On no account should the ballade be confused with the ballad

This is what a ballade looks like:

A Ballade of Caprine Complicity
I was retained once by Bo-Peep
(Who’d heard of me from Goldilocks)
To trace for her some missing sheep.
Twas goats, and not a wolf or fox
Who’d cut the wire and picked the locks,
And thus the case was soon resolved.
Step back, and think outside the box -
You’ll always find some goats involved!

When heirlooms vanish while you sleep,
Avoid the usual stumbling blocks.
Make an imaginative leap!
Don’t put the blameless in the stocks.
Though evidence may point to ox
Or ass, or pig, they’ll be absolved.
In time, this claim no longer shocks:
You’ll always find some goats involved.

My scale of charges is quite steep -
I'd hate to leave you on the rocks.
Solve things yourself, and you can keep
Your savings in your moneybox.
Effective, if unorthodox,
This rule of thumb that I’ve evolved,
And every case it soon unlocks:
You’ll always find some goats involved.

Prince, bet your little cotton socks
This rule will work, each case be solved:
When trouble strikes among the flocks
You’ll always find some goats involved.

So we have three 8-line stanzas rhyming ababbcbC, followed by a 4-line envoi rhyming bcbC, the same rhymes being used throughout. The capital C's indicate that the same line is repeated at the end of each stanza as a refrain. (The technical name for this phenomenon is rime en kyrielle.) 

The above ballade is in iambic tetrameter; iambic pentameter is at least as common, and in fact used to be regarded as obligatory. 

It was customary for the poet to address the envoi to his patron, or to someone referred to in the poem. These days, it is almost invariably addressed to Prince, generally understood to be the Prince of Darkness (though I did once address one to the artist more recently known as AFKAP!)

François Villon (1431-1465?) wrote ballades, including Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis, which has the famous refrain "Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?" ("But where are the snows of yesteryear?") Most of the more modern ballades I have seen have been a bit silly. There's an unusually sensible Ballade of the Rift by Sophie Hannah in her book First of the Last Chances


The ballade is in fact not a single verse form, but a whole family of related forms, distant cousins to the ode family. The above piece of nonsense about goats is an example of an 8-line ballade.

A 10-line ballade or ballade supreme has three stanzas rhyming ababbccdcD, with the envoi ccdcD or ccdccD. The only one I have found so far is in French: Ballade des Pendus by François Villon. (Confusingly, Théodore de Banville also wrote a Ballade des Pendus, but that one is an 8-line ballade.)

A 7-line ballade, or ballade royal, consists of four stanzas of rhyme royal, all using the same three rhymes, and with their final lines all identical, and no envoi i.e. 4 stanzas rhyming ababbcC. (This strangely envoi-less form is, perhaps, the black sheep of the ballade family.)

The double ballade and even double-refrain ballade have also been defined, but that way madness lies.

A closely related form is chant royal.  

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© Bob Newman 2004, 2005, 2008. All rights reserved.

This page last updated 12/02/2008