Medieval Verse: The Ballade

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March 16, 2015 by phicks2012

ctree2This is another in my series of articles on Medieval Verse forms, and deals with The Ballade.

According to Wikipedia at “The ballade (not to be confused with the ballad) is a form of French poetry. It was one of the three “formes fixes” (the other two were the Rondeau and the virelai) and one of the verse forms in France most commonly set to music between the late 13th and the 15th centuries.

The ballade is a verse form typically consisting of three eight-line stanzas, each with a consistent meter and a particular rhyme scheme. The last line in the stanza is a refrain. The stanzas are followed by a four-line concluding stanza (an envoi) usually addressed to a prince. The rhyme scheme is therefore usually ‘ababbcbC ababbcbC ababbcbC bcbC’, where the capital ‘C’ is a refrain.

The many different rhyming words that are needed (the ‘b’ rhyme needs at least fourteen words) makes the form more difficult for English than for French poets. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in the form. It was revived in the 19th century by English-language poets including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne. “

This is a challenging verse form to use because, as stated above, so many identical rhymes are needed — 6a, 14b, 8c. Though 4 of the c-rhymes are identical refrains, it takes some creativity to come up with 14 non-repeating b-rhymes. I’ll have to take it on faith that this is easier in French than in English, but having attempted it in English I can attest to the difficulties involved with using it in my own mother tongue.

The Ballade supposedly originated in France in the 14th and 15th centuries, and Geoffrey Chaucer, most famous for his long epic poem The Canterbury Tales, imported the form into English poetry in the 16th century. Though The Ballade’s name derives from the Old French balade (“a dancing song”), the form appears to most often, though not always, been used to reflect on themes of death, and many ballades were written as eulogies or epitaphs.


Not mine though. The verse below is my attempt at a Ballade, and I hope you find some enjoyment in it.

“Ballade No.1: Two Lovers”

Two lovers meet beneath the kissing tree
Upon the bole to there inscribe their names,
Where lovers past left lasting memory,
And lovers yet to come will do the same.
Their passion and devotion to proclaim
Within the compass of a carven heart
The captive symbol of a lover’s claim
Forever linked, and nevermore apart.

The dagger sharp as lover’s words may be
Will there define in permanence their aim
To cleave together to infinity
And, if they fail, together bear the blame.
Where love is certain there can be no shame,
If doubting was not present at the start.
Love’s pawns continue, playing well the game,
Forever linked, and nevermore apart.

Where souls are linked no evil there we see,
Nor darkness to contaminate or maim,
Where endless hope defines serenity
And no perversity they need disclaim.
The marks forever there within the frame
Eternal adulation meant to chart
And in success may come to measure fame
Forever linked, and nevermore apart.

Carve deeply there the symbols, lovers named.
Forever know the course of Cupid’s dart
And there upon the bole make known your claims.
Forever linked, and nevermore apart.

[27 November, 2012]

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