Ballad, not Ballade

by courtvanhaaren

You know, ballads are another example of my own personal stigma of poetry. I don’t know if the musician in me just refused to acknowledge the poetic form of ballads – seeing the word ballad on sheet music as I enthusiastically played straight quarter notes doesn’t help the mental image either. It’s just a weird concept to explain I suppose. (EDIT: As I searched for ballad examples, it comes to show that the literary ballad is not the first thing people think of either. We shall change that here!)



A story in a song, usually a narrative song or poem. Any form of story may be told as a ballad (not to be confused with a ballade), ranging from accounts of historical events to fairy tales in verse form. It is usually with foreshortened alternating four- and three-stress lines (‘ballad meter’) and simple repeating rhymes, and often with a refrain.

A popular kind of narrative poem, adapted for recitation or singing; esp., a sentimental or romantic poem in short stanzas. (X)


The first thing I notice in this definition is the fact that there is another form of meter that I get to struggle with. (post of ballad meter to soon be followed). Even so, the second thing I notice that is probably more important is the term ballade.

I have honestly never heard of a ballade before. (In my mind the pronounciation is bah-lahd. Sounds fancy. More than likely incorrect. Ask me if I care.)


The ballade is a verse form typically consisting of three eight-line stanzas, each with a consistent metre and a particular rhyme scheme. The last line in the stanza is a refrain, and the stanzas are followed by a four-line concluding stanza (an envoi) usually addressed to a prince. (The ballade should not be confused with the ballad.) The rhyme scheme is therefore usually ‘ababbcbC ababbcbC ababbcbC bcbC’, where the capital ‘C’ is a refrain. There are many variations to the ballade, and it is in many ways similar to the ode and chant royal. There are instances of a double ballade and double-refrain ballade. Some ballades have five stanzas; a ballade supreme has ten-line stanzas rhyming ababbccdcD, with the envoi ccdcD or ccdccD. A seven-line ballade, or ballade royal, consists of four stanzas of rhyme royal, all using the same three rhymes, all ending in a refrain, without an envoi.

A form of French versification, sometimes imitated in English, in which three or four rhymes recur through three stanzas of eight or ten lines each, the stanzas concluding with a refrain, and the whole poem with an envoy. (X)


That entire definition gives me a headache. If I was to take bets on which form I would complain about more, I would definitely go with the ballade. Looking into the similar forms (chant royal and ode) it looks like I can do a segment on french poetry. Therefore the ballade (maybe bah-lahd is right then) shall wait.

Moving on.

Ah yes, the ballad. The history behind the form is actually pretty neat. Ballads were one of the first forms of verbal story telling, finally transitioning to the page in the thirteenth century.” By the 15th century, the easy-to-write ballad served as a commoners’ alternative to the more formal, courtly sonnet” (X)

That last line, my loves, is very promising.

Also very promising is the aspect of story telling. Yes, expression is fun but story telling is my safe zone. Even so, I am currently only planning to read and comprehend the style before I attempt to compose a ballad. (I still need to work on sonnets after all.) Expect a mix of both to keep things interesting as I pick up blogging and poetry again!

~C M VanHaaren