Poetry Prompts: Beautiful Ballads


Ballads have been a part of European culture for centuries. They were commonly folk songs passed down through generations, and their writers were lost to time.

Over the years, they’ve adapted, but the essence has remained. They’re short, musical and tell a tale — usually with a flair for the dramatic!

“The X Factor”

Interestingly, when newspapers began circulating, ballads were used to tell the news!

In the 18th and 19th centuries, poets wrote “literary ballads” such as “Le Belle Dame Sans Merci” by John Keats.

And they haven’t disappeared yet. Ballads make perfect “X Factor” audition songs — what better way to wow the crowd and make judges cry?

Think “Someone Like You” by Adele or “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran.

“Barbara Allen”

Here are the first few stanzas of traditional ballad “Barbara Allen”:

In Scarlet town, where I was born,

There was a fair maid dwellin’,

Made every youth cry Well-a-way!


Her name was Barbara Allen.

All in the merry month of May,

When green buds they were swellin’,

Young Jemmy Grove on his death-bed lay,

For love of Barbara Allen.


He sent his man in to her then,

To the town where she was dwellin’;

“O haste and come to my master dear,

If your name be Barbara Allen.”

Guidelines, not rules

In most ballads, each stanza (or verse) contains four lines known as quatrains.

The first and third lines have four beats and the second and fourth have three — this is known as the ballad metre or common measure.

The rhyming scheme normally goes ABAB.

You’ll notice that not all ballads follow “the rules”. That’s okay — there are many variations.

However, as with all writing, it’s important to understand the rules first so you can bend them later!

Your turn!

For your prompt this week, have a go at writing a ballad about a local legend or folk tale.

You’ll find more of Abbie’s Poetry Prompts by clicking the tag below.

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Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.