All terms

What is a Ballad Stanza?

A four-line stanza, usually with an ABAB rhyme scheme and a traditional narrative structure.

Breaking Down the Ballad Stanza

The ballad stanza is a four-line stanza commonly used in ballads or folk songs, usually in the form of ABAB rhyme scheme and typically follows an inflexible narrative structure. It is often used in poetry as well, as its structure helps create a strong sense of rhythm and continuity.

Ballad stanzas also frequently use repetition, both of words and phrases, to create a sense of unity throughout the piece. This repetition helps convey the significance of the story, making it easier for the reader and listener to follow along with the narrative.

The ballad stanza can be flexible in its use of meter, but most commonly follows a pattern of iambic tetrameter, meaning there are eight syllables per line, with the first syllable unstressed and the second syllable stressed, and so on.

Overall, the ballad stanza is a versatile and powerful poetic tool that has been used for centuries to tell stories and capture emotions.

Ballad Stanza in Action

From epic tales to contemporary poetry, here are two examples of how the ballad stanza has been used in literature and has evolved over time.

Sir Patrick Spens

Sir Patrick Spens, one of the most famous Scottish ballads, tells the story of the king's demand for a sea voyage and the tragic events that followed. The ballad stanza in this epic highlights the sorrowful, mournful tone of the tragic story being told:

The king sits in Dunfermline town,
Drinking the blood-red wine;
'O where will I get a skeely skipper
To sail this ship of mine?'

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

In T.S. Elliot's famous poem, he uses a variation of the ballad stanza in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock to highlight the speaker's pessimism and feelings of inadequacy, with an AABB rhyme scheme that conveys a sense of entrapment:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,