"Apples Of Gold For The King's Daughter"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: In their search for inspiration that might give poetry a new foundation, the Romantic poets frequently turned to the Middle Ages where they discovered the almost forgotten traditional ballad. The ballad was adopted as a medium through which the nineteenth century poet could create a literature of mysteriously enchanting beauty such as Keats' "La Belle Dame sans Merci" or Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner." Swinburne, more than any other British poet, came to the ballad tradition with an ear for the rhythm and an eye for the form; as a result, he created literary ballads that are unique in English poetry, for they capture the primitivism of the traditional ballad as well as their form and brevity of expression. This poem, one of his most successful ballads, is a chant in which nine sisters give their gifts to the daughter of the king, their niece; the unlimited jealousy that the women still have because they were not chosen by the king's son slowly unfolds as the gifts become more and more curses.

We were ten maidens in the green corn,
Small red leaves in the mill-water:
Fairer maidens never were born,
Apples of gold for the king's daughter.
We were ten maidens by a well-head,
Small white birds in the mill-water:
Sweeter maidens never were wed,
Rings of red for the king's daughter.