Ethnomusicologists Steve Roud and Julia Bishop described it as “far and away the most widely collected song in the English language — equally popular in England, Scotland and Ireland, and with hundreds of versions collected over the years in North America.”
The ballad generally follows a standard plot, although narrative details vary between versions. Barbara Allen visits the bedside of a heartbroken young man, who pleads for her love.
She refuses, claiming that he had slighted her at a prior affair; he dies soon thereafter.
Barbara Allen later hears his funeral bells tolling; stricken with grief, she dies as well