Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In the same way that the ballad is brief yet dense with symbolic exchanges, the historical events of “Fight,” which last only an instant, raise questions of great historical scope. A quarrel that might be no more than an anecdote soon forgotten—“the gypsies again, the same old story”—is rendered as a reenactment of centuries of violence stretching back to the first wars in Europe. This particular fight thus becomes like a refrain in a much longer ballad. One might dismiss it wearily, as the judge seems to do. He sees that this story could be rewritten, but he can only read back in time, always arriving late.

The balladeer, however, always arrives in time; the story is yet to be sung to an audience that is waiting to learn it. As this story takes shape, one is invited to repeat and learn, and also to pause and wonder: Do human beings determine their own actions, or are those actions only the repetition of historical rivalries? Would a keener attention to the refrains that human beings learn so effortlessly provide a fundamental knowledge of what drives them, as well as their stories, forward?

The force of weapons carefully crafted to kill, of myth, superstition, ubiquitous images of death upon a cross, popular belief in angels of death, a history of war after war, and rumors in the air, ever present as incitements, all play roles in the story. The perspective of the balladeer seems limited indeed on such a crowded stage. Yet that...

(The entire section is 523 words.)