American Ballads and Songs

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persist also. Crossings with other ballads may disorder a song until it remains merely a heap of confused mate­rials. Another song may glide onward from genera­tion to generation keeping the situation—generally a tragic situation—which is its soul; but transforming its phrases and stanzas. Sometimes very old narra­tives, despite their multiform transformations, have in most variants not yet lost their thread of story or become transformed beyond recognition. This is the case in the well-known ballads Lord Randal1 and The Two Sisters.3
On the whole, the influence of folk-transmission is a levelling influence. It conventionalizes according to its traditions. The total effect of its alterations, con­tributions, and curtailments is to bring homogeneity in style and manner of narration. Imported songs, once of totally different character, accommodate themselves to the regional modes and characteristics of their new home. Some effective incident or story, presented in a simple memorable way, commends itself to the folk-consciousness. Gradually it trans­forms itself in agreement with the tastes and traditions of the localities where it becomes domesticated, and sometimes it ends as something quite different from what it was when it began.
It is usual to look upon ballads with some degree of indulgence as verse of a singularly "artless" kind. For that reason those who are in reaction from book verse find in it peculiar pleasure. The truth is, how­ever, that the antithesis should be drawn between poetry of the folk and poetry of culture, not poetry of "art." Art is not the same thing as culture and is not dependent upon it. The mosi^pjimitive people may have its own kind of art. Ballads are often themselves
1 Johnny Randall (No. 1) in thia collection. »No. 4.

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III