Welcome to The British Literary Ballads Archive, a site dedicated to a unique genre of literary imitations of traditional ballads. The site contains a growing archive of over 700 poems, as well as short biographical sketches of the poets who wrote them.

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A. C. Swinburne (1837-1909)


English poet, born in London. He grew up on the Isle of Wight, and spent summer holidays at Capheaton Hall in Northumberland, the house of his grandfather, Sir John Edward Swinburne, 6th Baronet (1762-1860). There is no doubt that the poet’s strong interest in the traditional ballad and his mastery of the ballad language was nurtured by this time in Northumberland, which he considered to be his native county; his intense emotional attachment is reflected in “Northumberland” and other poems. Among his works are a three-volume series, Poems and Ballads (1866, 1878, and 1889), the first of which, in particular, contains his best as well as the most notorious poems, works which focus on masochism, the femme fatale, and repudiation of Christianity, as in “Dolores” and “Hymn to Proserpine”.

Swinburne’s unfinished edition of traditional ballads was published in 1925 by William A. MacInnes as Part I of Ballads of the English Border, Parts II and III being the poet’s own imitations based on tradition. Part I consists of 23 pieces, to each of which the poet attached a note, indicating how he collated the existing versions and how often he interpolated his own creations. MacInnes makes an explicit reference to Swinburne’s editorial involvement: “From 1858 onwards, Swinburne had the definite aim in view of re-writing certain ballads and here he utilised every available version and shred of a theme. By skilful interpolation of stanzas from various renderings and by adding or substituting his own interpretation when necessary, he succeeded in reconstructing a number of ballads which could easily deceive the most sceptical critic of their authenticity” [A. C. Swinburne, Ballads of the English Border, ed. William A. MacInnes (London, 1925) viii]. However that may be, Swinburne is one of the most prolific literary balladists in history, the others being Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) and Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936).    (M. Y.)

 

1.After Death
2.The Bloody Son
3.A Ballad of Burdens
4.The Ballad of Dead Men’s Bay
5.Border Ballad
6.The Bride’s Tragedy
7.The Brothers
8.Burd Margaret
9.Duriesdyke
10.The Earl of Mar’s Daughter
11.Earl Robert
12.A Fragment of a Border Ballad
13.A Jacobite’s Exile
14.A Jacobite’s Farewell
15.The King’s Ae Son
16.The King’s Daughter
17.Lady Isabel
18.Lady Maisie’s Bairn
19.Lord Scales
20.Lord Soulis
21.A Lyke-Wake Song
22.May Janet
23.A Reiver’s Neck Verse
24.The Sea-Swallows
25.The Tyneside Widow
26.Wearieswa
27.The Weary Wedding
28.Westland Well
29.The Winds
30.The Witch-Mother
31.The Worm of Spindlestonheugh