Skip to content

Barbara Allan Essay Topics

Why a rat with a bomb to illustrate poetry? Why not? Poetry can be a tricky topic to teach. Part of the problem is that students do not see the connection between their favorite songs and poetry. Here are some assignments that I have used in my own classroom to increase student interest in poetry.


This document is a collection of some of my favorite songs (country, classic rock, hymns, modern hits, etc.) that have lyrics worthy of analysis. In my classroom I have this document printed out and bound, so students can flip through it and select a song they would like to analyze. Then we find common literary terms in the lyrics and analyze the song as a poem.


Possibly the best ballad ever written, "Bonny Barbara Allan" tells the story of a slighted lover, who takes the ultimate revenge:  not kissing her boyfriend to save his life. This ballad is great for teaching dialect, symbol, alliteration, and other poetic devices. I also enjoy pairing it with another ballad "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" from the songbook.

To this day, ballads are still enjoyed by some individual although, many generations ago they were at the very heart of amusement. They were passed on orally, centring interesting subjects such as tragic love. Typically, ballads are fairly simple, they do no tend to focus on characterization, they have a rapid dialogue, they are usually in the form of quatrains, and rhyming in abcb.

The poem "Bonny Barbara Allan" is a typical ballad since it follows the norm by applying four major elements; it is written in quatrains, has an abcb rhyming scheme pattern, rapid dialogues, and a lack of characterization.

Throughout the poem, some words' importance are emphasized by stresses such as in this stanza "slowly, slowly raise she up" gives us the impression that even as we read, it becomes slower and slower. Furthermore, we can identify easily the tragic love present which is again another typical element of ballads.

We can notice this element especially in these two particular quatrain:

"O it's I'm sick, and very, very sick,

And 'tis a' for Barbara Allan:"

"O the better for me ye's never be,

Tho you heart's blood were a spilling. (Line 13-16)

"O dinna ye mind, you man," said she,

"When ye was in the tavern a drinking,

That ye made the healths gae round and round,

And slighted Barbara Allan?" (Line 17-20)

In her stubbornness, Barbara Allan refuses to forgive Sir John Graeme for not toasting to her health even knowing he was ill. She left him to die without complete peace, she held this grudge against him until he passed away. Despite the grudge she held, her love was genuine and consequently chose to die for John. The action of dying for him is not written word for word although, we are not left...