Ballad Poems

Ballads developed from 14th and 15th-century minstrelsy. The minstrel, a traveling performer, could be a musician, acrobat, singer, or any other type of entertainer. As the decades and centuries progressed, the word “minstrel” narrowed to mean someone who sang songs. However, the connection to the ballad is evident when one considers that minstrels usually performed songs that told stories of mythical people, history, and folk customs to the commoners within an area.

The Romantic period saw a massive revival in the ballad form as poets began to appreciate poetry written for the masses – and not just the super-elite aristocrats.

Ballads, usually have thirteen lines with varying rhyme schemes, and often have frequent rhyme. This rhyming makes the poem more musical and memorable. Plus, as folk songs, ballads are usually suitable lyrics for dance tunes.

So, whether you’re in the mood for a legendary tale, a story about a historical event, or the legend of a mythical hero, these best ballads of all time will not disappoint.

An Eastern Ballad

by Allen Ginsberg

‘An Eastern Ballad’ by Allen Ginsberg is published in his collection “Collected Poems 1947-1980.”  Ginsberg, the central figure of the

As I Walked Out One Evening

by W.H. Auden

‘As I Walked Out One Evening’ by W. H. Auden is a poem about the unconquerable nature of death and the imperfect nature of love. This piece was first published in 1940 in the poet’s collection Another Time.

Auld Lang Syne

by Robert Burns

‘Auld Lang Syne’ is a poem that addresses old acquaintances and the memories associated with them at the end of a year. It is a famous poem that is sung all across the world.

Ballad of Birmingham

by Dudley Randall

Ballad of Birmingham’ by Dudley Randall is a moving narrative of the last moments of a little girl murdered in a church bombing.

“Mother dear, may I go downtown

Instead of out to play,

And march the streets of Birmingham

In a Freedom March today?”


by Langston Hughes

‘Cross’ by Langston Hughes uses a stereotypical image of a biracial man to explore identity and the inequalites one might encounter.

Expostulation and Reply

by William Wordsworth

‘Expostulation and Reply’ a ballad, written by William Wordsworth, tells the story of Matthew, dissuading the speaker (William) from idling away his precious time in “wise passiveness” or simply daydreaming.

"Why, William, on that old gray stone,

"Thus for the length of half a day,

"Why, William, sit you thus alone,

"And dream your time away?

He ate and drank the precious words

by Emily Dickinson

‘He ate and drank the precious words’ by Emily Dickinson is an uplifting poem. It celebrates the joys of reading by describing one man’s experience.

He ate and drank the precious words,

His spirit grew robust;

He knew no more that he was poor,

Nor that his frame was dust.

Heart, we will forget him! By Emily Dickinson

by Emily Dickinson

‘Heart, we will forget him!’ by Emily Dickinson is a keen observation of the aftermath of a powerful love affair and how it will, or will not, be “forgotten.”

Heart, we will forget him!

You an I, tonight!

You may forget the warmth he gave,

I will forget the light.

Holy Thursday (Songs of Experience)

by William Blake

‘Holy Thursday’ by William Blake depicts the poor children of London attending church on Holy Thursday. Specifically, Blake describes their songs, appearance, and how their existence challenges the message the church is trying to convey.

Is this a holy thing to see, 

In a rich and fruitful land,

Babes reducd to misery,

Fed with cold and usurous hand?

How Happy I Was If I Could Forget

by Emily Dickinson

‘How Happy I Was If I Could Forget’ by Emily Dickinson contains a narrator’s confused thoughts and experiences. She uses complex grammar and imagery to convey it further.

How happy I was if I could forget

To remember how sad I am

Would be an easy adversity

But the recollecting of Bloom

Hymn to the New Omagh Road

by John Montague

‘Hymn to the New Omagh Road’ by John Montague is a poem that uses the construction of a new road to show the influence of modernization on County Tyrone.

I cautious, scanned my little life

by Emily Dickinson

‘I cautious, scanned my little life’ by Emily Dickinson is a clever, metaphorical poem that addresses change and one’s legacy. The poet struggles to understand her changed attitude towards her literary accomplishments after a period of time has elapsed. 

I cautious, scanned my little life –

I winnowed what would fade

From what would last till Heads like mine

Should be a’dreaming laid.

I dwell in Possibility

by Emily Dickinson

‘I dwell in Possibility’ by Emily Dickinson is a short, memorable poem. It explores themes of writing, specifically poetic writing, and the power it has.

I dwell in Possibility –

A fairer House than Prose –

More numerous of Windows –

Superior – for Doors –

I Gave Myself To Him

by Emily Dickinson

‘I Gave Myself To Him’ by Emily Dickinson is a clever love poem. It gives the readers a glimpse of the intensity of a relationship between the speaker and her subject.

I gave myself to Him --

And took Himself, for Pay,

The solemn contract of a Life

Was ratified, this way --

I measure every Grief I meet

by Emily Dickinson

‘I measure every Grief I meet’ by Emily Dickinson is a dark and depressing poem. The poet explores the nature of grief and how loss is unavoidable.

I measure every Grief I meet

With narrow, probing, eyes –

I wonder if It weighs like Mine –

Or has an Easier size.

I saw no Way – The Heavens were stitched

by Emily Dickinson

‘I saw no Way – The Heavens were stitched’ by Emily Dickinson depicts heaven and the afterlife. The poet thoughtfully explores how she feels about the breadth of the universe.

I saw no Way—The Heavens were stitched—

I felt the Columns close—

The Earth reversed her Hemispheres— I

touched the Universe—

I Started Early – Took my Dog

by Emily Dickinson

‘I Started Early – Took my Dog’ by Emily Dickinson personifies the sea. Dickinson depicts it as a lover and alludes to her speaker’s fears in regard to sex and love.

I started Early – Took my Dog –

And visited the Sea –

The Mermaids in the Basement

Came out to look at me –

I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed

by Emily Dickinson

‘I tasted a liquor never brewed’ by Emily Dickinson celebrates life. The poet uses natural imagery, such as that of berries, and pearls, to depict it.

I taste a liquor never brewed –

From Tankards scooped in Pearl –

Not all the Frankfort Berries

Yield such an Alcohol! 

I Years had been from Home

by Emily Dickinson

‘I Years had been from Home’ by Emily Dickinson is a thoughtful poem that speaks to one’s perceptions and fears of change. 

I Years had been from Home

And now before the Door

I dared not enter, lest a Face

I never saw before 

If you were coming in the Fall

by Emily Dickinson

‘If you were coming in the Fall’ by Emily Dickinson is a meaningful poem about true love and a speaker’s willingness to wait for her lover to return.

If you were coming in the fall,

I'd brush the summer by

With half a smile and half a spum,

As housewives do a fly.

In this short life that only lasts an hour

by Emily Dickinson

‘In this short life that only lasts an hour’ by Emily Dickinson is a thoughtful, short poem. It is about how little we can control in our everyday lives.

In this short Life that only lasts an hour

How much - how little - is within our power


by Countee Cullen

‘Incident’ by Countee Cullen describes a terrible incident from the poet’s youth that occurred when he was happily visiting Baltimore. 

It sifts from Leaden Sieves

by Emily Dickinson

‘It sifts from Leaden Sieves’ by Emily Dickinson is a beautiful nature poem. The poet explores the way that a fresh snowfall can reframe the whole world.

It sifts from Leaden Sieves -

It powders all the Wood.

It fills with Alabaster Wool

The Wrinkles of the Road -

It was not Death, for I stood up

by Emily Dickinson

‘It was not Death, for I stood up’ by Emily Dickinson is a thoughtful poem about understanding depression. Specifically, the speaker is interested in understanding herself.

It was not Death, for I stood up,

And all the Dead, lie down -

It was not Night, for all the Bells

Put out their Tongues, for Noon.


by Sara Teasdale

‘Moonlight’ is a short lyrical poem by Sara Teasdale that uses various literary devices to depict the sorrows of a troubled youth.

Mr. Nobody

by Anonymous

‘Mr. Nobody’ by Anonymous is a clever children’s poem that shifts the blame for all mischief and messes over to an unknown entity– Mr. Nobody. 

My Life Closed Twice Before Its Close

by Emily Dickinson

‘My life closed twice before its close’ by Emily Dickinson uses heartbreak as a metaphor for death. She also experiments with the meaning of “closure.”

My life closed twice before its close—

It yet remains to see

If Immortality unveil

A third event to me

She rose to His Requirement—dropt

by Emily Dickinson

‘She rose to His Requirement – dropt’ by Emily Dickinson speaks to the lack of freedom and respect women had in Dickinson’s time. It emphasizes the confining nature of marriage and society’s expectations for a married woman.

She rose to His Requirement—dropt

The Playthings of Her Life

To take the honorable Work

Of Woman, and of Wife—

Something Told the Wild Geese

by Rachel Field

‘Something Told the Wild Geese’ by Rachel Field discusses geese, and other animals, reactions to signs of winter. The poem takes place in summer and warns against being unprepared and dwelling on unhappiness. 


by Sara Teasdale

‘Stars’ by Sara Teasdale is a beautiful and easy-to-read poem. In it, Teasdale spends five stanzas describing and appreciating the stars in the sky. 

And a heaven full of stars

Over my head

White and topaz

And misty red;

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