Is this poem overfamiliar? Is everyone tired of it? The Overfamiliar Object has a way of becoming the Unknown Object: one glances at it, sure of what it is, then looks away impatiently, and so it escapes us.It’s there: forget about it! But how did it get there? Why does it haunt us—this one—Sir Patrick? – Richard Moore, Iowa Review
‘Sir Patrick Spens’ is the story of disaster at sea—a maritime ballad that has inspired and attracted audiences for centuries. In addition to the continual anthologizing, teaching, and singing of the ballad itself, elements of the ballad can be traced in consequent “afterlife” works of poetry, music, prose, film, and fine art.
Although its historical origins and authorship is unclear, ‘Spens’ remains one of the most read and anthologized of the British popular ballads. Even if ‘Spens’ did not directly inspire later ocean narratives it is surely an early source to this vast flow. This online exhibit is an exploration of the afterlife of the ballad and the elements in ‘Spens’ that are so powerful and enduring that they continue to haunt us after all these years.