A Ballad To Remember

100_2012

Way back in the dinosaur days when I was in college, I wrote a lengthy term paper about English and Scottish ballads. The reason this song, If I Die Young by The Band Perry (available in Amazon digital music) fascinates me is because it has all the elements of a true English ballad. I think it’s haunting and lovely, both the words and the music:

If I die young bury me in satin,
Lay me down on a bed of roses,
Sink me in the river at dawn,
Send me away with the words of a love song.

Here are the classic symbols of romantic love, emphasizing her youth and beauty and the future she never got to have. Most ballad subjects are about love, and death, the present and the future, sadness and the promise of that sadness being lifted in the future.

_____________________

Lord make me a rainbow, I’ll shine down on my mother.
She’ll know I’m safe with you when
She stands under my colours, oh and
Life ain’t always what you think it oughta be, no
Ain’t even grey, but she buries her baby.

She speaks as though she’s already passed on, alternating with still being live—like one foot on the earth and one foot already in heaven. Concern about the survivors, and a celestial omen that might appear in order to provide comfort.

_________________________

The sharp knife of a short life,
Well, I’ve had just enough time.

The sharp knife, a homey and simple image, not only for her mother but for herself, that it hurts not to have had much time on earth but it’s ultimately all right. No cause of death is mentioned, but that isn’t the focus of this ballad.

__________________________

And I’ll be wearing white when I come into your (God’s) kingdom.
I’m as green as the ring on my little cold finger
I’ve never known the lovin’ of a man

But it sure felt nice when he was holding my hand

She has died a pure virgin, not because of prudishness but because there wasn’t enough time for the right man to come along.

______________________________

There’s a boy here in town says he’ll love me forever

Dispassionate statement, no indication that she felt he was the right one.

___________________________

Who would have thought forever could be severed by

The sharp knife of a short life,
Well I’ve had just enough time….

What I never did is done.

Just enough time because of God’s will, sadly not enough for the romantic love she would have wished for.

______________________________

A penny for my thoughts, oh no I’ll sell them for a dollar.
They’re worth so much more after I’m a goner,
And maybe then you’ll hear the words I been singin’
Funny when you’re dead how people start listenin’.

The canny, wise girl-woman who sees backward and forward at the same time. Wisdom gained both before and after her early demise.

_____________________________

…the ballad of a dove
Go with peace and love
Gather up your tears, keep ’em in your pocket
Save ’em for a time when your really gonna need ’em oh

The prescience of the newly dead, a common belief in old times. Don’t grieve excessively for me, let go and move on with your lives.

_______________________________

The sharp knife of a short life,
Well I’ve had just enough time
So put on your best boys, and I’ll wear my pearls

Prepare for the kingdom of heaven. Also an implied hint that perhaps one of those “boys” might be the right man for her, in God’s kingdom.

_____________________________

A beautiful, perfect ballad.

About Julia French

Writer of contemporary horror fiction.
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