I've always wanted to write poetry, and I tried my hand at a ballad today. However, I know very little about the technicalities of poetry, and the explanations of iambic meter and structure of the ballad were confusing to me.

Here it is, in full (only five stanzas). I'm not requesting feedback on the quality of the poetry (I already know it to be godawful), I only want to know if it is technically a correct ballad.

Even better would be if someone could explain, in plain language, what a ballad is and how to construct it.

The room had but one resident,
a young boy only known
for never doing what he meant,
he sat there all alone.

One day he stood up to admit,
his memories were old.
No story to submit, he must
go make some of his own.

Then many mountains did he climb,
he traveled every plain.
He ate new food (it was sublime)
he saw the pure humane.

And when he went back to his room,
he thought he should record
the memories he had consumed,
the places he'd explored.

Before he got to writing, he
had fallen on his bed.
Adventure was exciting, but
he rest now in it's stead. 
  • Welcome to Writers! As you seem to have figured out, questions that ask for feedback are closed here; that's because because they're unlikely to help anyone else. While you're careful not to do that (thanks for that), I think this question is at risk of being closed because, as it was written, it's unlikely to help other users. Asking what a ballad is, and using your example as a starting point, is more useful to more people, so I've edited this a bit. I hope the edits work for you and still get you the information you need. – Goodbye Stack Exchange Sep 30 '15 at 1:49

Ballads, as far as I am concerned usually do the following.

  1. They tell a story -- yours does.
  2. They have the same number of lines in each stanza (there can be verse and chorus with different lengths) -- yours does.
  3. They have lines with the same number of syllables in each pair (first and third can be different in length to second and fourth) -- without counting them all, yours appear to do this.
  4. There is usually a rhyme scheme where the second and fourth lines rhyme -- except for 'old' and 'own' yours does.

This pretty much fits my definition. I'd call is a ballad.

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  • From what I can find, really only the very first one (a narrative style) is a hard requirement of a poetic ballad. All others derive from a secondary quality that they're designed for a musical setting, which you narrow to a traditional or popular musical setting with the restrictions on syllable structure and rhyme scheme. Theoretically any narrative you can set to music is a ballad; see "The Ballad of Baby Doe" which meets no other requirements of yours. – KeithS Nov 5 '15 at 19:41
  • Although I agree that narrative is important, many of the ballads I have read have been poems that have not been set to music. They do, however, fulfil all the criteria. Look at the poems of people like Banjo Paterson. – S. Mitchell Nov 5 '15 at 20:41

A ballad is a very loosely-defined form of poetry. Most rigorously, it is essentially nothing more or less than a narrative set to music (or that is intended to be). Tave's answer runs in a specific direction with this, by enforcing a syllable structure and rhyme scheme that would make the lyrics suitable for setting to a predefined musical style, specifically folk or popular styles that use a fixed repetitive melody for several verses.

Your song, because it tells a story and is rhythmically inclined due to its structure, is a ballad, but it could still be so if it weren't so rigorously structured, as long as it could adequately serve as the "lyrics" to a piece of music, either a standard tune or a custom-written piece of music. If you wanted to label this poem a ballad in its published form, methinks nobody would argue the point too strongly.

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Technically, a ballad is a collection of four-line verses that follow a specific rhyming pattern. These can be any of the following:

abac - first and third line rhyme

aabb - first and second line rhyme, and the third and fourth have a different rhyme

abcb - second and fourth line rhyme

abab - first and third line rhyme, and the second and fourth have a different rhyme

Sometimes you may see a ballad with six or eight-line verses, but the four-line verse is by far the most common.

Another distinguishing factor of the ballad is the meter that is used in each verse. The easiest way to understand meter is the natural rise and fall of the emphasis placed on each syllable or word. Here is an example I created with the emphasized words or syllables in bold font:

I wrote a poem yesterday

To show how it was done.

I didn't have too much to say.

I did it just for fun.

This particular example uses a 4-3-4-3 meter, which means that the first line has four emphasized points, the second has three, the third has four, and the fourth has three. Another form of ballad might have a 4-4-4-4 meter, which means that each line has four points of emphasis.

As long as your poem is structured in this way, with four lines in each section and each section following the same rhyming pattern and the same meter, then you have a properly formed ballad. From a technical perspective, your poem is a properly formed ballad.

Getting a ballad structured properly can be a fun challenge, but the real challenge is getting the words to flow naturally so that the reader doesn't think about the rise and fall within each line. You were doing fine until you got to the third line in the next to last verse: "the memories he had consumed". A lot of people will read "memories" as two syllables instead of three, so I felt a little tripped up there. When I read it again and forced the three syllables it worked, technically, but it didn't have the natural flow.

If you can structure it properly and get it to flow naturally, then you can go from having a properly formed ballad to having a really good ballad.

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