Hi toads and toadies and roadies, my style challenge to any resident poets or visitors to the Imaginary Garden with Real Toads who might be writing for National Poetry Writing Month, aka NaPoWriMo, is the ballad.

Most ballads are long narrative poems but, to go easy on the dedicated poets writing every day this month, I ask only for a minimum of two verses, with a minimum of four lines per verse. You might like to write more, and of course you may, but if four lines per verse seemed enough to Coleridge, it's enough for me, and not too exhausting for the middle of NaPoWriMo month.

A ballad is a narrative poem, often set to music. Ballads derive from the medieval French chanson balladée or ballade, and were originally dancing songs. Ballads were particularly characteristic of the popular poetry and song of the British Isles from the later medieval period until the 19th century and used extensively across Europe and later the Americas, Australia and Africa. The form was often used by poets and composers from the 18th century onwards to produce lyrical ballads. In the later 19th century it took on the meaning of a slow form of popular love song, and the term is now often used as synonymous with any love song, particularly the pop or rock power ballad.

George Lyman Kittredge's 1904 definition is useful as it describes a range of key features:

Not only is the author of a (traditional) ballad invisible, and practically non-existent, but the teller of the tale has no rôle in it. Unlike other songs, it does not purport to give utterance to the feelings or the mood of the singer.  He does not dissect or psychologize. He does not take sides for or against any of the dramatis personae. He merely tells what happened, and what people said, and he confines the dialogue to its simplest and most inevitable elements.

In contrast, the author of a literary ballad is visible in the organization of the characters, and the narrator, in particular the first person narrator, finely reflects complex states of mind and plays an important role in developing the plot. The literary ballad is an imitation of the traditional ballad, though it is "a task" to clarify which aspects of the tradition are imitated, admitted Kittredge.



Tennyson, Wikipedia

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 

The Lady of Shalott

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,

Little breezes dusk and shiver 

         Thro’ the wave that runs for ever 

         By the island in the river

         Flowing down to Camelot.

     Four gray walls, and four gray towers,

Overlook a space of flowers, 

      And the silent isle imbowers

       The Lady of Shalott.


Rudyard Kipling, 

The Ballad of East and West       

There was rock to the left and rock to the right,

and low lean thorn between, 

And thrice he heard a breech-bolt snick

tho' never a man was seen.

They have ridden the low moon out of the sky,

their hoofs drum up the dawn,

The dun he went like a wounded bull, 

but the mare like a new-roused fawn.


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 



Dark behind it rose the forest, 

Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees, 

Rose the firs with cones upon them; 

Bright before it beat the water, 

Beat the clear and sunny water, 

Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.

There the wrinkled old Nokomis 

Nursed the little Hiawatha, 

Rocked him in his linden cradle, 

Bedded soft in moss and rushes, 

Safely bound with reindeer sinews; 

Stilled his fretful wail by saying, 

"Hush! the Naked Bear will hear thee!"



Robert W. Service,

The Spell of the Yukon                                         

Robert W. Service,

No! There's the land. (Have you seen it?)

It's the cussedest land that I know,

From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it

To the deep, deathlike valleys below.

Some say God was tired when He made it,

Some say it's a fine land to shun;

Maybe; but there's some as would trade it

For no land on earth—and I'm one.

I've stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow

That's plumb-full of hush to the brim;

I've watched the big, husky sun wallow

In crimson and gold, and grow dim,

Till the moon set the pearly peaks gleaming,

And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop,

And I've thought that I surely was dreaming,

With the peace o' the world piled on top.


Samuel Taylor Coleridge,

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner      

Samuel Taylor Coleridge,

Day after day, day after day,

We stuck, nor breath nor motion;

As idle as a painted ship

Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, everywhere,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, everywhere,

Nor any drop to drink.

Write a new ballad, in a stanza form of your choice, and link it up below.

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