‘I love a ballad in print o’ life for then we are sure they are true.’ So, William Shakespeare said the famous quote about the English Ballad in ‘The Winter’s Tale.’ Critiques said that Shakespeare gently mocked the illiterate adoration for the printed word in this quote, and after all these years, we can’t agree more. A ballad shows one’s impeccable taste in poetry, and although not many of us are familiar with this genre, it is certainly something to explore.

The modern-day mainstream ballads are backed by dance rhythms and other musical instruments, adding a different grandeur to them. However, you can’t quite understand how a ballad is impressive if you don’t know its inherent characteristics. That’s why, in this article, we are going to elaborate on the definition of ballads and their characteristics. 

What Is A Ballad?

The term ‘Ballad’ is derived from the French word ‘Ballare,’ which means ‘to dance.’ A ballad, in essence, is poetry that recounts a relatively straightforward narrative. Thus, a ballad is attempting to portray a tale. Ballads are frequently used in songs and have a musical aspect.

A ballad is poetry for singing, rather impersonal in content. It is possibly related to communal dancing in its roots. Nevertheless, a ballad is subjected to a sequence of folk tales among people who are devoid of literary inspirations and relatively homogeneous in nature.

Therefore, a ballad is a brief tale in poetry that is designed to be sung with musical accompaniment. It is the polar opposite of the Epic, which is a long tale told in poetry. It is a well-known form of poetry in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of America.

What Are The Characteristics Of A Ballad?

No matter how unpopular ballads have become in the modern era, there was a time where it was a well-known source of entertainment for people of all classes. Even there is one celebrity received their stage name from a medieval English ballad. If the name of ‘Chevy Chase’ rings a bell to you, then that is who we are talking about here. However, there are some inherent characteristics of a ballad that sets them apart from other poetry forms, such as;

A Short Story In Verse

Every ballad is a brief tale in verse that focuses on a single occurrence of the plot. A ballad contains only one episode of the saga, and the poet must complete the story within the constraints of a certain amount of stanzas. In this perspective, Scottish Poet Allan Ramsey’s lyrical ballad ‘Bonny Barbara Allen’ is an outstanding example.

Universal Appeal

Universal appeal is another distinguishing feature of a ballad. Every song addresses a different topic that has global value. It’s not only about someone’s distinct personality or nation; instead, it’s about humanity as a whole. For example, the lyrical ballad ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’ by John Keats persuades readers that most women are duplicitous and double-crossing.

Colloquial Language

The use of colloquial language is an essential component of a ballad. For example, in Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal’s ballad ‘Sir Patrick Spens,’ the poet employs everyday and common phrases rather than bombastic and flowery language. If you read this poem of John Keats, you will see how the poet employed colloquial language in every stanza.

Abrupt Opening, And Ending

Ballads, unlike other types of poetry, begin abruptly and unexpectedly. The poem begins without any explanation of the subject matter. Similarly, the conclusion of many ballads can be sudden and surprising too. There is no more information on the surroundings, ambiance, or atmosphere. As the poem begins abruptly, the reader must visualize the location for himself through the poet’s words. As a result, ballads are devoid of any superficial details.

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The Story Is Told Through Dialogues

Dialogue is also an essential component of a ballad. The majority of the plot is delivered through such conversational dialogues. For example, consider the song ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’ by John Keats, which is a whole dialogue between the speaker and the knight. In fact, in all the other ballads, you will also see the characters revealing the song’s intention through emotional speeches.

A Tragic Theme

Most ballads have tragic themes; however, it is essential to remember that certain ballads are heroic or comic in tone. While ballads can cover many topics, they usually convey a tale, often about a famous person or a love affair. However, they frequently end on a sad note. 

The Presence Of Supernatural Elements

The use of supernatural aspects is an essential component of a song. Ballads by John Keats and Samuel Coleridge are excellent examples in this regard. The best ballads are heavily infused with a mysterious ambiance created by magical manifestations and instrumentation. Aside from songs that are based on supernatural occurrences, incidental, mystical aspects can be found in all ballads.

A Unique Rhyme Scheme

There are four stanzas in a standard ballad. The rhyme scheme of a medieval English ballad used to be either ABAB or AABB. The iambic heptameter is the regular norm of an English ballad where there used to be seven sets of stressed and unstressed syllables in each line. Each paragraph comprises four lines, where the second and the fourth lines rhyme with one another.

The Presence Of Refrain

Ballads typically have a repeating stanza, known as a refrain, similar to a song’s chorus. Every ballad, in general, has a refrain. A refrain is a phrase or a line that is repeated after each verse. The poet frequently employs stock words to make it simpler for readers to memorize his work. That is why every ballad is much easier to remember than other forms of poetry. 

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To Conclude

We have mentioned in this article the most important characteristics of a ballad. If you memorize these thoroughly, you’ll quickly recognize a ballad if you see or hear one. If these characteristics interest you, you can also check out some of the most praiseworthy ballads of all time. We hope this article will be resourceful enough for you to learn about ballads in depth. 

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