American Ballads and Songs

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XL The interest in floating pieces that linger from generation to generation in popular song is partly literary and partly sociological. They have no salient historic value but they convey clear impressions of a state of society. On the surface there is difference for different generations and for different regions, in song modes, types of plots, types of characters, and social views. Below the surface appears the same round of simpler feelings, jealousies, ambitions, disappointments, characteristic of human nature in all periods. Impres­sive stories or situations are set forth in simple types of verse. Occasionally the interest of the student of literature lies in flashes of poetic value or suggestions of wistful beauty. He comes upon passages of unex­pected charm. More often it is the unconsciousness /and frankness of the narrative, the total suppression of comment and of superfluous matter, that appeals to the reader, by virtue of the contrast which it affords with book verse. This frank unconscious note which is the chief source of their appeal belongs par excellence to the middle period of a ballad's history. Sometimes the earliest texts are complex, then simplification ap­pears, dramatic situations are brought into the fore­ground, superfluous details are lopped off, and links drop from sight. Only the simpler and more impressive stanzas are preserved. Some instances in point are Jemmy and Nancy {Pretty Nancy of Yarmouth) and The Babes in the Wood. The original text of Pretty Nancy, with its references to "The Barbados Lady," is semi-literary and has as many as 288 lines. Its derivative from the Appalachian region telling of "the perbadus lady"1 is on its way toward incoherent trash. Bishop Percy's text of The Babes in the Wood
1 Campbell and Sharp, English Folk Songs from the Southern Ap­palachians, No. 53.