Apr 29, 2010


The Ballade is a French rhymed and syllabic form. The Ballade's name derives from the Old French balade ("a dancing song"). It was one of the principal forms of music and poetry in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century France. Not to be confused with the ballad, the ballade contains three main stanzas, each with the same rhyme scheme, plus a shorter concluding stanza, or envoi. All four stanzas have identical final refrain lines. The rhyme and repetition in a Ballade made this form popular with audiences. The form allowed the listener to catch the poem more clearly at first hearing or first reading.

One of the most influential writers of early ballades was François Villon. He used the exacting form and limited rhyme scheme to create intense compositions about poverty and the frailty of life. Inspired by debauchery and vagrancy of his criminal life, his work often included scathing attacks on the wealthy and declarations about injustice.

In English, ballades were written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the fourteenth-century, and revived by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne in the nineteenth-century. Aside from adaptations of Villon composed by Ezra Pound, there are few modern examples of the ballade and it is most often reserved for light verse.

Variations on the form include:
The basic Ballade, which has three stanza of 8 lines
Ballade Supreme, which has three stanza of 10 lines
The Double Ballade, which has six stanza of 8 lines
The Double Ballade Supreme, which has six stanza of 10 lines.

In a traditional Ballade:
The stanzas are of fixed size (number of lines and syllables).
A brief closing envoy has half the number of lines of the preceding stanzas.
The stanzas and envoy comply with a strong end-rhyme scheme.
The same line reoccurs as a refrain at the end of each stanza and envoy.
The shorter Ballade has 28 lines with only three rhymes throughout.
The longer Ballade (the Ballade Supreme) has 35 lines with only four rhymes throughout.

Here’s the rhyme scheme for the traditional Ballade:


The capital C represents a repeated refrain which ends each division of the poem.
No rhyme word should be repeated in the entire poem.

Unfortunately, this form was more complicated than I realized and I didn’t leave myself enough time to complete my own example. Therefore, rather that subject you to a rushed version of what I intended, I offer instead an example by someone else.

Ballad of the Dead Ladies

Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Translation of "Ballade des dames du temps jadis, by François Villon".

Tell me now in what hidden way is
Lady Flora the lovely Roman?
Where's Hipparchia, and where is Thais,
Neither of them the fairer woman?.
Where is Echo, beheld of no man,
Only heard on river and mere,
She whose beauty was more than human?
But where are the snows of yester-year?

Where's Héloise, the learned nun,.
For whose sake Abeillard, I ween,
Lost manhood and put priesthood on?.
(From Love he won such dule and teen!
And where, I pray you, is the Queen.
Who willed that Buridan should steer.
Sewed in a sack's mouth down the Seine?
But where are the snows of yester-year?.

White Queen Blanche, like a queen of lilies,.
With a voice like any mermaiden,
Bertha Broadfoot, Beatrice, Alice,.
And Ermengarde the lady of Maine,
And that good Joan whom Englishmen.
At Rouen doomed and burned her there,
Mother of God, where are they then?
But where are the snows of yester-year?.

Nay, never ask this week, fair lord,
Where they are gone, nor yet this year,.
Save with this much for an overword,
But where are the snows of yester-year?

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