Literary Term Ballad

Literary Term Ballad

A ballad is a narrative poem or song that tells a story. Ballad often focuses on themes of love, adventure, or tragedy. These poems typically have a simple and rhythmic structure. This makes them easy to remember and often meant to be sung or recited aloud. Ballads often employ a repetitive or alternating rhyme scheme. Famous examples of ballads include “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde” by Anonymous.

Literature has three main types of ballads:

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  1. Traditional/ Folk Ballads: These are anonymous narrative poems passed down orally through generations. They often focus on love, tragedy, adventure, or folklore themes. Traditional ballads have a characteristic structure and often employ repetition and a simple rhyme scheme.
  2. Literary/Art/Broadside Ballads: Literary or Broadside Ballads are composed by known poets and printed on broadsides (single sheets of paper) for wider distribution. They often follow the structure and themes of traditional ballads but were created by specific authors and circulated in print.
  3. Broadsheet or”Street” Ballads: These were popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, printed on large sheets, and sold in the streets. They often narrate sensational stories, historical events, or current news in a poetic or ballad-like form. 

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Characteristics of Ballads: Ballads in literature are narrative poems that typically tell a story simply and directly. Here are some key characteristics:

  • Narrative Structure: Ballads often have a clear storyline. Ballads often focus on a specific event, legend, or folk tale. They may recount a tragic love story, a heroic deed, or a supernatural event.
  • Quatrains or Octaves: They’re commonly written in stanzas of four lines (quatrains) or eight lines (octaves). The second and fourth lines usually rhyme in a simple ABAB or ABABABCC pattern.
  • Refrain: Ballads often include a repeated refrain or a chorus that adds rhythm and emphasis. This makes them easier to remember and is often meant for oral tradition.
  • Emotional Tone: Ballads can have a sombre, melancholic, or dramatic tone. Themes often include love, death, betrayal, or heroic deeds, conveying strong emotions.

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  • Simple Language and Repetition: Ballads traditionally use straightforward language and may employ repetition of phrases or lines for emphasis or to enhance the rhythmic quality.
  • Anonymous Origins and Oral Tradition: Many ballads were anonymously composed and passed down orally, evolving over time through storytelling before being transcribed.
  • Symbolism and Imagery: While direct and simple, ballads can still incorporate symbolic elements and vivid imagery to convey deeper meanings.
Riya Akter
Riya Akter
Hey, This is Riya Akter Setu, B.A (Hons) & M.A in English from National University.


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