Ballad is a short narrative poem that tells the tale of a local battle or war or event and local heroic through rustic or unsophisticated or dialectal form of language. Ballad was originally created, performed and preserved orally through generations. In fact, Ballad is originally meant to be sung and the story of a local heroic in a local battle, that a Ballad portrays, is revealed through the song.
Ballad poetry does not tell a grand story of national significance or great heroic deeds, unlike Epic poetry. Rather, Ballad portrays the local heroics of local battles or events or local incidents which have less national importance compared to the Epic heroics. Generally, a Ballad consists of 40-50 lines, but sometimes, it can be as short as 12 lines. Ballad poetry does not have long narration of the events as the length of Ballad is very short compared to Epic. So, in a Ballad, actions happen rapidly and events unfold in flashes. That means, Ballad is fast-paced in terms of its narration.
Initially, Ballads were composed in local dialect or folk form by the illiterate poets, but over time, many great, educated poets also wrote Ballad. Ballad reflects history, fairy tales and myths that are some of the common subject matter of Ballad. This form of poetry is very close to folk tales. As Ballad was originally composed orally, in most of the cases, Ballads are anonymous. Ancient Ballads were preserved or passes through generations, but the name of the creator of a Ballad was lost over time. So, it is assumed that many Ballads were also lost in this process as the Ballads were not written initially.
In Ballad, line or lines are repeated very often in the course of the poem and these repeating line or lines are called ‘Refrain’. Refrain mainly acts as an aid to the memory of the readers. Refrains are given in all stanzas. For example, in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Water, water, everywhere” is used as a refrain. Ballad is very old traditional form of poetry which remains popular till today. During Romantic age, many famous poets imitated the form of folk Ballad.