Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ballad Stanza

A stanza form that is quite common all through poetry is the ballad. As that name suggests, it is often used in songs.

The ballad stanza usually employs the iambic foot, and is a quatrain--that is, four lines.  The first and third lines have four feet (iambic tetrameter) and the second and fourth lines have three feet (iambic trimeter).

The rhyme scheme of ballads is most commonly ABAB. The first and third lines rhyme and the second and fourth lines rhyme.

Here are some verses of ad hoc doggerel in ballad form:

The “ballad” stanza starts with four
      The next line shifts to three—
The iambs march to keep the score
      As in this verse you see.

This is the meter you must use
      For ballad form that's clear:
The iamb is the foot to choose,
      First four, then three—like here!

The ballad is a four-line verse,
      A quatrain, if you please…
The meter flows and then is terse
      And sets to song with ease.

The rhyming scheme is A to B
      Repeating that once more—
And if you want to get to C...
      Another round's in store.

The rhythm of the ballad stanza, with all else removed, is thus:

Ta-TUM ta-TUM ta-TUM ta-TUM
     Ta-TUM ta-TUM ta-TUM
Ta-TUM ta-TUM ta-TUM ta-TUM
     Ta-TUM ta-TUM ta-TUM.

Lewis Carroll often employed variations on the ballad in his work. He was not always strict in adhering to iambic feet, giving his verse a rollicking feel suitable for humor. Here is an example from "You Are Old Father William":

"In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life."

In "The Walrus and the Carpenter" he employed a sestet that kept the overall iambic foot and the tetrameter-trimeter sequence but dropped the alternating rhyme:

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings."

The most famous of all Lewis Carroll's verses, the first (and last) stanza of "Jabberwocky", is another variation on the ballad form, with only the last line in trimeter, the first three being all in tetrameter--but with the iamb being the main foot throughout:

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
     Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
     And the mome raths outgrabe.

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