NEW YORK FOLKLORE QUARTERLY
Vol. VIII, No. 4, Winter 1952
OF A CATSKILL BALLAD
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these weaknesses has been the neglect of historical content, and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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