Folk ballads have certain common characteristics. The story, which often begins abruptly and moves rapidly, is told as an impersonal narrative, primarily through dialogue and action. The theme is often tragic and the events sensational (though there are also a number of comic ballads). A ballad typically deals with a single episode, with minimal imagery or background information, and little attempt to develop character. Many ballads also have refrains or use the technique of incremental repetition, a rhetorical device in which the same phrase is repeated with progressive variations over the course of the poem. Ballad poets drew their material from community life, from local and national history, and from legends and folklore. Their tales are usually of adventure, war, love, death, violence, betrayal, and the supernatural. In places where the folk ballad remains as a living tradition, the bards not only recite ballads handed down through countless generations, but also compose new ballads along the familiar narrative pattern, though dealing with recent events.
GET UP AND BAR THE DOOR
It fell about the Martinmas time,
And a gay time it was then,
When our goodwife got puddings to make,
She's boild them in the pan.
The wind sae cauld blew south and north,
And blew into the floor;
Quoth our goodman to our goodwife,
"Gae out and bar the door."
"My hand is in the hussyfskap,
Goodman, as ye may see;
An it shoud nae be barrd this hundred year,
It's no be barrd for me."
They made a paction tween them twa,
They made it firm and sure,
That the first word whaeer shoud speak,
Shoud rise and bar the door.
Then by there came two gentlemen,
At twelve o'clock at night,
And they could neither see house nor hall,
Nor coal nor candlelight.
"Now whether is this a rich man's house,
Or whether it is a poor?"
But neer a word wad ane o' them speak,
For barring of the door.
And first they ate the white puddings,
And then they ate the black;
Tho muckle thought the goodwife to hersel,
Yet neer a word she spake.
Then said the one unto the other,
"Here, man, tak ye my knife;
Do ye tak aff the auld man's beard,
And I'll kiss the goodwife."
"But there's nae water in the house,
And what shall we do than?"
"What ails ye at the pudding broo,
That boils into the pan?"
O up then started our goodman,
An angry man was he:
"Will ye kiss my wife before my een,
And scad me wi pudding bree?"
Then up and started our goodwife,
Gied three skips on the floor:
"Goodman, you've spoken the foremost word;
Get up and bar the door."
The folk ballads of the British Isles are often composed in a traditional pattern known as the ballad stanza or ballad...