What makes a ballad a good ballad? From all the different forms we have studies so far, this seems to be the least complicated. Unlike the villanelle, the poet does not have to worry about making repetition of lines not repetative; with the ballad, repetition can be a good thing b/c it acts like a chorus of a song. Unlike the sestina, the poet does not have to worry about making the repeated end words obivous; with the ballad, the obivous end-rhyme and lack of enjambment make it easy to sing to. And unlike the sonnet, the poet does not have to worry about constructing an argument between quatrians, couplets, octaves, and sestets; with the ballad, the poet just has to tell a story. Without all of the complications of the other forms, how can anybody tell whether a ballad is a good one or not? Most of the ballads we studied (there are a few exceptions) did not even contain the inner messages/themes/ morals that most poems seem to contain. To me, ballads are like the sing-songy, hard-rhyming poems my fifth grade teacher made me write. I'm not saying a fifth grader could have written any of the ballads in "The Making of a Poem," but their messages sure don't seem very "deep". I mean, come on; "The Tale of Custard the Dragon" ???
- lma-c lma-c Feb 1, 2008

Whenever I hear the word ballad, I think of a man singing to the love of his life. He is expressing his love for her through a song. However, after reading the introduction to what a ballad is, I discovered something new. Ballads are not necessarily a poem with a deep, thought provoking meaning. Most of the ballads we have read are stories. In the Tale of Custard the Dragon, we read a story about a girl and her pets. One day a pirate comes but they defeat him and everyone is happy once again. I agree that this is not a very "deep" and "passionate" poem. I think that the author wrote this poem because he wanted to entertain. He did not want people to think that the pirate was symoblic or that the dragon had a significant meaning, he just wanted to tell a cute and fun story.
However, we can look at other ballads and think, that's not a story! In Bagpipe Music, we do not get a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Instead we get a rant. Within the rant we can find a story, and we can also find passion and anger throughout the ballad. Bagpipe Music is a very "deep" ballad.
So ballads don't necessarily have to be "deep". I know we associate ballads with love and passion, but that doesn't have to be the case. Anyone else agree? Anyone else see a different ballad that has no deep meaning, or one that has a great message?
- szd-c szd-c Feb 1, 2008

Being the type of students we are, I think that we sometimes forget that not everything has to have a specific meaning. Sometimes writers or poets can just write things to entertain, like "The Tale of Custard the Dragon." Even though Custard the Dragon's story is for entertainment, it doesn't mean that it has no message or that it is unworthy of analysis. Ogden Nash is still a great writer: look at the lines "Ink trickled down to the bottom of the household/ And little mouse Blink strategically mouseholed." This gives us the image of the little black kitten slinking down the stairs like the liquid ink being spilt and dripping down to ground level. Not everybody would be able to think of that.
To answer your question, lma, I think no one person can decide whether a ballad is good or not. Sure, each person can decide for themselves, but I think the "good" quality of a poem is up to the reader, not the editor of the anthology or what have you. It is all a matter of taste. Granted, there has to be a certain amount of creativity involved to be put into The Making of a Poem, but I think that the editors of the book pick the finalists very subjectively. They tell us what is good based on which one appeals to them. - kkr-c kkr-c Feb 1, 2008

Well I'm not very sure what makes a ballad great for poetry analysts, but I think that a ballad should be an upbeat musical poem. Poetry is very personal so it will vary from person to person, but I think that a good ballad is one that can be easily sung. I mean I don't think Br. Tom had us get up and perform our ballads musically for no reason, he was trying to show us the lyrical, musical sides of the ballad. The poem definitely should have some purpose or point to get across, but I honestly think the best aspect of a good ballad is the degree to which it's entertaining and easy to translate to music.- mka-c mka-c Feb 1, 2008

I think that as in many other cases, this is a matter of opinion. Certainly things such as going against the traditional rules, small changes, different content, and length have a great impact on the way we see these ballads. I think I can safely say that many of us enjoyed "The Tale of Custard the Dragon" as well as "We Real Cool" because the poets added their own unique twists, small details that we really weren't expecting. The diction in Custard was whimsical and included words we probably hadn't heard before. As for "We Real Cool" I think that the fact that it was shorter than all the rest and also the fact that the poet used only two lines per stanza were somewhat of a breather during this section. At some point, I think we all expected the next ballad to be about a man/sailor lost at sea told from the perspective of a female loved one. The variety in the poems makes the ballads more interesting, more engaging. Therefore, I think that the variety is key when writing a great ballad. - bzw-c bzw-c Feb 2, 2008

If I had to say that one thing makes the Ballad great, I would say its versatility. This form can be impressive and entertaining whether it is short or long, simple or complex. I think that through this form we can truly see how much talent and author has. Most other forms are more strict and give the author less flexiblility, but the ballad allows the author to do almost anything. A poet can show his true style through this form and can easily put music to it and perform it for a further effect. The ballad can be entertaining whether it is long or short, narrative or not: it all depends on the way that the poet writes it.- mha-c mha-c Feb 2, 2008

I like the form: it is especially appealing because of the way it is perforned. As we all witnessed in class the other day, a ballad's quality can really be enhanced (...or not) by the manner in which it is performed. This is what makes the ballad unique; it is a song, and there is no strict form that has to be dealt with. The creativity lies in the diction and the performance. On the other hand, however, it is this very aspect of the poetical form that can be considered deficient -- the music part is creative, but the form is not so rigid as to provide the artistic quality itself. Compared to other forms, the ballad does not naturally have quite as an enticing meter, rhythm, or rhyme. It is more of a story or song than a poem.- sfa-c sfa-c Feb 2, 2008

The ballad is great because of its historical relevancy and application today. With Child's Ballads in particular we get a glimpse of the concerns were for people of the British Isles during that time period. Their focus on the sea and death clearly indicates how real a possibility that was and how important the sea was to their livelihood. Also, as demonstrated by our class, the presentation of the ballad in song makes the tunes memorable and harkens back to the times when jester's sang at courts or told stories later on, such as the epic Beowulf. Its application today is also noteworthy, many have taken it to be whimsical form like "The Tale of Custard the Dragon," others fit it to the style of the times "We Real Cool", reflecting the advancements of the Harlem Renaissance. Throughout the ballad, though, their is this musical quality that even with the aid of music is pleasing to the ear and catchy. Its greatness lies in its simplicity, because its simplicity allows it to be transformed into whatever topic the poet/singer wants to transcribe at that moment. - AHa-c AHa-c Feb 2, 2008

Well I would have to say that I don't think that the ballad's form makes it any less enticing than the others. I might even go so far as to say that it is more enticing - but that might be because I could actually follow what occurred in the ones we read. The other forms can be mystical and puzzling, so I find comfort in, as previously mentioned, the ballad's simplicity. The thing is, is that it is not as simple as it looks. It doesn't have to be an upbeat musical poem; it can be warm and heartfelt. And though the stories are a bit straightforward, they can be conveyed in numerous dimensions. The creativity allowed with which to perform any number of ballads is what makes them so appealing. - Sha-c Sha-c Feb 2, 2008

What makes a ballad great is all in the eye of the beholder. Some people will want something funny like "Custard the Dragon", others will want something that describes a Lord of the Rings style story filled with fantasy action, swords, and socery something along the lines of "Beowulf" (the ballad not the movie). Others will like love ballads, still others think that greatness only comes from steaching the limit of the form such as in that one poem about the dropouts that we read. So to ask what really makes a ballad great seems too much of an openended question to me because of all of the conflicting views of greatness. My version of greatness could mean something entirely different from yours and thus when I describe the ballad that I think is great I could be describing something that you wouldn't even consider to be a ballad.
- DGr-c DGr-c

A little point: Beowulf is a long narrative poem, not written in traditional quatrains with a 4-3 rhythm pattern ... so for that reason we speak of it as an epic rather than as a ballad. Now the story of Beowulf/Grendel could be turned into a ballad ... as was done by the eighties British band Marillion ... lyrics here ... Well, it's something like a ballad, especially in the first section ... and it drifts close to the lyric (as opposed to ballad) in places.- brtom brtom Feb 3, 2008

I agree with DGr that the question of what makes a ballad great is too open ended and too subjective. For me, though, there are two things that make a ballad great: its ability to transcend different time periods and its lyrical qualities. What I mean by transcending different time periods is that its message still has a way of coming through to the reader today even if it was written in the 1500s. Another way of transcending time periods is a silly poem that was really entertaining and fun a long time ago that kids today still get a kick out of. The other part of what makes a great ballad to me is its lyrical qualities like how easily can it be adapted to music and how effective can the music be to enhancing the ballad. Even though a lot of the lyrical qualities depend on the skill of the performer I still believe that certain poems contain a lyrical quality while others don’t. If a ballad doesn’t have the ability to easily transfer itself into song then it’s not as good as it could have been.
- kli-c kli-c Feb 3, 2008

I, too agree that DGr's question is too broad and open ended, but it does promote some thought about the nature of ballads. Personally, the ballad is my favorite form of poetry out of the different forms that we have studied this year for a few reasons, but mainly it's ability to tell a story. The narrative nature of ballads makes it simple for the poet to create a plot without having to make too many sacrifices in order to maintain a rhyme scheme. For example, I found it difficult to tell a story in the vilanelle and sestina because of the required rhyme scheme. I also find it interesting that these poems fall into many different categories ranging from humorous children stories to accounts about death and other serious issues. Further, when singing my ballad in class (very poorly, I may add), I noticed the emotion that poets are able to create with these poems. Different sounds create different moods because the melody changes. A happy song usually has a faster pace than a sad song. I find it fascinating that this can be done with words.
- KSm-c KSm-c Feb 5, 2008

It certainly is a broad topic, but I see nothing wrong with that. I think what makes a ballad so wonderful is that I haven't heard one so far that wasn't blunt and to the point. Sure, they're still a poetry form, but they seem to be more upfront and honest about what they're trying to get across instead of trying to dance around the point with fancy language. From the ballads we've read, the majority of them seem to say "Yes, this is life, be it good or crappy. Deal with it." Of course, there are other ones that are more lyrical and whatnot, like the one about the cherries and Mary and Joseph, but if you look at "Bagpipe Music" or "My Boy Willie", they seem to be more a social commentary or an emotionally moving true story than they do a poem. I think ballads are interesting because they allow the author to portray a message as clearly as they would if they were telling a story, but they're doing it in the form of poetry. I like it.
- MRo-c MRo-c Feb 5, 2008

What makes a good ballad? I think this is a topic up for a debate. It could be a personal, like subjective, thing...or is it like a universal thing? Is it like beauty?---where we say it is in the eye of the beholder....or is it like the universal "beauty"? I dont know. Like SZd, i totally picture an old man singing about his lost love when i think of what a ballad is. I guess now I think that a ballad has a few essentials: rhythm, beat, length. It has to be kind of lengthy. It has to have rhythm and beat. I mean, Br. Tom gave us that project to put a ballad to song, because basically alal ballads can be sung. I think that is why I like the ballads so much: i like reading them and hearing a song while I read...is that weird? I dont know. maybe.
- MFi-c MFi-c Feb 5, 2008

I believe that good and bad are in most cases relative. And yes, if you so wish, call me a moral relativist, even though ballads have nothing to do with ones morality. I think that the quality of a ballad is subjective to the reader due to situation, culture, time, and mood the ballad is read in. One can judge a ballad only using his or her personal standards for judgement. How can there be a universal standard for a ballad written by one person with an intention that the rest of the world can only guess upon. Therefore, good or bad is entirely relative based on the complexity of factors that go into a person's judgement. - cdu-c cdu-c Feb 5, 2008

Cdu, I couldn't agree with you more. I believe the variables of a person affect if they think a ballad is good or not. I mean I thought "Custard the Dragon" was an awesome ballad because it was just pure nonsense, but would I call it a quality ballad. Well, it does fulfill the requirements to be a ballad. However, it does not express the same kind of emotion as is evident in ballads such as "My Boy Willie," but I still don't think this cancels out that it is a true ballad. It's sort of like a song. If it is sung, it qualifies as a song, but that doesn't make it great. But in continuation of that, I could think a song is great that you think is terrible. Are either of us wrong? I don't think so. I think we just have different opinions and different views. Thus, I don't think we can ever really answer the question what make a ballad great?
- kva-c kva-c Feb 5, 2008

How important is the plot of the story being told by a ballad? Can we judge a ballad based on the story it tells? I think that we have a hard time combining both the narrative style of the ballad and the poetic devices. A ballad almost needs to be analyzed in two different ways to determine whether it is good or bad. It needs to be analyzed like a novel by focusing on the use of plot and characters as well as a poem by analyzing rhythm, language, and structure. I think that this makes the ballad more difficult to analyze. Which aspect of the ballad is more important, the poetic or narrative? What about the music? The music can also change how we look at a ballad because it can either advance or destroy the mood. Should the music also be considered when judging a ballad? People have said that the ballad seems so much less complex than the other forms we have studied, but I think that they are at times more complicated because they have many more important aspects than other forms. It is much more difficult to define a good and bad ballad because of this. - bga-c Feb 5, 2008 10:50 pm

I think that this question depends on the person. One could say that what makes a ballad great is that it tells a story. Another person could say that it is great because you can find a hidden melody in it. And then a completely different person could say what makes a ballad great is that it has a rhyme scheme. However, I think it is all three of those characterisitics that make the ballad great. Whenever I am asked what makes something great I always find different qualities of whatever it is that sum it up to something great. Being great means that someone or something has one or more distinct or strong qualities and the ballad has just that. The story, melody, and rhyme scheme of the ballad make it great. I enjoy poems more when there is a story behind them. I think that in general having a story behind writing allows it to be easier to read and therefore quite often being more enjoyable. Secondly, the melody adds to an enjoyable sound when reading the ballad aloud. I pick up on those sort of things and enjoy when you can hear something behind the words. Finally, the rhyme scheme allows it to flow and have rhythm. I am still a fan of poems rhyming and having some sort of structure behind them. - aja-c aja-c Feb 5, 2008

The beauty of the ballad, like the beauty of anything, is not in the eye of the beholder; it is objective. The objectiveness of this beauty is evident by the above posters who state that its beauty is subjective when they all like the same qualities; thus they have, in succession, disproved their own point. The common attributes that make a ballad objectively beautiful are the five criteria on page 73 of the book, The Making of a Poem. Two in particular that make the ballad stand out over other forms are the elements of "popular and local speech" and "a short narrative". The vernacular is the best way to tell anyone anything, except of course, mass, which can also be enjoyed in latin, as long as translations are known; however, the Catholic Church decided to change the mass to the vernacular in Vatican II because they thought that it would be more meaningful to a greater number of people. I agree with them because not everyone can speak latin or can has a translation on site. The common tounge stoops down to level of the common man, allowing the common man to get more out of the ballad. The narrative aspect also relates to the common man. Stories were, are, and will always be the best way to get a point across. Ralph Ellison could have just stated: "racism can cause many blacks to face a severe identity crises"; instead, he wrote Invisible Man. I am illustrating the power of a novel over the power of a sentence because a novel, a story strikes the message home easier than a simple sentence. If we look at the gospels, Jesus taught in parables, again confirming the power of stories to touch the everyday person.

All in all, I admire the ballad because its ability to touch the common man through the common speech and the use of a story.- TMc-c TMc-c Feb 5, 2008

The ballad for me is great because it is a breath of fresh air when it comes to poetry. I remember studying simple poetry in middleschool like limericks and I remember how much I enjoyed writing and singing them. They were little fun nuggets of literature that were fun to play with. Then junior high and highschool came along and over a period of time, poetry became something entirely different. All of the wierd forms or complete lack of form, or abandonment of form by a famous poet became the norm. I began to read poetry saying in my head when I came across something, "ok guy, you just wrote like that to be as wierd as possible." Well, the ballad is a return to simpler poetry and I enjoy it. No I don't like the incredibly silly ones as much, but I like ballads like I do the lyrics of songs. If the words mean something, sound musical, and don't sound like a complete stretch just for a ryhme, I enjoy them. They can be beautiful without trying that hard or being works of genius.- MKo-c MKo-c Feb 6, 2008