Raw Emotion
An Anthology of Ballads
Karen L, editor

My personal love for poems with perfect rhyme and rhythm springs most probably from my childhood over-exposure to tapes of Raffi songs, Mother Goose Rhymes, and Sesame Street renditions of poems. My family would play those tapes on long car trips, to camping sites and even to Disneyland.  Perhaps I now subconsciously connect those poems with feelings of childhood security.  I have always distinctly enjoyed ballads, poems with the perfect rhyme and rhythm of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes.

Although many of the poems I enjoy today are more diverse in rhyme and meter than those of my childhood, I have chosen to collect traditional ballads so that everyone who reads them can enjoy their comforting repetition as I do. This form of poetry is described as having rhyming four-line stanzas. Each line has a set number of feet, or beats. Most ballads have three to four feet per line, as all do in this book.

Because ballads have regular rhythm, they are fairly easy for the audience to read straight through, without puzzling over odd line breaks and difficult phraseology. Ballads read more like prose work than most other forms of poetry, such as haiku and sonnets. It is therefore an especially good form of poetry for stating facts, stories and ideas, as many of these authors do.

Ballads, with their perfect rhyme and meter, closely resemble songs, without the music. The regular beats to music are very similar to the recurring pattern of four and three-foot lines in ballads. The reason that both musical lyrics and ballad poetry are so easy and enjoyable to listen to is because repetition is one of the most pleasing sounds to the human ear. Though perhaps subconsciously, the brain tends to relax when listening to phrases and combinations that go together, as rhyming words do. This is why rhyming poems sometimes have the ability to induce sleepiness, and often, like "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," deal with night - the brain does not need to work hard to search for a beat, and is not surprised by frequent non-rhyming lines. Many lullabies are in fact ballads set to a simple tune, such as "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

The compilation of various poems alike in form serves a definite purpose: to allow the reader to compare how the combination of perfect meter and rhyme is fitted to the content of each poem. In this collection of ballads, though the poems vary greatly in content, from the morbid reality of Osbert Sitwell’s "The Blind Pedlar" to the comic ridiculousness of Lewis Carroll’s "Jabberwocky," each is suited to the rhythm and rhyme a ballad offers.

Though it seems unlikely that one form of poetry could fit so many poems of varying origin and subject, the balladic rhyme and meter perfectly complement each poem in this compilation. In "To An Athlete Dying Young," the combination of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed mimics a human heart beat, as does the pulsating regularity of four-feet lines, occuring in most stanzas of the poem.

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honors out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man. (17-20)

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on it curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s. (25-28)

The playful rhyme and regular rhythm of "I’m Nobody! Who Are You?" suggests a young, light-hearted speaker, as does the content of the poem. In "Knocked Up," though the meter is similar to that in all other ballads, the author uses phonetic contractions to give the impression of an American Southern accent. The use of slang and purposeful grammatical error is also perfectly fitted to that of a country bum. The sing-song rhythm fits the sense of a Southern drawl, and carries the tone of a man who knows his low position in society and is satisfied with that knowledge.
They whine o’ lost an’ wasted lives in idleness and crime –
I’ve wasted mine for twenty years, and grafted all the time
And never drunk the stuff I earned, nor gambled when I shore –
But somehow when yer on the track yer life seems wasted more. (9-12)
The authors represented in this book vary in every aspect, ranging from famous poets Langston Hughes and Emily Dickinson to lesser known. They are male, female, black, white, American, British, living, and dead. As diverse as these authors are, the poems vary in content even more. For example, "The Purple Cow" is a cute nonsense poem in one stanza, while "A Psalm of Life" is a deep reflection on such issues as "life is real -- life is earnest --/and the grave is not its goal."(5-6) In this collection there are war poems, poems commemorating lost loves, symbolic poems, uplifting poems, poems that give advice, and poems that merely state a fact or story. Though each is very different, I hope that the collection as a whole will delight and inspire the reader as well as demonstrate the variety of uses of a seemingly basic form of poetry.
Table Of Contents
"Jabberwocky" Lewis Carroll
"The Pater of the Canon" Shane Leslie
"Knocked Up" Henry Lawson
"I’m nobody! Who are you?" Emily Dickinson
"Preëxistence" Frances Cornford
"The Purple Cow" Gelett Burgess
"The Blind Pedlar" Osbert Sitwell
"A Psalm of Life" Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
"Dreams" Langston Hughes
"Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" Robert Frost
"The Cap and Bells" William Butler Yeates
"The Hippopotamus" Thomas Stearns Eliot
"The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd" Sir Walter Raleigh
"My Lady’s Grave" Emily Brontë
"To An Athlete Dying Young" A. E. Housman