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New York Folklore Quarterly, Vol. VIII, No. 4, Winter 1952

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NEW YORK FOLKLORE QUARTERLY
Vol. VIII, No. 4, Winter 1952

THE STORY OF A CATSKILL BALLAD
Norman Cazden

IN THE study of folk music in the United States, one segment of the immense body of traditional song has been given perhaps undue attention. That is the group of songs which stem from ballads of English-Scottish origin. Commonly these are identified as “Child Ballads” after the noted Francis James Child, whose monumental research and classification have become standard references. Rarely has it seemed necessary to question the premises, the methods, or the perspectives of Child’s teachings. The student of balladry tends to adopt these without further examination, and rests content if he has located and identified one more version of, say, Barbara Alien.

Two of the ballad strains in the Child collection relate to the tragedy of Yarrow. Certain questions about these strains arise in tracing the background of a version of the Yarrow tragedy found in the song tradition of the Catskill Mountain area of New York State. Our analysis suggests that these particular ballad strains need to be re-interpreted. But in addition, the approach and method used may point up some theoretical weaknesses to which ballad scholarship has been peculiarly subject. Principal among these weaknesses has been the neglect of historical content, and of the formal-poetic reflections of that content, which alone give ballads their social and artistic viability and justify an interest in balladly that is more than a search for antique curiosities....


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