Basic Poetics – Ballads – (Barbara Allen & The Baffled Knight)

Allen Ginsberg on Percy’s Reliques and the Child Ballads continues

AG: “Barbara Allen” is another classic, You’ve all heard of… how many have heard of “Barbara Allen”?.. let’s.. I can’t imagine anyone hasn’t heard of “Barbara Allen” – I think Joan Baez sings that? – Everybody sings that (or every girl that has a guitar – in 1940 every girl that had a guitar sang “Barbara Allen”. And the classic lines are at the very end – “O mother, mother, make my bed,/O make it saft and narrow:/My love has died for me today,/I’ll die for him tomorrow.” – “O mother, mother, make my bed” is sort of the feminine equivalent of the…
Student: “Lord Randall
AG: “Lord Randall”… And.. (it was a tolerant humor that “Lord Barnard” had when he repented, I thought, it’s amazing, a sort of objectivity, an tolerant humor and then an objectivity, how should he arrange the corpses).

Apparently, the young boy has insulted Barbara Allen and then he’s dying, and she comes to his deathbed, and she hectors him for having slighted her, and he turns his face to the wall and dies, and then she goes home to her mother, and says, “O mother, mother, make my bed, my boyfriend died for me, now I’ll die for him”. Obviously, a long story that is not being told there, I mean, it’s a long novel. So it’s reduced just to the simplest archival moments within it.


Then, The Baffled Knight” a funny one, page one –oh-one. The rhythm in that, the rhythm in that is kind of interesting, That’s what I was picking up in that particular one. The plot is that the knight meets a lady in a hayfield, wants to make her, and she says, ok, if you take me home to my father’s castle, you can shall enjoy my maidenhead and  estate and all sir”. So he takes her home, she goes home, locks herself in her castle and lassos him. And the moral of the story is, as she says, “And if you meet a lady gay as you go by the hill, sir/if you will not when you may, you shall not when you will, sir” – So, the rhythm, it took me a little while to figure that one out – “And-if-you-meet-a-lady-gay-as-you-go-by-the-hill-sir/, if you will not, when you may, you shall not when you will, sir”,because I was reading, ” if you will not..”.. “if you will what..”..”if you will not/ when you may/, you shall not..”, or whatever… but, then I figured “”if you will not when you may, you shall not when you will, sir” – then it falls into place – do or don’t..

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seven-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately ten-and-a-half minutes in]

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