Sir Patrick Spens Questions and Answers

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One version of "Sir Patrick Spens" replaces lines 37-40 with the following stanza:  the ladies crack's their fingers white, the maidens tore their hair, a' for the sake o' their true loves, for them they ne'er saw mair. Which version is more effective? In that same version of the ballad, the stanza that about the king (lines 41-44) precedes the stanzas about the ladies (lines 33-40). Which version makes a better conclusion?  What are some examples of understatement (or, in a slightly different way of putting it, things unsaid) in this ballad?

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Medieval ballads like "Sir Patrick Spens" were originally sung by traveling scops who sang these poems at feasts and banquets. Because this poem was written in what we call the oral tradition, the written versions of the poem do not always match perfectly; it is always interesting to see the variances between translations and to consider the impact of those changes on meaning. 

The two stanzas you mention are both found at the end of the narrative. The Scottish king has requested that the best sailor in his kingdom, Sir Patrick Spens, sail his ship, even though the weather is not conducive to a successful journey. The noble Spens only hesitates for a moment, despite the fact that he knows this is likely to be his last voyage. Next we see the hats of Spens and his crew of noblemen, floating on the top of the water after they have drowned. The final two images of the poem are the wives of the noblemen, ladies waiting in their finery for their husbands who are never coming home to them,...

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