the skeleton is..

HA: I love the thought of the worms getting impatient – “The channerin’ worm doth chide”.

AG: “the channerin’?

HA: “The channering – it’s angry.

AG: [consulting the Norton Anthology] – It’s fretting, it says here.

HA: Yeah, it’s fretting, it’s gnashing its teeth, sort of. I mean, they all are.

AG: So does anybody have any question about the shape, or the rhythmic problem, the rhythmic scene, you can all handle that?

Student: Is it iambic, Allen?

AG: Well, duh-dah, duh-dah, that’s iambic. But you can vary it. “Dah-duh-dah“. It basically would be duh-dah, duh-dah. That’s iambic.  Soft-hard, soft-hard, soft-hard, soft-hard – first line – soft-hard, soft-hard, soft-hard.

Student: How about the rhyme scheme?

AG: Well – “daw – chide – place – bide” –  so, actually, there’s only two rhymes there – “dear – lass”. See, you only have to rhyme the second and fourth lines. This is the same meter That (Samuel Taylor) Coleridge used for..

HA: Uh-huh

AG: The Ancient Mariner..Yeah. “All in a hot and copper sky…“duh-dah duh-dah duh-dah“.

HA: Yeah

AG: “Furrow followed free”… or whatever..

HA: Uh-huh

AG: So does anybody have any problem with that particularly?  That form?  How many people here have written that kind of poetry before?

[Several students raise their hands]

HA: Oh quite a few

AG: How many have never tried to write a rhymed metrical form?.. How many have never written any poetry?…How many have never tried to rhyme metrical poetry? Please raise your hands. How many have tried to rhyme? [Another show of hands] So, the majority. Most everybody has experienced it.

HA: Uh- huh

AG: Terrific. Okay. No problem.

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