Lord Randal is a traditional popular ballad written in the late Middle Ages. Its text is part of a volume written in ca 1710 and published in the “English and Scottish Popular Ballads”.
The ballad tells the story of Lord Randal who went hunting in the woods with a hawk and hounds. In the woods he met his true love who gave him eels fried in a pan. Lord Randal ate the eels and gave the leftovers to his hawk and hounds, but since the fish was poisoned, they all died.
This poem tells about some important characteristics of the popular traditions and habits at the time. For example, hunting was a resource for living and hawks and hounds were helping the hunter to find the game. The lack of a horse and the fact that he goes on foot is a hint to the fact that this is a very old ballad. On the other hand, the woods described as a mysterious and magic place brings the poem as back as to the Celtic tradition.
The poem is composed of ten stanzas of 4 lines. Each of the first six stanzas contains an alternation of information and sound: the first and third lines of each stanza contribute information to the plot while the second and forth stanzas provide the sound pattern through repetition. The third line of each of the first six stanzas contains a key-word, respectively: greenwood, true-love, eels fried, hawks and hounds, they died, poisoned. The climax, or turning point, of the story lies in the sixth stanza when Lord Randal realizes he’s been poisoned and this affects the tone of the dialogue between the main character and his mother in the last four stanzas of the poem. And in fact, in the last four stanzas Lord Randal, who is dying, makes his oral testament and this is a typical device of the ballad. The testament made by the dying person is not written, but oral.
The rhyme scheme is regular and in all quatrains it is ABAC. Because this is a ballad which was originally sung to a simple instrumental accompaniment, the rhyme scheme was very important to give more musicality to the composition. The regularity of it helped the listeners to learn it quick and thus focus on the plot development.
The nouns used are concrete and their purpose is to describe the simple events of the story. The scope of the ballad is in fact not that to look into the characters personality and feelings. What is important in this type of poem is not the content, but the musicality given by the rhymes and the sound quality.