I so much enjoyed writing a ballad over at dVerse last week that I decided to make it the theme of this week’s challenge.
What is a Ballad?
The ballad as a poetic form was traditionally a lyrical, narrative poem set to music, and accompanied by dance (the word derives from the Latin ballare, ‘to dance’).
The traditional structure of the ballad in English is a poem formed of quatrains rhymed abcb with the alternating lines of tetrameter (eight syllables, four iambic feet) and trimeter (six syllables, three iambic feet): so-called ‘ballad stanza.’ As an example, here is the opening stanza to Wordsworth’s ‘Strange fits of passion have I known’ from the collection, Lyrical Ballads:
Strange fits of passion have I known:
And I will dare to tell,
But in the Lover’s ear alone,
What once to me befel.
– William Wordsworth, 1800
There are of course, multitudinous variations of this traditional form. Lyrical Ballads as a collection was groundbreaking at the time it was written because it used the ‘a selection of language really used by men’ rather than an elevated an antiquated poetic diction, of which Wordsworth spoke disparagingly. There is indeed a beauty in the simplicity of Wordsworth’s language, and the ways in which he subtly adapts the ballad form in order to tell his story, e.g.:
Three years she grew in sun and shower,
Then Nature said, “A lovelier flower
On earth was never sown;
This Child I to myself will take;
She shall be mine, and I will make
A Lady of my own.
‘Three years she grew,’ 1800
Here the rhyming scheme is aabccb and the metre 2 lines tetrameter followed by one line trimeter.
If all of the above seems a little too technical and restrictive, do not fear: for this challenge, I simply want you to write a poem which tells a story. It should be lyrical, in that it could be set to music and sung. I want you to sing with your words, but I am not insisting upon any strict metrical form or rhyme scheme.
As for the story, let your imagination take you where it will: it could be a dark, Halloween-inspired piece, a love story or a folk tale. The subject is entirely up to you.
How to Enter
There are several ways to enter this challenge:
- Post your entry in the comments section below.
- Make a blog post featuring your ballad, tag ‘EIF Poetry Challenge,’ link back to this challenge and post your link in the comments section below.
- Post your ballad on Instagram and tag @experimentsinfiction
- Tweet your ballad and tag @Experimentsinfc
The deadline for entries is midnight CET on Tuesday, 20 October. This week’s challenge will be judged by last week’s winner, Valdis Stakle. Good luck, and enjoy writing your ballad!
If Wordsworth didn’t provide you with enough inspiration, let’s lead out with Simon and Garfunkel singing traditional Scottish ballad, Barbara Allen, or ‘Barbriallen:’