"A major academic work that is also brilliantly, clearly, humanely, and poetically written. It can be enjoyed not only by ballad and bawdry scholars but by everyone who picks it up." -- Kenneth S. Goldstein, University of Pennsylvania, former president of the American Folklore Society
"Toelken's insights . . . are unique. His study broadens and deepens scholarly appreciation of how folksong metaphors carry their own semantic weight. . . . One of the best expressions of the power of music in folksong that I have seen in recent years." -- James Porter, author of The Traditional Music of Britain and Ireland
In this lively exploration of folksongs and their meanings, Barre Toelken looks closely at riddle songs and other ambiguous folksongs, as well as the various "ballad commonplaces." Ranging through metaphors such as weaving, plowing, plucking flowers, and walking in the dew, Toelken shows how each contributes to meaning in vernacular song. He includes comparisons to German folksongs, medieval poetry, Italian folk lyrics, and a wide range of Euro-American vernacular expression.