Glossary Home Poetic Forms

Ballade

A ballade is a medieval and Renaissance verse form that is distinct from the far more common “ballad.” It was commonly used in France during the 13th-15th centuries. 

Although the words are pronounced similarly and are nearly spelled the same, a “ballade” is not a “ballad.” Readers should make sure to note the differences between the two forms below.

The form fell out of popular use for centuries but was revived in the 19th century by poets like Algernon Charles Swinburne, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and more. Examples of ballades, and more, can be explored below. 

Ballade pronunciation: buh-lahd

Ballade in Poetry Definition and Examples


Ballade Definition 

Ballades are a medieval and Renaissance form of poetry written between the 13th and 15th centuries. Although the form has largely fallen out of popular use, there are a few great examples from the 19th century and on that demonstrate how modern writers were inspired by traditional verse

Ballades follow a specific rhyme scheme of ABABBCBC in the first three stanzas and BCBC in the final stanza. They do not need to use a specific metrical pattern, but writers often choose to employ one. The final line of each stanza was often a refrain, meaning that the poet repeated a line in its entirety. This added to the overall musicality of the poems (which were often set to music).  

Form of a Ballade 

Ballades follow a structured form. Writers should seek to conform to as many of these rules as possible when writing ballades: 

  • Four stanzas 
  • Three eight-line stanzas (octaves
  • One four-line stanza is known as an “envoi.” 
  • Consistent meter and rhyme scheme
  • The last line of the stanzas is a refrain
  • The rhyme scheme is usually: ABABBCBC ABABBCBC ABABBCBC BCBC
  • The final “C” rhyme of each stanza is the refrain
  • The “B” line of each stanza usually stretched to fourteen words. 


Examples of Ballades 

Ballade of the Optimist by Andrew Lang 

Ballade of the Optimist’ is a commonly cited example of a ballade. It follows the rhyme scheme associated with this form: ABABBCBC and the appropriate structure. Here are the first few lines: 

Heed not the folk who sing or say

In sonnet sad or sermon chill,

“Alas, alack, and well-a-day,

This round world’s but a bitter pill.”

Poor porcupines of fretful quill!

Sometimes we quarrel with our lot:

We, too, are sad and careful; still

We’d rather be alive than not.

The words “say” and “day” rhyme as do “chill,” “pill,” “quill,” and “still.” The final line, “We’d rather be alive than not,” is used as a refrain, as one can expect with ballades. The final four lines follow the same rhyme scheme as the traditional ballade form, rhyming BCBC. The stanza, known as an envoi, also contains the refrain. 

Explore Andrew Lang’s poems.

Ballade of Good Counsel by Geoffrey Chaucer

‘Ballade of Good Counsel’ is another good example of a ballade written in English. Chaucer chose to use a rhyme scheme known as “ballade royal.” This is a variation of the traditional ballade form that is commonly associated with Chaucer’s verse. It uses four seven-line stanzas and does not use an envoi. These poems are written in iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed. For example: 

Flee fro the prees and dwelle with sothfastnesse;

Suffyce unto thy thing, though it be smal,

For hord hath hate, and climbing tikelnesse,

Prees hath envye, and wele blent overal.

Savour no more than thee bihove shal,

Reule wel thyself that other folk canst rede,

And trouthe thee shal delivere, it is no drede.

In keeping with the original ballade form, Chaucer uses a refrain. The line “And trouthe thee shal delivere, it is no drede” is used at the end of every stanza.

Read more Geoffrey Chaucer poems

Ballade or Ballad? 

As noted above, ballades and ballads are different forms. The latter can follow a few variations but is commonly thirteen lines long with a rhyme scheme of ABABBCBC and fourteen syllables. Another common form includes four-line stanzas that follow a rhyme scheme of ABCB and use alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter

Both forms are often set to and were inspired by music. Ballads were first conceived of as performance songs, and ballades were set to music during the height of their popularity. A famous example of a ballad is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.’ The first two stanzas read: 

It is an ancient Mariner,

And he stoppeth one of three.

‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,

Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,

And I am next of kin;

The guests are met, the feast is set:

May’st hear the merry din.’


FAQs 

What is a ballade? 

A ballade is a musical verse form that originated in medieval and Renaissance French poetry. These poems use a rhyme scheme of ABABBCBC for the first three stanzas and BCBC in the final stanza. They also use a refrain in the last line of every stanza.

Are ballads and ballades the same thing?

No, although these two verse forms are nearly spelled the same and are both often set to music, they are different. Ballades originated in France and are longer, usually containing three eight-line stanzas and one quatrain

How do you write a ballad?

Ballads are one of the most popular verse forms in English language poetry. The first thing you need to do is pick a topic. This should be something that you feel passionately about and are willing to write multiple lines in dedication to. In order to write a traditional ballad, you should use four-line stanzas, a rhyme scheme of ABCB, and alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. 

Is ‘The Raven’ a ballad?

‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allen Poe is often considered a ballad, despite the fact that it uses a different structure than that which readers are likely familiar with. It contains eighteen six-line stanzas and uses trochaic octameter


Related Literary Terms 

  • Blank Verse: a kind of poetry that is written in unrhymed lines but with a regular metrical pattern.
  • Canzone: means “song” in Italian and was first used to refer to a verse form in Italy and France in the medieval period.
  • Cinquain: a poetic form that makes use of a pattern of five lines.
  • Curtal Sonnet: also known as the contracted sonnet, is an eleven-line sonnet that follows a pattern of either ABCABCDCBDC or ABCABCDBCDC. 
  • Dirge: a song or poem composed after someone’s death. These songs are usually more concise than elegies.
  • Sestet: a six-line stanza or poem, or the second half or a sonnet. It does not require a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.
  • Rondel: has two quatrains that are followed by a quintet, a set of five lines. The verse form has its origins in the lyrical poetry of 14th-century France.

Discover the Essential Secrets

of Poetry

Sign up to unveil the best kept secrets in poetry,

brought to you by the experts

The Best-Kept Secrets of Poetry

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry ever straight to your inbox

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap