The Ballad; Definition, Characteristics and Examples

Ballad Poem Definition

The word ‘Ballad’ has been derived from the French word ‘Ballare’ meaning ‘to dance’. Fundamentally, “a ballad is a poem that tells a fairly simple story” (narrative). Thus a story is what a ballad trying to convey Ballads are often used in songs & have a musical quality in them.

How Many Stanzas in a Ballad?

Ballad Stanza, the most famous type of ballad has four stanzas. The basic form of the ballad is iambic heptameter (seven sets of unstressed & stressed syllables per line), in sets of four with the second & fourth line rhyming. The rhyme scheme of the ballad is usually abab or aabb.

13 Characteristics of a Ballad

  • It is a song that tells a story.
  • The beginning is often surprising.
  • Its language is simple.
  • It concentrates on a single episode.
  • The theme is often tragic & sad.
  • The story is told through dialogue & action.
  • It lacks specific detail.
  • It has a surprising ending.
  • It includes some sort of repeated lines.
  • It has rarely moral.
  • It has 4-line stanzas, the first & third lines have four stresses & fourth line has three stresses.
  • It has an orientation, complication & resolution.
  • It can have a question & answer format. One stanza presents the question & the next stanza answers the question.

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  • Language in Ballad
    • It includes language that focuses on actions & dialogues.
    • It includes language that indirectly conveys information about the characters, relationships.
    • It is often written in third or first person.
    • Generally, abac, aabb, abbc is ballad rhyme scheme.
    • It has a regular beat structure.
    • It is often written in complete sentences.
    • It includes language that conveys a particular mood.
  • 2 Types of Ballad
    • Folk Ballads

Folk ballads were originally composed by anonymous singers & were passed down orally from generation to generation before they were written down. The English Folk Ballads we read today took their present form probably in the 15th century.

  • Literary Ballads

Literary Ballads are the imitation of the ballad. The difference between the traditional ballad & the literary ballad is that the authors of Traditional Ballads are unknown whereas Literary ballads are composed & written down by known poets usually in the style of folk ballads.

  • Famous Ballad Poems
    • La Belle Dame Sans Merci by John Keats
    • Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth
    • The Ancient Mariner by ST Coleridge