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Early Ballads
The exact origins of the ballads are unknown. Some propose ballads began as a communal activity, while others suggest a single composer created the form. Many ballads were lost through time. The earliest surviving ballads date back to the 14th and 15th centuries. \"King Orfeo\" is one such ballad, as it dates back to the 1400s.
These early ballads tend to be basic and not as descriptive as later ballads. Early ballads often covered several years in one or two verses. These ballads used iambic tetrameter in stanzas of four lines (aka 4-4-4-4 meter).
Ballads first really caught on with the invention of the printing press. Ballads would be printed on one side of a sheet (and thus became known as \"broadsides\") and passed from village to village. Since illiteracy was common, the ballads would be sung to a well-known tune in a public meeting place and posted for all to see. The broadside was taken down when a new one arrived. Also, since these ballads were printed in the so-called \"black-letter type,\" the broadside ballads were also known as the black-letter ballads.
Another form of the early ballads is the border ballad. These ballads were passed along the border of Scotland. These ballads were not on paper but rather an oral tradition. Thus, the ballads often included repetition to aid in memorization. These ballads were very pagan in nature, often dealing with magic and lacking any sense of Christianity.
The popularity of this type of communication declined with the rise of the newspaper and also with the Victorian discouragement of singing in public places.

Later Ballads
As the ballad evolved, this form of poem developed a new meter scheme, the iambic tetrameter/iambic trimeter/iambic tetrameter/iambic trimeter (aka 4-3-4-3 meter). These ballads were far more descriptive than their predecessors
Perhaps the most classic of these types of ballads is Samuel Taylor Coleridge\'s \"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.\" The poem places an emphasis on Christianity and the supernatural. There is a very Christian guilt and redemption theme, and the poem is a parable of sorts. \"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner\" tells the story of a sailor who shot a creature of god, the albatross, and feels very guilty afterwards. He repents for his wrongdoings.
Another example is John Keats\' \"La Belle Dame Sans Merci.\" In this ballad, the knight is alone, and something is wrong with him. He met a beautiful fairy lady in a meadow. He succumbs to her wild beauty, but afterwards, he has nightmares of fallen kings and warriors, premonitions of his death. He will suffer for the rest of his life, and this will be his demise.

Modern Ballads
In today\'s world, the word \"ballad\" has come to mean something else. Rather than the word meaning a long narrative poem in strict rhyme and meter, a ballad now simply implies a song that tells a story. Some popular ballads have been written by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. However, these ballads still use the timeless themes common throughout the evolution of the ballad.


Common themes are Love in the form of unrequited love, love overcome against all barriers, accidental killing of a loved one, thwarted love, triumphs in love, or conflicts between love and family duty, station, or prior commitments; the supernatural in the form of faeries, ghosts, shapeshifting, or witches; Treachery and Betrayal in the form of a man betrayed by the woman he loves, the lord betrayed by a servant, or family betrayal; History many ballads of the 1600s describe historical events well known to listeners of the ballads, battles are popular topics of ballads; Lords and Ladies Many ballads mention at least one noble; Religion ballads were sometimes used as parables.

Writing a Ballad

There are two main elements to a ballad, the rhyme scheme and the meter.

There are three common rhyme schemes you may choose from:

This type has the 1st and 3rd lines always rhyming while the 2nd and 4th are the same throughout the poem.


This is the most common type. Only the 2nd and 4th lines rhyme.

Ballads are written in iambic meter in one of two schemes, tetrameter(4-4-4-4) which is four feet per line or tetrameter/trimeter 4-3-4-3 which has alternating number of feet per line between 4 and 3.
The first in our series of informative writings about various poetic forms, thanks to ~icefaerie who once did a project on ballads. It was slightly edited down (things were taken out) by ~alenia.

ed note: I took out most of the examples and a few things about meter as I think I will make a seperate deviation about meter. If there are any confusions please comment and I'll edit this or submit a new deviation.
Add a Comment:
KneelingGlory Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2009
I think it would help to have at least one example for modern balads and/or a link to your article about meter since some people *like me* suck at meter and think feet are something found at the bottom of every person.

Otherwise this was informative and helpful. I especially enjoyed learning about the history of ballads. Thank you!
andyslade Featured By Owner Aug 2, 2009
I'm new to VBV, but I think examples would be a good idea? There's nothing quite like seeing things in motion to aid comprehension.

RichardLeach Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2009   Traditional Artist
Aren't the number counts done syllabically, so tetrameter is 88 88? I could be wrong about this, but I've never seen tetrameter as 44 44.
NDean Featured By Owner May 3, 2009   Writer
very useful! love these essays

btw, there is an essay catergory if you dont want it in fiction :)
jaded-harbor Featured By Owner May 25, 2003

This kinda info comes in handy in school ;) (Wink)
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