What do you think of when you think of the word 'ballad?' A song? Maybe one of those sappy love songs? Sappy love songs can be ballads, but what's their connection to a ballad poem? Let's take a look at some of the characteristics of a ballad poem.
A ballad poem is a poem with short stanzas, which are like the paragraphs of a poem, that usually has four lines but not always. While not all poems rhyme, ballad poems do, and they use a simple rhyming structure, like a song. Usually, the second and fourth lines rhyme. Sometimes there's a refrain, or a line, section, or stanza that repeats.
Ballad poems also tell a story called a narrative. Narratives are stories with characters, settings, and a plot. Ballad poems usually tell a story about love or loss.
Finally, the rhyming structure found in ballad poems makes them fun to read aloud, and that's why they were originally written. Many times ballad poems were set to music and performed for an audience. So, doesn't it make sense that those sappy love ballads you hear are just like ballad poems?
'On Top of Spaghetti'
Here's a part of a ballad poem that you might be familiar with:
'On top of spaghetti,
All covered with cheese,
I lost my poor meatball,
When somebody sneezed.
It rolled off the table,
And onto the floor,
And then my poor meatball,
Rolled out of the door.'
Did you notice that this has the traditional four-line stanza and rhyming scheme? It's also a narrative, so it makes a great ballad poem.
This next example is from the poem 'Annabel Lee' by Edgar Allan Poe and is about a woman he loved and lost.
Here is the first stanza:
'It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.'
Did you notice the rhyme structure in this poem? In the poem, Edgar Allan Poe describes the character of Annabel Lee and goes on to talk about her passing, making it a narrative. The last stanza includes a refrain and continues with the rhyming structure that was introduced at the beginning of the ballad:
'For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.'
Did you notice how the line 'of the beautiful Annabel Lee' is repeated? Now, let's go back to the last two lines we just read. You might find a word that you don't know, 'sepulchre,' which means tomb. If you replace the word 'sepulchre' with the word 'tomb,' the last two lines are nearly identical and make for another place in the poem that has a refrain.
Ballad poems are poems that are meant to be read aloud. They have a traditional rhyming structure, with lines two and four rhyming. Many ballads also have a refrain, or a line, section, or stanza, that repeats. A stanza is like the paragraph of a poem. Lastly, ballad poems are narratives, or stories.
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Ballad Poems: More Activities
In this lesson, you learned what a ballad poem is and what elements typically comprise such poems. Use the following activities in order to learn more about ballad poems and to get creative with a ballad of your own.
There are many different types of poetry, including ballad poems. Think about what other kinds of poems you have heard of, like haikus, sonnets, or nonsense poems. Why do you think there are so many different kinds of poems? What might make someone want to write a ballad instead of another kind of poem? What is special about ballads that other kinds of poems might not have? Write a journal entry answering these questions based on what you learned in this lesson.
This lesson gave you two examples of ballads, but there are many, many more. Read a few other ballad poems and think about the similarities and differences between them all. Think about the subject of each poem, and see if each ballad fits the structure laid out in this lesson. Write a paragraph comparing and contrasting two or more ballad poems.
Examples: ''The Fieldmouse'' by Cecil Frances Alexander; ''The Orange'' by Wendy Cope; ''To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence'' by James Elroy Flecker.
Write Your Own
Now that you know all about ballads, it is time to write some of your own. First, pick a topic. Remember that many ballads are about love or loss, but you can write about anything you like as long as your poem tells a story. Next, think about the elements of a ballad poem. When you start to write, you don't have to worry about including everything. One of the most important parts of writing is editing, so you can (and should!) always go back and change things after you finish writing a first draft.
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