Folk & Traditional Music of the Western Continents

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Other characteristics of ballads are also found in this example. We see the use of conceits, that is, of descriptive phrases which appear repeatedly as if they were formulae. Thus, hands are often described as "lily-white" (as are gloves), horses are "milk-white," and so on-Many ballads have refrains, the origins of which are sometimes ob­scure. Flowers, plants, and spices are sometimes mentioned, as in Child I:3
(Verse) Go tell her to make me a cambric shirt (Refrain) Setherwood, sale, rosemary and thyme, (Verse) Without any needle or needle's work, And then she'll be a true lover of mine.
Refrains, incidentally, are a feature of song that is shared by all re­gions of Europe. Some refrains mention dancing or movements that can be interpreted as parts of a dance. Here is an excerpt from "The Two Sisters" (Child 10) :4
There lived an old lord in the North countree (Refrain) Bow down, bow down.
There lived an old lord in the north countree (Refrain) Very true to you. . . .
"Bow down" is thought to be related to dancing. The reason for mentioning this is a theory that the ballad, narrative though it is, began as a dance song type. The name may, of course, be derived from the Latin ballare (to dance), and there is some evidence that ballads were once used as dance songs in medieval Scandinavia. On the Faeroe Islands, between Scotland and Norway, this tradition is still in existence, and lively group dances using the "Faeroe step" (two steps left, one right) may be performed while the dancers sing Nor­wegian ballads. We know of no ballad dancing in the English-speak­ing world, but this practice may once have existed there as well.
A look at the collections of Child or of some of the more recent great American collectors makes it obvious that the differences among variants of one ballad can be tremendous. Take Child 12, the popular "Lord Randall." Randall's name appears in all sorts of vari­ant forms, Randall, Rendal, Lorendo, Durango, William, Tyranty, Nelson, Elson, King Henery, Willie Doo, etc. The person who poisons him may be his sweetheart, his grandmother, or his step-
3 Sharp, English Folk Songs, I, 1.
4 Sharp, English Folk Songs, I, 27.

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