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Poetry Competitions UK
14 Jun 2011

How to Write a Ballade

A ballade poem is a French form poem, (not to be confused with the "ballad" form, which we offer a separate workshop for!).  A ballade has twenty-eight lines of no set length. It is split into three octaves (eight-lined stanzas) and one quatrain (a four-lined stanza), resulting in 4 stanzas.

There are three rhymes in a ballade poem and each stanza has a set rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme for the first three octaves a, b, a, b, b, c, b, C. The rhyme scheme for the quatrain is b, c, b, C. The last line of each stanza consists of a refrain, (a repeated line), indicated as the C in the above rhyme schemes.

The ballade uses a lot of rhymes, which makes the form harder to write in English than in French. However, English poets to use the form are notably Geoffrey Chaucer, Andrew Lang, G K Chesterton and Wendy Cope.

Ballade of a Ship by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Down by the flash of the restless water (a)
The dim White Ship like a white bird lay; (b)
Laughing at life and the world they sought her, (a)
And out she swung to the silvering bay. (b)
Then off they flew on their roystering way, (b)
And the keen moon fired the light foam flying (c)
Up from the flood where the faint stars play, (b)
And the bones of the brave in the wave are lying. (C)

'Twas a king's fair son with a king's fair daughter, (a)
And full three hundred beside, they say, - (b)
Revelling on for the lone, cold slaughter (a)
So soon to seize them and hide them for aye; (b)
But they danced and they drank and their souls grew gay, (b)
Nor ever they knew of a ghoul's eye spying (c)
Their splendor a flickering phantom to stray (b)
Where the bones of the brave in the wave are lying. (C)

Through the mist of a drunken dream they brought her (a)
(This wild white bird) for the sea-fiend's prey: (b)
The pitiless reef in his hard clutch caught her, (a)
And hurled her down where the dead men stay. (b)
A torturing silence of wan dismay - (b)
Shrieks and curses of mad souls dying - (c)
Then down they sank to slumber and sway (b)
Where the bones of the brave in the wave are lying. (C)

Prince, do you sleep to the sound alway (b)
Of the mournful surge and the sea-birds' crying? - (c)
Or does love still shudder and steel still slay, (b)
Where the bones of the brave in the wave are lying? (C)

Once you've written your poem, why not send it to us -  Forward Poetry, Remus House, Coltsfoot Drive, Peterborough PE2 9JX. Alternatively, you can upload your poem or email it to us inbox@forwardpoetry.co.uk.

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Forward Poetry's ethos has always been to act as a bridge to publication rather than a barrier. This, along with our passion for poetry and creative writing, has seen a humble family business evolve into the biggest publisher of new poetry in the world. We understand that poetry is subjective, that everyone writes in a different style and that what one person can love, another can hate! Our collections showcase a variety of themes, writing styles and poets from all walks of life. They are carefully edited and compiled to celebrate and complement the craft that all of our contributors enjoy poetry.


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