Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes


"Ballad" describes both the form and content of the most popular English verse form.

 Formally, the ballad remains a popular rhyme-and-meter fixed-verse form in folk and popular music. Rock and roll has the "power ballad," which began in soul music and climaxed in elaborate pop songs like Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" or Aerosmith's "Dream On."

Traditionally, the verse structure of a ballad is four-line stanzas or quatrains, whose metric lines alternate between tetrameter and trimeter. (tetrameter = 4 iambic feet; trimeter = 3 iambic feet)

Rhyme structure:




The content of a ballad often involves story-telling or a narrative compatible with romance or Romanticism--i.e., adventure or a quest or journey involving risk and crossing boundaries, or desire and loss.

Traditional ballads often involve folk-tales; modern ballads personalize the quest or loss.

Country and western music derives mostly from Scotch-Irish ballads of the Appalachian region.

Folk songs, often set in ballad form, may sometimes be used for protest or commentary regarding politics, culture, or history.

Web materials

(Oxford English Dictionary) Etymology: medieval Italian ballata, Spanish ballade, Middle French balade

1. a. A light, simple song of any kind; (now) spec. a sentimental or romantic composition, typically consisting of two or more verses sung to the same melody with only light musical accompaniment.

b. A popular, usually narrative, song, spec. one celebrating or scurrilously attacking persons or institutions.

c. A narrative poem in short stanzas, esp. one that tells a popular story.

d. In jazz and popular music: a slow song or piece of music, esp. one of a sentimental or romantic nature.


Ballad form--examples from undergraduate Creative Writing

Robin Stone, "The Little Traveler"

"True Love" by Miranda Allen

"On Top of Spaghetti"

Historical examples of Ballads

Rock Ballads

Folk music ballads

Literary ballads

100 Greatest Soul Ballads


  • Ballad Writing Tips
    • often have verses of four lines
    • usually have a rhyming pattern: either  abac   or aabb or  acbc (usually the easiest to rhyme)
    • repetition often found in ballads
      • entire stanzas can be repeated like a song's chorus
      • lines can be repeated but each time a certain word is changed
      • a question and answer format can be built into a ballad: one stanza asks a questions and the next stanza answers the question
    • Ballads contain a lot of dialogue. 
    • Action is often described in the first person
    • Two characters in the ballad can speak to each other on alternating lines
    • Sequences of "threes" often occur: three kisses, three tasks, three events, for example

  • Definitions of ballad on the Web: