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Wheeler English

Lines & Rhymes: Ballad

A ballad is a poem which tells a story. The most usual form is a four- line stanza in which the second and fourth lines rhyme, but there can be a lot of variation.

A more exact definition of a common ballad measure is that the first and third lines are iambic tetrameter-- four iambic feet-- and the second and fourth lines are iambic trimeter (three feet). The rhyme scheme is ABCB.

There lived a wife at Usher's Well,
And a wealthy wife was she;
She had three stout and stalwart sons And sent them o'er the sea


Here's another example:

Richard Cory

Whenever Richard Cory went downtown
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim,

And he was always quietly arrayed.
And he was always human when he talked,
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good morning,” and he glittered when he walked

And he was rich-- yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grade:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Edwin Arlington Robinson


  • Some ballads rhyme ABAB.
  • "Long ballad measures" have four line of tetrameter.
  • "Short ballad measures" have four lines of trimeter.
  • Ballads are sometimes printed as heptameter couplets, rather than as a quatrain (two lines of fourteen syllables each, rather than as four lines of eight and six syllables):

    "Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet
    'Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat"


figures of speech