All About Poetry

What’s the Difference Between a Ballad and a Ballade?

The words ‘ballad’ and ‘ballade’ are often used interchangeably primarily because speakers, including native English speakers and teachers of the English language, assume they mean the same – a narrative poem. The fact, nonetheless, is different. If you look up these words in a good dictionary, you will get distinct meanings, thus conveying that they are not just different from each other but also poetically unique in their own way. It is worth mentioning that while ballads can fall under the free verse or fixed verse form of poetry, ballades solely belong to the fixed verse form. Furthermore, the latter has stricter rules than the former. Let’s, however, first try to understand what these two terms mean.

GRASPING THE TERM ‘BALLAD’

What Exactly Is a Ballad?

A ballad is a narrative poem. It is often lyrical and sing-songy in style, almost always employs a rhyme scheme, and usually encompasses a refrain. It may or may not use a metre. Although the term ‘ballad’ can also mean ‘song’ or ‘music’, this meaning does not have any worthy connection with its literary definition. 

How Long Is a Ballad Supposed to Be?

While ballads have traditionally been long, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge being a great example of one of the longest ballads ever composed, there are no hard and fast rules that deal with their length. Several ballads are short poems that narrate stories beautifully poetically. The Ballad of Sally in our Alley by Henry Carey, for instance, is short and humourous, a fun read indeed.

What Is the Rhyme Scheme Employed in a Ballad?

If you do justice to the literary definition of ‘ballad’ while writing one, the rhyme scheme does not matter. This is not to say that you don’t need to employ a rhyme scheme, for a ballad devoid of a rhyme scheme tends not to be sing-songy, and hence, fails to do justice to the definition. When we say that the rhyme scheme doesn’t matter, we only mean you are free to choose your rhyme scheme. Also, you don’t need to stick to just one rhyme scheme in all the stanzas. You can have variations.

Are the Stanzas in a Ballad Supposed to Be Quatrains?

Not necessary. It is true, nevertheless, that the majority of ballads composed have incorporated quatrains. You are free to use couplets, sestets or even octaves to write a ballade, however. Why don’t you try coming up with a ballad that comprises all of them? Unique it will be, will it not?

Is it a Must to Have a Refrain in a Ballad?

No. While having a refrain may make a ballad sound more poetic, and thus, more alluring, a ballad does not demand the use of refrain. Be that as it may, composing ballads without a refrain is uncommon.

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GRASPING THE TERM ‘BALLADE’

What Exactly Is a Ballade?

A ballade, which is a fixed verse form of poetry, usually consists of three stanzas of eight or ten lines each along with a brief envoy. The stanzas and the envoy have to end in the same one-line refrain in order for the poem to qualify as a ballade.

How Long Is a Ballade?

Unlike ballads, ballades have a fixed length. It’s altogether up to the writer to decide whether to incorporate eight lines in each verse or ten. Moreover, the envoy in a ballade is always a quatrain. We suggest you read the Ballade of Modest Confession by Hillaire Belloc to understand the structure of a ballade better. You can also read Remember Thy Guru, a ballade by B Sudharsan, that is featured on this weblog.

What Is the Rhyme Scheme Employed in a Ballade?

Ballades tend to have an intriguing rhyme scheme. If the main stanzas happen to be octaves, the rhyme scheme employed in each of them is ababbcbc. In the quatrain, nonetheless, the rhyme scheme is bcbc. But if the ballade contains stanzas of ten lines, the rhyme scheme could be abbaabbaab or ababbcbcbc. The rhyme scheme of the quatrain in this case could be either baab or bcbc. 

Are Ballades Written in A Specific Metre?

While writing a ballade in a specific metre may sure add to its poetic value, it is not a must to employ a metre. It would, however, only be considered natural if you ended up using the iambic pentameter.

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