Critical Analysis of Sir Patrick Spens Ballad
In this essay I have chosen Sir Patrick Spens poem as my long quote and I will critically explain each section of the poem to draw some dipper meaning. A ballad is a poem that tells a story. Sir Patrick Spens is an ancient ballad that expounds on the role of fate on mortals. It addresses two major thematic concerns, the autonomy of fate in the destiny of human beings secondly it engages into a discourse humanity; people are born and they ought to die at some point in life. The overt themes are interconnected; it is, therefore, valid to say that life, death, and humanity are inseparable. Sir Patrick Spens historical setting appeals to reality; the famous shipwreck off the coast of Aberdour near Papa Stronsay Island.
The ballad commences by presenting the main characters King Dumferling Scotland, although he is immobile his actions will cause other people to move. This allusion will attempt to answer why the king ordered Spens to sail at such a hazardous period; the sailor questioned the reason behind this errand after he received the letter that was signed by the king;( line 18-20) the sailor uses a rhetorical question to engage the audience regarding the kings deeds, what was the kings ultimate motive that led him towards settling on such a critical decision, “This ill deid don to me, To send me out this time o’ the year, To sail upon the sea? A question arises on the role of power and how leaders can twist the fate of their subjects, this is further emphasized in the second line where it is affirmed that he controls the lives of his subjects besides he further sends them to death and finds it as easy just as one might drink a glass of wine. As the poem develops, the king needs a competent sailor he settles on Sir Patrick Spens this is ironical, it serves both as an honor, but foreshadows an impending danger to his fate. Despite him being good, his allegiance and good virtues are unable to rescue him. Fate is a force that no one can escape it is tied to the location of someone. This errand is further reaffirmed by an elderly knight who is of a similar high social status; he acclaims the sailor of his prowess (line 7-8)”Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor that sails upon the sea, the king has written a braid letter “. According to Karl Marx theory of literary criticism ( Marx ,112)illuminates on the social conflict of the proletariat and bourgeoisie in a sociological setting ,those in power tend to oppress th eir subjects although Spens is not willing to go, his status betray him ;tied to his fate he finally gives in and embarks on the journey.
At this point, the ballad presents covert themes such as rivalry and self-conflicts. After receiv ing the letter and laughs at it mockingly the journey had been indeed assigned to him, he finds humor in it and sees it as a joke; it depicted a turn of events as planned by fate, alluding to the Oedipal fate that was vividly destructive .”To send me out this time o’ the year, to sail upon the sea?”(Line 19-20) hint information concerning weather being rather perfidious
, although this is a critical matter of life and death they have to heed to the call of authority; this is double tragedy bad weather meant that the journey might be cataclysmic and they had no choice but heed to the voyage.
The men heed the call as required, terrified they make merry but this is situational irony, they just have to do it unwillingly. In the lines 23-27,”O say na sae, my master deir, For I fear a deadlie storme”The sailor speaks out, at last, the thematic concern of disillusionment comes out he his grieved and wishes that the master may talk back his words.The sailor sees the old moon in the hands of the new moon; this is symbolic of a bad omen that awaits them in the journey ahead, he wishes that the king could ultimately take back his words. The sailor and the crew’s awful fate has been made through the bad weather and the king’s decision on him. The malevolent omen predicts bad weather and the sailor’s distress, it for shadows that the ship and its crew will be harmed.
Ironically Spens nobility has brought his downfall, his good deeds are recognized but have bred his downfall, as aforementioned alluding to Oedipal crisis, and his upright skills led him close to his date with fate. The sailors are likened to figurines in the hands of nature. In the lines 33-36…the ladies await their men to return, as the poem ends their men lay, the fans are symbolic of the vanity of human wishes, the weather is uncontrollable, the mention of “hand’ is symbolic, the king’s hand took part in initiating their death. At the end of the poem, the ship is wrecked in the storm. There is a twist of events, and the knight sits at the king’s knee.
Ballads often tell of tragedies; death is present as an overt theme and a dominant force in the poem, it is a force that is tied to the human destiny.Death takes a different turn and also personified by the symbol of a king drinking blood on his throne although he is immobile, its power is immense and once it knocks the call is irreversible, evident through the king’s order. The sailor could not defy, The persona speaks through the poem creatively addressing the interconnectedness of death in a unique way, it comes to anyone regardless of the social status.
The poet employs rich literary devices in the poem, making the audience attentive to know what will take place, irony has been vastly used to bring out the uncertainties that come with fate, and natural will. Symbolism has also been used to develop the major thematic concern the bad omen is tied with death and fate. Humanity lacks control over this immense powers and with great disillusionment no matter how optimistic one is, having a handshake with death is paramount, whether it breeds good or bad deeds for the future its power surpasses the human will.
Sir Patrick Spens (1980) pp 394
Karl Marx(2012)Introduction to Marxist Economics (reprint)pp 112