Characteristics of the Ballad

(From Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics)


A. Has “folk” or “popular” tradition.

B. Short narrative song

C. Preserved and transmitted orally

D. Circulates among “illiterate” or “semi-literate” groups

E. Ballads focus on a single crucial episode or situation.

F. Begins at a point where the action is directed toward its catastrophe.

G. Events told in summarily, hurried fashion.

H. Little attention is paid to description of setting

I. Ballads are dramatic.

J. Events are not “described” but shown as they happen.

K. Intense and immediate, heightening climax

L. Dialogue is often used.

M. We must deduce who speaks by what is being said.

N. Ballads are impersonal. Narrator/singer/cantor rarely interferes

0. The “I” of the ballad is one that represents a party, community, or nation.

P. Story is the key.

Q. Language is plain and formulaic.

R. No novel turns of the phrase, no games.

S. A small stock of epithets and adjectives are used.

T. No character development or psychological motivation.

U. Heavy amount of repetition and parallelism, which may be a way of discharging emotion, or to serve as a mnemonic technique.

V. Octosyllabic lines [Please note that in Spanish, when the line ends with an accent, you need to add one syllable].


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8


(I am not an American)


1 2 3 4 5 6 7

pe/ro/com/pren/do el/in/glés

(but I understand English)


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

yo/lo a/pren/dí/con/mi her/ma/no

(I learned it with my brother)