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Examples of Ballads

The ballads that come to many peoples' minds are the

lovestruck melodies of famous performing artists such as
theRighteous Brothers, Elvis Presley, Lonestar, Frank Sinatra,
and Peter Gabriel. However, ballads are also a literary form,
which does closely resemble a song in some regards.
Literary ballads are often written in the form of poetry, with
some consisting of quatrains and others consisting ofcouplets.
They generally tell a story in a very direct and to the point
manner, and they do not have to be about love at all.
Ballads often use vivid and expressive imagery in a detached
manner to relay the tale. A prominent characteristic of ballads
is that they can often easily be put to music.

Ballads from History

Early Written Ballads
At the beginning, ballads were a major part of the oral tradition.
Therefore, they were not frequently written down.
It was not until around the 13th century in Italy and Spain that
ballads became an important form of the written literary
An early example is a selection from a ballad entitled "Ballata
5" by Guido Cavalcanti which emphasizes the form and voice of
the standard ballad of the day:
"That which befalls me in my Lady's presence/Bars explanation
intellectual./I seem to see a lady wonderful/Spring forth between her lips,
one whom no sense/Can fully tell the mind of, and one whence/Another,
in beauty, springeth marvelous,/From whom a star goes forth and
speaketh thus:/'Now my salvation is gone forth from thee.'"
Although like a poem in some ways, the ballad tells more of a
story than a poem does. The ballad is able to complete a
more full picture of what is going on.
Remember, that this example is only one selected stanza of the
ballad. However, the narrative form of the ballad was not fully
complete at this point of the ballad; and so, this example may
appear to be more of a poem than seen in later ballads.

Later Ballads
Throughout the 15th century, ballads began to take the form of
advice pieces. Their purpose was often to impart wisdom upon
the reader.
Their influence also spread, and writers in England, Spain,
France, Italy, and Germany were composing them.

Francois Villon
In the middle of the 15th century, Francois Villon wrote a ballad
entitled "Ballad of the Gibbet" where he stated:
"Brothers and men that shall after us be,/Let not your hearts be hard to
us:/For pitying this our misery/Ye shall find God the more piteous."
Villon was advising his enemies, but also making a narrative
statement, about the condition of being hunted by another

Anonymous Spanish Poet

Around the same time period, an anonymous Spanish poet,
thought to be a woman, crafted "Ballad of the Cool Fountain."
The intent of her message can really only be understood by
reading the entire poem:
Fountain, coolest fountain,
Cool fountain of love,
Where all the sweet birds come
For comforting-but one,
A widow turtledove,
Sadly sorrowing,
At once the nightingale,
That wicked bird, came by,
And spoke these honied words:

"My lady, if you will,

I shall be your slave."
"You are my enemy:
Begone, you are not true!"
Green boughs no longer rest me,
Nor any budding grove.
Clear springs, where there are such,
Turn muddy at my touch.
I want no spouse to love
Nor any children either.
I forego that pleasure and their comfort too.
No, leave me; you are false
And wicked-vile, untrue!
I'll never be your mistress!
I'll never marry you!
See how this ballad can not really be broken down as the other
two were? Taking a small selection from this piece would prove
rather confusing for the reader, and he or she might not be able
to tell what the work is about at all.
This piece is proof that the ballad began advancing toward
much more narrative forms. However, further developments
perfected the ballad form even more.

The Ballad Becomes More Sophisticated

One of the most famous examples of a ballad is Samuel Taylor
Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." He truly
sophisticated the form because he combined elements of the
earlier ballads with newer methods.

Ability to select a random chapter - While his work is a

complete narrative piece, a reader could still take out one
section and get a sense of what is going on, much like in a
novel. A reader can select a random chapter and understand
the chapter to an extent, but needs to read the chapters
before and after in order to understand the work as a whole.
That is exactly the concept that Coleridge used.

Adding a lyrical tone to a poem - Also, his poem was

extremely lyrical. Let's take a look at a short sample of the
"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?"
Say it out loud a few times, and listen for the musical beat. If the musical
beat does not come by then, sing it to the tune of the "Gilligan's Island"
theme song. The beat is a perfect fit, and continues to be so for all of the
remaining verses in the ballad.

Importance of Ballads
Ballads are important to look at because they show how the
form has developed over time. A ballad is not simply a romantic
song, although that definition will still apply in the field of
music. Romance can be infused into ballads, especially if they
are a narrative tale of love (or hate) as seen in the ballad by the
anonymous Spanish poet. However, they are so much more as


Ballads are a form of poem that tell a story and
have a straight and strict rhyming pattern. You
will probably agree that poems are far easier to
remember than other forms of storytelling. It is
possible to make errors and mistakenly alter a
poem, but given the typically well-structured

nature of poems, it is more difficult to do than

incorrectly reciting a piece of prose. The format
of the classic Ballad stanza or verse is as follows:
The second and fourth lines of each stanza
Line one has 8 beats Line two has 6 beats
Line three has 8 beats...Clearly there is a
rhythm and structure to this which reinforces
the point about how much easier poems are
to remember than other forms of storytelling.
The ballads are well known for getting straight
to the point of the subject. There is no
compromise in the ballads and everything is
clear cut. They also concentrate on the most
dramatic part of the tale. In the ballads you will
find no wordy introductions or descriptions; the
reader is immediately drawn into the focal
point of the story. All background detail is cast
aside in favour of action and excitement. This
action often takes the form of stark violence.
We will often read of murder, scandal, battles
and even incest in the ballads, all of which
capture our interest and make us think of
historical times. Many Ballads also feature
elements of loyalty, the supernatural, comedy
and fantasy.