The Demon Lover
The Demon Lover–who returns from the dead in the form of the Devil himself–first emerges as a distinct folklore figure in medieval times, from what I’ve been able to find, but made his first appearance in print in a 1657 broadside ballad. Ballad lyrics were published in this form, on one side of a sheet of paper, for distribution from the sixteenth till the early twentieth centuries. Only the lyrics were published early on because England’s Elizabeth I (reigned 1558-
1603) gave a monopoly on the publication of musical notation to two court musicians. Ballads often dealt in musical form over those centuries with current events; many were written, many more vanished. “The Demon Lover” survived because it was collected in the all-important Child canon–it’s Child Ballad 243.
In the ballad the Demon Lover is a ship’s captain who returns after an absence of seven years to claim “the vow you promised me/To be my partner in life” of his sweetheart. Thinking him dead, she has in the meantime married another man (usually identified as a “house carpenter”) and borne his sons; nevertheless she willingly abandons her husband and sons to go with her former lover, only to learn once they are at sea that he is in fact the Devil and is taking her off to hell with him.
The Demon Lover Summary
The Demon Lover is a ballad. The word ballad is derived from ‘ballare’. Most ballads narrate stories; usually love stories, youth and sometimes bravery. Ballads were written to be sung and there are no authors. Ballads were composed and sung sometimes to the rhythm of a dance and they are usually in the form of four line stanzas of iambic tetrameter (4 feet) and have the charm of the simplicity of the narrative style.
Most ballads are full of “pathos, magical events” and tragic incidents, love stories written in simple diction, and usually transmitted. Hence, there can be slight variations. Characterization is minimal and description brief and conventional. Lord Randal is a popular ballad that consists of all qualities of a good ballad.
The Demon Lover is a love story about a young man who had a lover and after he had been away for seven years, comes back to see his lover but she had got married and having two kids. The man recalled, to the memories of their love affair, their affection and pleaded her to come with him leaving her husband and the two children. The woman being anxious asked him what he would give her if she was to leave her husband and her two children.
He promised to give her seven ships already at sea and the one that brought him to her, where he had twenty-four mariners and music. The turpitude of the man and the woman is clearly depicted in the scene in which she kissed her two children goodbye.After she had boarded the ship she noticed the absence of mariners, sails were made of taffata and the masts were of gold. When the ship had sailed about three leagues the appearance of the man became so ugly and his eyes looked fierce.
The woman noticed that he was cloven-footed-the symbol of a demon – she cried bitterly. The man promised to show lilies growing on the banks of Italy. When she saw some hills with the sun’s rays on them she wanted to know what they were. He told her that they were hills of heaven and that she would never go there.
Then, she spotted some mountains covered with frost and snow. He assured her that they were the mountains of hell where both of them would go. Then he struck the top mast with his hand and the foremast with his knee, Thus he broke the ship into two and sank it to the bottom of the sea. There’s no impunity for the woman.