EIF Poetry Challenge #7: The Ballad

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.

The Challenge

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:’

20 thoughts on “EIF Poetry Challenge #7: The Ballad

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  1. Ne’er a girl has yet been born,
    could boast that she befel
    the curse the maiden born to me
    endured and lived to tell.

    She was born upon a twilight dark,
    when I at first laid eyes
    upon this beauty God had made
    with His own hands, my prize.

    She cried the cry of a newborn babe,
    and did smile when she first saw me;
    not knowing that I had made a deal
    for her birth, to live, and see.

    For I was barren as a man,
    cursed ne’er to sire a child,
    my love did cry, her tears they ran
    for the want of a babe so mild.

    So, I had stolen away one dreadful night,
    gone to the forest deep;
    to find what ’twas told,
    a man that could give to me
    a chance to stop her weep.

    I traveled far into the night,
    I came upon a place,
    “twas lit by fire I could not see,
    except for for the piercing face
    of a man, so tall, he stood tree high,
    a man, with eyes of red;
    “You seek to give your wife a child”,
    he gazed ‘pon me and said…

    I told him that my need was hers,
    that she alone ’twas due,
    “There’s a price to pay”, he said to me
    “Should you wish a child that’s true…
    You must pledge to me,
    that once you see,
    that child born free and good,
    Your heart and soul
    will abide with me
    and forever walk this wood”

    I did not think and yielded then
    accepted the fate for her
    so she could hold my child for’er
    and I would watch from afar….

    So, when the girl was born and safe
    I cried and cried ’til I
    began to feel
    my heavy arms, become leaden as the sky
    of that dread night
    when I agreed
    to give my life for her
    So forever I walk
    these woods, a man of grey,
    with soulless love but pure.

  2. Round the Clock in Iphone’s Grip of Force. (20 quatrain – phew! – ballad in fact/fantasy)

    12 o’clock

    At 12 o’clock the I-phone came
    A saviour and messiah
    The world through now the ether talked
    Instead of the copper wire

    It spread itself around the world
    Apple smiled and waited
    In just twelve quick hours that went along
    The world was saturated

    “I want it, I want it” swept round the world
    The I-phone was prize in the race
    While Apple got richer the world it got poorer
    They forgot how to talk face to face

    As the world became glued to their I-phones
    The movement it became so profound
    That the world it forget to watch what was happening
    Became blind to what went on all around

    1 o’clock

    The pollies left at 1 o’clock
    With I-phones as a perk
    They left the world to run itself
    It did, just like clockwork

    2 o’clock

    At 2 o’clock the union said,
    It’s time to make a whack,
    They got together one and all
    And made the clocks go back

    And so they did. Grandfather. Fob. Town Hall et al.
    What of those not in the union you may ask?…..

    3 o’clock

    At 3 o’clock the prostitutes
    We’re going off the lay
    The world’s all I-phoned out on us
    There’s no-one to play in the hay

    4 o’clock

    At 4 o’clock the uprights said
    (Like traffic lights e.g.)
    We’d like to try and stand on heads
    While no-one else can see

    5 o’clock

    At 5 o’clock the rain it thought
    I wonder what it’s like
    To fall up to the sky instead
    Of coming down as usual?…..

    So it did. And it felt good thought the rain….

    6 o’clock

    When horizontals saw the uprights
    At their 4 o’clock display
    They said now why can’t we join in
    And point the other way?

    7 o’clock

    At seven o’clock the cars did want
    To stand on their two back wheels
    If humans can stand up on two legs
    We want to know how it feels

    8 o’clock

    At 8 o’clock the clocks did stop
    To rest their hands and springs
    ‘Cause working backwards for a clock’s
    A pretty tiring thing

    9 o’clock

    At 9 o’clock all bikes and trikes
    Took off their sprockety chains
    And free-wheeled all around the land
    Without their chainy pains

    10 o’clock

    At 10 o’clock giant flames rose up
    The world stayed Iphone wooed
    While houses burned and burned and burned
    The world stayed Iphone glued


    The sun it did a burn-out
    (Temporarily of course)
    To make the stupid world wake up
    To Iphone’s grip of force

    Electric turbine’s effort

    Electric turbines joined with sun’s
    Desire to get refrain
    From all the worldly Iphone users
    Charging up again

    11 o’clock

    At 11 o’clock around the world
    Electric turbines did
    Stop and try a non-spin spot
    No power on the grid

    Battery run-out

    The Iphone batteries soon ran out
    Their users weeped and wailed
    What ever are we going to do?
    Everything has failed

    Sun come-out

    The sun and turbines they did think
    The world’s now OK, let’s see
    The sun came out, the turbines spun
    They thought things would be rosy

    The result?

    Because the world got Iphone glued
    They all knew how to walk, yes
    But when they emerged from their Iphone haze
    They’d forgotten how to talk

    Don Matthews
    December 2017

    So endeth my ballad of 20 quatrains……phew!

    Still working on a melody line to accompany the lute…..

    1. It’s interesting how this ‘epic’ developed three years ago when I wrote it.. I remember reading something about the rain thinking it would be rather fun to fall up instead of down. The thought made by the writer, sorry the rain, I still remember from 3 years ago (‘So it did. And it felt good thought the rain…’). This sparked an idea. What if all the other things wanted to do crazy different things also? To do this everyone in the world would have to be oblivious to what’s going on around them. Answer? Addiction to watching Iphones. Perfect.

      There are messages for us in this. Do something crazy and different. Break boundaries. Be like the rain, (‘So it did. And it felt good thought the rain…’).

      There is also the obvious message. Addiction to phones causes a loss in our ability to communicate face to face

      1. My epic’s more epic than yours. Nah nah. OK you mighta won the Battle of Britain but one quatrain more makes my epic just that titbit epicier. Yay! ….

        Was Bon Jovi in the Battle of Britain?

      2. Yo ho hip hop
        Sunscreen slap slop
        Quo ho quatrain
        You got no brain

        Who wrote this garble?……

        Give it a hip hop beat. Rocket to number one.. Guaranteed…..

        Not garble. Divine insight. Let’s go yo ho …..

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