The ballad is a narrative poem, often of folk origin, that is intended to be sung. It consists of simple stanzas and usually has a recurrent refrain. The four-lined ballad stanza typically has the rhyme scheme abcb and alternates four iambic metrical feet with three iambic metrical feet. However, other rhyme schemes do occur, and perfect meter is rare.

The refrain is typically a repeated line or stanza in which a single word, termed the "burden," is changed. Another common trait is a sequence of "threes" that occurs in the verse. Often there is abundant dialog, either in first person describing the action, or in the speech of two characters occurring in alternate lines.

A Saturnalian Ballad

I sing of Saturn on this day;
Please listen to my tale.
His reign was once a golden age;
Let cries of "Io!" prevail.

Before his rule, our lives were grim;
Now farms with crops abound.
Give thanks for vines and furrowed fields;
Let cries of "Io!" resound.

When Saturn's work on earth was done,
--Mankind no longer blind--
He disappeared into the air.
Let cries of "Io!" remind.

We cease our toil, then offer thanks,
And quite a feast consume.
We share with gods and fellow men;
Let cries of "Io!" resume.

Not every day can be a feast;
The year draws to an end.
Until next year at this same time,
Let cries of "Io!" suspend.

[ back to poetry page ]