If you thought a ballad was just a love song, you’re not wrong. A ballad is a type of poem that is sometimes set to music. This type of poetry has a long history and the musical version of it is said to have started as a folk song, This continues today in popular music and many love songs that we know today are considered to be ballads.
Ballad poems are just their musical equivalents: full of romance! (Source: Pexels)
A typical ballad consists of stanzas that contain a quatrain, or four poetic lines.
The meter or rhythm of each line is usually iambic, which means it has one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. In ballads, there are usually eight or six syllables in a line.
Like any poem, not all ballads strictly stick to these rules but even if they don’t, nearly all ballads are narrative, telling a story.
Just like a song, ballad poems have a musical feel to them thanks to their ABAB rhyme pattern.
Characteristics of a Ballad
Again, not all ballads are created equal, but they generally have the same characteristics:
Ballads tend to be quite simple and are easy to read and understand.
There are two kinds of ballads, the folk or the literary:
Folk (or traditional ballad) is a kind of ballad with no written form. It is a verbal sort of poetry that was passed down generations through word of mouth. Throughout the ages it picked up the traits of the time and underwent considerable changes.
The traditional or folk ballad has no single author; it was the product of many poets.
The Literary ballad is an imitation of the traditional ballad. The only difference between the two ballads is the ownership. The author of the literary ballad is a known personality, while the author of the traditional ballad is anonymous.
Unlike the folk ballad, time cannot change the text of the literary ballad as it is preserved in hard copies. The poet is the legal owner of his ballads rather than the folk ballads who are not owned by anyone. Literary ballads then are unsurprisingly more polished and lengthy than traditional ballads.
John Keats, Samual Coleridge, Wordworth and many other poets are famous for their ballads.
Here’s a look at John Keats’s ballad La Belle Dame sans Merci:
La Belle Dame sans Merci
O WHAT can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.
O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms!
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.
I see a lily on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.
I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.
I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look’d at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.
I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.
She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
“I love thee true.”
She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept, and sigh’d fill sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.
And there she lulled me asleep,
And there I dream’d—Ah! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream’d
On the cold hill’s side.
I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—“La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!”
I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.
And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.
You can write your own ballad (Source: visualhunt.com)
We think you know enough now to write your own ballad. Keep in mind what you’ve already read. If it helps you can think of a famous love song for inspiration.
Here are our tips for writing your own ballad:
Ballads are a great way to flex your storytelling skills as well as testing your rhyming skills. If you need some help with writing, whether it’s for an exam, a university dissertation or even if you just want to write as a hobby Superprof tutors can help. You’ll find many tutors on the Superprof website that can adapt lessons to your needs. They are all experienced, knowledgeable teachers and can help you reach your goals.