Border ballads, like all traditional ballads, were traditionally sung unaccompanied. There may be a repeating motif, but there is no "chorus" as in most popular songs. The supernatural is a common theme in border ballads, as are recountings of raids and battles.
The ballads belong to various groups of subjects - such as riding ballads like Kinmont Willie, historical ballads like Sir Patrick Spens, and comic ballads like Get Up and Bar the Door
Representative samples include "Thomas the Rhymer" (aka "True Thomas", "Thomas of Erceldoune"), which opens in the Scottish town of Erceldoune (modern Earlston, Berwickshire); and the very famous "Tam Lin".
A.L. Lloyd said of the ballads:
"The bare rolling stretch of country from the North Tyne and Cheviots to the Scottish southern uplands was for a long time the territory of men who spoke English but had the outlook of Afghan tribesmen; they prized a poem almost as much as plunder, and produced such an impressive assembly of local narrative songs that some people used to label all our greater folk poems as 'Border ballads'."
- Cohen, Anthony P. (2000). Signifying Identities: Anthropological Perspectives on Boundaries and Contested Values. London: Routledge. p. 123.
- Beattie, William (1952), Border ballads, Penguin, retrieved 12 May 2013
- About this book - inside front cover of Beattie, William (1952), Border ballads, Penguin, retrieved 12 May 2013
- Lloyd, A.L. (2008). Folk Song in England. London: Faber and Faber. p. 150.
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