'The Ballad Of A Bachelor' by Ellis Parker Butler

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Century MagazineFebruary 1897Listen, ladies, while I sing
The ballad of John Henry King.John Henry was a bachelor,
His age was thirty-three or four.Two maids for his affection vied,
And each desired to be his bride,And bravely did they strive to bring
Unto their feet John Henry King.John Henry liked them both so well,
To save his life he could not tellWhich he most wished to be his bride,
Nor was he able to decide.Fair Kate was jolly, bright, and gay,
And sunny as a summer day;Marie was kind, sedate, and sweet,
With gentle ways and manners neat.Each was so dear that John confessed
He could not tell which he liked best.He studied them for quite a year,
And still found no solution near,And might have studied two years more
Had he not, walking on the shore,Conceived a very simple way
Of ending his prolonged delay--A way in which he might decide
Which of the maids should be his bride.He said, "I'll toss into the air
A dollar, and I'll toss it fair;If heads come up, I'll wed Marie;
If tails, fair Kate my bride shall be."Then from his leather pocket-book
A dollar bright and new he took;He kissed one side for fair Marie,
The other side for Kate kissed he.Then in a manner free and fair
He tossed the dollar in the air."Ye fates," he cried, "pray let this be
A lucky throw indeed for me!"The dollar rose, the dollar fell;
He watched its whirling transit well,And off some twenty yards or more
The dollar fell upon the shore.John Henry ran to where it struck
To see which maiden was in luck.But, oh, the irony of fate!
Upon its edge the coin stood straight!And there, embedded in the sand,
John Henry let the dollar stand!And he will tempt his fate no more,
But live and die a bachelor.Thus, ladies, you have heard me sing
The ballad of John Henry King.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Ballad of a Bachelor: A Classic Poem Worth Remembering

Oh, the joys of being a bachelor! The freedom, the excitement, the endless possibilities! Ellis Parker Butler captured the essence of the bachelor life in his classic poem, "The Ballad of a Bachelor." Published in 1896, the poem tells the story of a young man who vows never to marry, preferring instead to live a carefree life of adventure and romance. But, as with all good poems, there is more to "The Ballad of a Bachelor" than meets the eye. In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language of this timeless piece of literature.

The Themes of "The Ballad of a Bachelor"

At its core, "The Ballad of a Bachelor" is a poem about the joys and pitfalls of romantic love. The speaker of the poem, a young man who has never been married, extols the virtues of bachelorhood, declaring that he has "no wife to bother me / Or tie me to her will." He roams the countryside, enjoying the company of women but never staying too long in one place. He cherishes his freedom, his ability to come and go as he pleases, and his lack of responsibility.

But as the poem progresses, we begin to see cracks in the speaker's philosophy. He meets a woman who is unlike any he has ever encountered, and he is drawn to her. She is "a little thing o' smiles an' snifters," with a "laugh like a ripple on a sunny stream." He is smitten, but he resists the pull of love, reminding himself of the joys of bachelorhood. He declares that he will never marry, that he will never be tied down.

But as the poem draws to a close, we see that the speaker's resolve is beginning to falter. He realizes that he is not as content as he once was, that his carefree attitude is beginning to ring hollow. He longs for the companionship of the woman he met, but he fears the loss of his freedom. In the end, he is left with a sense of longing and uncertainty, unsure of what path to take.

The themes of "The Ballad of a Bachelor" are universal and timeless. We can all relate to the speaker's desire for freedom and adventure, but we also understand the longing for love and companionship. The poem speaks to our deepest desires and fears, reminding us that life is a delicate balance between the two.

The Imagery of "The Ballad of a Bachelor"

One of the most striking aspects of "The Ballad of a Bachelor" is its vivid imagery. Butler uses a variety of metaphors and similes to bring the speaker's world to life, painting a picture of a carefree, romantic existence.

In the opening stanza, the speaker describes himself as a "rover," a "gypsy," and a "tramp." He is a free spirit, unencumbered by the trappings of society. He is a "butterfly," flitting from flower to flower, sampling the sweetness of life. The imagery here is light and airy, evoking a sense of movement and freedom.

As the poem progresses, however, the imagery becomes more complex. When the speaker meets the woman who captures his heart, he describes her as a "rosy apple on a high limb" and a "bird a-flutter." These metaphors suggest both the woman's beauty and her unattainability. She is like a fruit that is just out of reach, tempting but impossible to grasp.

Later in the poem, the imagery takes on a darker tone. The speaker describes himself as a "caged bird," trapped by his own desires. He realizes that his freedom is an illusion, that he is as much a prisoner of his own needs as anyone else. This image, coupled with the earlier metaphor of the woman as a bird, creates a sense of inevitability. The speaker is drawn to the woman, but he knows that he cannot have her without sacrificing his freedom.

The imagery of "The Ballad of a Bachelor" is both beautiful and haunting. Butler uses it to create a world that is at once enchanting and dangerous, a place where the joys of love are tempered by the fear of loss.

The Language of "The Ballad of a Bachelor"

The language of "The Ballad of a Bachelor" is simple and direct, but it is also full of nuance and subtlety. Butler uses a variety of techniques to convey the speaker's emotions and ideas, from alliteration and assonance to repetition and rhyme.

One of the most striking features of the poem's language is its use of repetition. The refrain of "Never wed, never wed, never wed," echoes throughout the poem, reminding us of the speaker's vow of bachelorhood. This repetition creates a sense of finality, of something that cannot be undone. We know that the speaker will not marry, no matter how much he may long for love.

Butler also uses rhyme to great effect in "The Ballad of a Bachelor." The poem is written in ballad form, with four-line stanzas that follow an ABCB rhyme scheme. This gives the poem a musical quality, making it easy to read aloud and remember. The rhyme also creates a sense of closure, of each stanza coming to a definitive end.

Another technique Butler uses is alliteration. In the second stanza, he writes, "I roam the whole world over, / A rover gay am I." The repetition of the "r" sound creates a sense of movement and energy, evoking the speaker's free-spirited nature. Similarly, in the fourth stanza, he writes, "I've been a gypsy, a tramp, a rover." The repetition of the "p" and "r" sounds creates a sense of rhythm and momentum, suggesting the speaker's restless wanderings.

The language of "The Ballad of a Bachelor" is deceptively simple. Butler uses a variety of techniques to create a poem that is both easy to read and emotionally resonant.


"The Ballad of a Bachelor" is a classic poem that deserves to be remembered. Butler captures the essence of the bachelor life, with its freedom and romance, but he also explores the deeper themes of love and loss. The imagery of the poem is striking, evoking a world that is both enchanting and dangerous. The language is simple but full of nuance and subtlety, using repetition, rhyme, and alliteration to create a musical quality. In the end, "The Ballad of a Bachelor" is a timeless work of literature that speaks to our deepest desires and fears.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Ballad of a Bachelor: A Classic Poem of Love and Loss

Ellis Parker Butler's "The Ballad of a Bachelor" is a classic poem that tells the story of a young man's search for love and his eventual heartbreak. The poem is written in ballad form, with a simple and repetitive structure that emphasizes the theme of the poem: the futility of the bachelor's search for true love.

The poem begins with the bachelor's declaration that he is "a merry bachelor" who is "free to come and go." He is confident in his ability to find love and is not afraid to pursue it. He sets out on his search, traveling far and wide in search of the perfect woman.

The bachelor's search takes him to many different places, from the mountains to the sea. He meets many women along the way, but none of them are the one he is looking for. He describes each woman he meets in detail, highlighting their physical beauty and their charms. However, he always finds some flaw in them that makes him realize they are not the one he is looking for.

Despite his many failures, the bachelor remains optimistic. He believes that he will find true love eventually and continues his search. However, as time goes on, he begins to feel more and more alone. He realizes that he has been searching for so long that he has become a "gray old man" with no one to share his life with.

The bachelor's loneliness is compounded by the fact that he sees other couples around him who have found true love. He envies their happiness and wonders why he cannot find it for himself. He begins to feel that his search is futile and that he will never find the love he is looking for.

The poem reaches its climax when the bachelor finally meets the woman of his dreams. She is everything he has been looking for: beautiful, charming, and kind. He falls deeply in love with her and believes that she feels the same way about him. However, his happiness is short-lived. The woman tells him that she is already engaged to another man and that she cannot be with him.

The bachelor is devastated by this news. He realizes that his search for love has been in vain and that he has wasted his life pursuing something that he could never have. He becomes bitter and cynical, declaring that "love is a dream that is never true."

The poem ends with the bachelor's realization that he has been a fool. He sees that he has been chasing an impossible dream and that he has missed out on the real joys of life. He decides to give up his search for love and to live his life as a contented bachelor, free from the pain of unrequited love.

In conclusion, "The Ballad of a Bachelor" is a classic poem that explores the theme of love and loss. It tells the story of a young man's search for true love and his eventual heartbreak. The poem is written in ballad form, with a simple and repetitive structure that emphasizes the futility of the bachelor's search. The bachelor's journey takes him to many different places and introduces him to many different women, but he never finds the love he is looking for. In the end, he realizes that his search has been in vain and that he has missed out on the real joys of life. The poem is a cautionary tale about the dangers of pursuing an impossible dream and the importance of appreciating the simple pleasures of life.

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