Poetry 101: Ballad Meter

by courtvanhaaren

I know it sounds funny that there is a particular pattern to a ballad, especially when the only mental image that comes to mind is crying about love in tune. But trust me readers, there is another meter to learn.

Ballad meter: poetic meter that consists of alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter.

Also explained further on to flow like this: daDUM daDUM daDUM daDUM / daDUM daDUM daDUM


If I need to refresh the readers on iambs, an iamb is a poetic foot that consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Tetrameter means four iambs, trimeter means two. If you are like me and need to vocally sound out poetic meters, iamb is a daDUM and the second word tells you how many daDUMs are supposed to be in that line.

Now, this meter is employed in a ballad stanza.

Ballad stanza: A quatrain with the rhyme scheme abcb


It doesn’t sound too daunting. Of course, until the examples come into play.

 Amazing grace! how sweet the sound.
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

(I love Amazing Grace. Maybe a little overused but nonetheless one of my favorites.)

I don’t know what is so hard for me to grasp about iamb meters. Maybe it’s the fact that I just have a hard time getting adjusted to seeing and acknowledging the stress on syllables. There is a part of me that wants to focus on the words only, but words are only a small portion of a poem.

Alas, maybe the section on ballads can help really internalize the flow of iambs. Shmoop states that ballads can be sung to this tune, and even suggested trying to sing to a Dickinson poem. Slightly tempting. (Who am I kidding, very tempting.)

Maybe it’s time to sing some iambs instead of clapping.

~C M VanHaaren