Thomas Hardy's ballad-narratives and the ballad tradition



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Thomas Hardy's ballad-influenced narrative poems modify the traditional thematic and technical resources of previous ballads in ways which reveal the poet's characteristically modern psychological concerns. By establishing a contrapuntal tension between generic "ballad expectations" and the content of his own ballads, he comments ironically on traditional ballad treatment of themes like revenge and romantic love. Hardy's ballads on such themes are both more realistic and better attuned to subtle emotional nuances than his folk-ballad models; similarly, he rejects the sensationalism and didacticism of the broadside ballads, treating conventional broadside subjects with emotional realism, humane sympathy, and unconventional moral insight. Hardy's ballads use traditional ballad storytelling conventions to narrate mental, rather than physical, action; they depart from traditional ballad impersonality by their use of individuated first person narrators who explain their motives and emotions; and they successfully incorporate traditional ballad narrative techniques like repetition and question- and-answer in order to emphasize the difficulties of human choice and the mysteries of human emotion.