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Analysis Of The Ballad Sir Patrick Spens

744 words - 3 pages

Traditional Scottish ballads encompass some of the most haunting and beautiful poetry ever composed. From 1500-1765, some of the authors of the poetry are anonymous, making it all the more striking. In this time period, society operates in a feudal system containing many divisions of rank and power. Kings, lords and knights have lives of luxury and leisure, while those of lower rank such as sailors and peasants are duty bound to obey the higher ranks, even die for them. The ballad, “Sir Patrick Spens”, portrays various kinds of power involving the forces of nature, the king, the knight and the captain Sir Patrick Spens.

In the first stanza the audience meets the powerful king, who “sits in Dumferling town,/Drinking the blood-red wine” (1-2). Kings sit on thrones and hold court, but this king apparently occupies the entire town, signifying how places become identified with powerful political figures. The blood-red wine is found early in the ballad foreshadowing the king's careless decisions, which result in the deaths of innocent people. He rules as though he does not care for his people, but only himself. For instance, when the king quickly acquires a captain to sail on knowingly treacherous seas. He carelessly neglects to meet this best sailor. Furthermore, the king completely ignores the safety concerns of the mission. He selfishly wants the mission done regardless of the consequences. The king is impervious that he is sending his best sailor and the ship's men into an extremely life threatening situation. Moreover, it is a powerful sign of the king’s indifferent wielding of power, sending his subjects off to pointless deaths on fool’s errands.

The king proposes to “get a good sailor/To sail this ship of mine” (3-4). An elder knight who "Sat at the king's right knee"(6) pipes up to volunteer someone for the sailing task. The knight may have been a warrior once, but is now just another courtier. The elder knight offers up Sir Patrick Spens as “the best sailor,/That sails upon the sea” (7-8). This elder knight uses his power to influence the king to choose Sir Patrick Spens. The king then commands Sir Patrick...

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