How to write poetry in ballad verse

Hi guys! I wanted to explain one of poetry’s most common metered forms, ballad verse. It was very popular with music. Ballad verse is usually in in quatrains, meaning that each stanza is four line. The meter is a line of iambic tetrameter followed by a line of iambic trimeter (4 units, then 3).

Let’s take a stanza from a poem entitled “A Ballad of John Nicholson” by Sir Henry Newbolt:

“The chief of them was Mehtab Singh,

He was both proud and sly;

His turban gleamed with rubies red,

He held his chin full high.”

The stanza reveals two things important to ballad verse: the meter and the rhyme. There should be a line of four units (“His turban gleamed with rubies red” – one down beat then one up beat = iambic meter) followed by three units (“He held his chin full high“). In addition, the rhyme scheme should be a-b-c-b: “sly” rhymes with “high”.

I’ll take another example from one of my own poems, “Z is the End”:

And now only the dusk will woo

With its sweet harmonies

But when that ginger moon is high

I add it to my tea

Althought “harmonies” doesn’t exactly rhyme with “tea”, it generally follows the rhyme scheme of a ballad verse poem (a-b-c-b).