first page of "A Ballade of the Scottyshe Kynge", by John Skelton (?1463-1529), 1513. Courtesy Luminarium.

The ballade ( /icbəˈlɑːd/; not to be confused with the ballad) is a verse form  particularly associated with French poetry of the 14th and 15th centuries. One of the most notable writers of ballades was François Villon. In Edmund Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, it is a ballade that Cyrano composes impromptu during a duel.


Ballade (ballade) n. Bal*lade" [See Ballad]

  1. A form of French versification, sometimes imitated in English, in which three or four rhymes recur through three stanzas of eight or ten lines each, the stanzas concluding with a refrain, and the whole poem with an envoy.[1]


The ballade typically consists of three eight-line stanzas, each with a regular meter (in English, usually iambic pentameter) and a particular rhyme scheme. The last line in the stanza is a "refrain" or repeated line, and the stanzas are followed by a four-line concluding stanza (an envoi) usually addressed to a prince. The rhyme scheme is therefore usually 'ababbcbC ababbcbC ababbcbC bcbC' (where the capital 'C' stands for the refrain).

The many different rhyming words that are needed (the 'b' rhyme needs at least fourteen) makes the form more difficult for English than for French poets.


Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in the form. It was revived in the 19th century by English-language poets including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne. Other notable English-language ballade writers are Andrew Lang and G.K. Chesterton (below). A humorous example is Wendy Cope's 'Proverbial Ballade'.

"A Ballade of Theatricals," by G. K. ChestertonEdit

Though all the critics' canons grow -
Far seedier than the actors' own -
Although the cottage-door's too low -
Although the fairy's twenty stone -
Although, just like the telephone,
She comes by wire and not by wings,
Though all the mechanism's known -
Believe me, there are real things.

Yes, real people-” even so -
Even in a theatre, truth is known,
Though the agnostic will not know,
And though the gnostic will not own,
There is a thing called skin and bone,
And many a man that struts and sings
Has been as stony-broke as stone -
Believe me, there are real things

There is an hour when all men go;
An hour when man is all alone.
When idle minstrels in a row
Went down with all the bugles blown -
When brass and hymn and drum went down,
Down in death's throat with thunderings -
Ah, though the unreal things have grown,
Believe me, there are real things.

Prince, though your hair is not your own
And half your face held on by strings,
And if you sat, you'd smash your throne -
Believe me, there are real things.


There are many variations to the ballade, and it is in many ways similar to the ode and chant royal. There are instances of a double ballade and double-refrain ballade. Some ballades have five stanzas; a ballade supreme has ten-line stanzas rhyming ababbccdcD, with the envoi ccdcD or ccdccD. An example is Ballade des Pendus by Francois Villon.

A seven-line ballade, or ballade royal, consists of four stanzas of rhyme royal, all using the same three rhymes, all ending in a refrain, without an envoi.


  1. "Ballade," Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913),, Web, July 6, 2011.

External linksEdit

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