Thursday, October 23, 2008


My older son (age 10) is part of a poetry group whose similarly-aged members meet monthly and recite for one another. Recently, another mom and I have started taking turns talking to the kids about a form in poetry when recitations are finished. Having had an excellent introduction to haiku last month, the kids learned about the ballad at this month's meeting. Since I have a bit of a musical bent, anyway, this seemed to me like a good style into which to delve.

While learning that a ballad, simply put, is a poem that tells a story and is or was meant to be sung, I was fascinated to learn that one of the oldest existing printed ballads is about that heroic figure, Robin Hood. Printed around the late 1400's or early 1500's, "A Gest of Robyn Hode" is almost certainly a compilation of earlier versions of the legends that existed in the oral tradition.

I began, however, with a recording of the song, "The Grey Selkie," as su
ng by the band Solas on their Words that Remain cd, and then gave the kids a simple definition of the ballad. After this, I mentioned the titles of several ballads I knew the kids knew (as they had all sung at least two or three of them in the recent past). The list of traditional ballads is long, but these were the ones I mentioned--

Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier

Oh, Shenandoah
The Rising of the Moon

The Highwayman

Tam Lin
Barbara Allen

A Gest of Robyn Hode

One of the children read a few stanzas from "Robyn Hode," and from there we began to talk about rhyme schemes. The kids were all given a copy of "The Great Selkie of Skule Skerry" from the Evan-Moor book,
Read and Understand Poetry (Grades 5-6+) to figure out what rhyme scheme this particular poem follows (AABB). Then I read a bit from "The Highwayman" and "Casey at the Bat" and had them find the rhymes. From here we went on to discuss other common aspects of ballads, including

regular rhyme schemes (often AABB or ABAB)

regular rhythm

unanswered questions

unhappy and sometimes abrupt endings

dialogue between characters

sparsity of narration

in medias res form of storytelling (pronounced ĭn mē'dē-əs rās, as I found out afterwards with the help of a trusty dictionary)

I left the kids with a challenge to find a news story with which to use their imaginations and the facts to create a story featuring two individuals. They will also need to invent some dialogue between the characters, and use the story and dialogue as the basis for a ballad, relying on the possible components of that form listed above to help them. After creating their ballads, they will hopefully bring them to next month's meeting and share them. Since I challenged them, I suppose this means I should work on one of my own, hmm? Stay tuned. . .

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