Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bluebeard and the Child Ballads

Bluebeard Tales From Around the World

Bluebeard Tales From Around the World also contains several Child Ballads. Why? Here's an excerpt from my introduction:

The second section of this collection is comprised of many of Child’s ballads classified commonly as Child Ballad 4: Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight which fits most comfortably in the ATU 955 classification, but not perfectly. This is not the most accurate name for this family of ballads found in many areas across Europe, but it is the most convenient thanks to Child’s influence. This ballad group is considered to be one of the largest. Over the many decades of folklore scholarship, connections and relations between this ballad family and Bluebeard variants have been discussed. While some scholars believe the connections between the tales and the ballads to be tenuous, there are also many who consider them to be closely related despite their differences. While it is certainly debatable how much Perrault’s Bluebeard was influenced by the ballad group, it is easier to suppose a relation between it and many of the literary tales, especially those classified as ATU 311 and ATU 955. Francis Child makes the following point in his discussion of the ballad group:

In places where a ballad has once been known, the story will often be remembered after the verses have been wholly or partly forgotten, and the ballad will be resolved into a prose tale, retaining, perhaps, some scraps of verse, and not infrequently taking up new matter, or blending with other traditions. Naturally enough, a ballad and an equivalent tale sometimes exist side by side.
Child offers examples of this phenomenon by referencing several works including that of Anton Birlinger whose three Bluebeard related tales have been newly translated for this collection.
Despite whichever theory dominates, the ballads bear some comparison to the Bluebeard tales and so representative examples are provided here for just such an exercise. Unfortunately, the examples are from the United Kingdom and North America since the oldest known versions, especially the Dutch “Ballad of Heer Halewijn,” are not readily available in English translation. However, a prose version of the tale from Belgium is given as “Wine-Crust, the Blue-Beard of Flanders” in this collection. To learn more about the ballad group, I highly recommend Holger Olof Nygard’s book, The Ballad of Heer Halewijn (1958).
And since we are here, I will share one of the ballads, May Colven, variant 4C:

1. FALSE Sir John a wooing came
To a maid of beauty fair;
May Colven was this lady’s name,
Her father’s only heir.

2. He wood her butt, he wood her ben,
He wood her in the ha,
Until he got this lady’s consent
To mount and ride awa.

3. He went down to her father’s bower,
Where all the steeds did stand,
And he’s taken one of the best steeds
That was in her father’s land.

4. He’s got on and she’s got on,
And fast as they could flee,
Until they came to a lonesome part,
A rock by the side of the sea.

5. “Loup off the steed,” says false Sir John,
“Your bridal bed you see;
For I have drowned seven young ladies,
The eight one you shall be.

6. “Cast off, cast off, my May Colven,
All and your silken gown,
For it’s oer good and oer costly
To rot in the salt sea foam.
7. “Cast off, cast off, my May Colven,
All and your embroiderd shoen,
For they’re oer good and oer costly
To rot in the salt sea foam.”

8. “O turn you about, O false Sir John,
And look to the leaf of the tree,
For it never became a gentleman
A naked woman to see.”

9. He turnd himself straight round about,
To look to the leaf of the tree;
So swift as May Colven was
To throw him in the sea.

10. “O help, O help, my May Colven,
O help, or else I’ll drown;
I’ll take you home to your father’s bower,
And set you down safe and sound.”

11. “No help, no help, O false Sir John,
No help, nor pity thee;
Tho seven king’s-daughters you have drownd,
But the eight shall not be me.”

12. So she went on her father’s steed,
As swift as she could flee,
And she came home to her father’s bower
Before it was break of day.

13. Up then and spoke the pretty parrot:
“May Colven, where have you been?
What has become of false Sir John,
That woo’d you so late the streen?

14. “He woo’d you butt, he woo’d you ben,
He woo’d you in the ha,
Until he got your own consent
For to mount and gang awa.”

15. “O hold your tongue, my pretty parrot,
Lay not the blame upon me;
Your cup shall be of the flowered gold,
Your cage of the root of the tree.”

16. Up then spake the king himself,
In the bed-chamber where he lay:
“What ails the pretty parrot,
That prattles so long or day?”

17. “There came a cat to my cage door,
It almost a worried me,
And I was calling on May Colven
To take the cat from me.”

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