BALLADE, the technical name of a complicated and fixed form of verse, arranged on a precise system, and having nothing in common with the word ballad, except its derivation from the same Low Latin verb, ballare, to dance. In the 14th and 15th centuries it was spelt balade. In its regular conditions a ballade consists of three stanzas and an envoi; there is a refrain which is repeated at the close of each stanza and of the envoi. The entire poem should contain but three or four rhymes, as the case may be, and these must be reproduced with exactitude in each section. These rules were laid down by Henri de Croi, whose L'Art et science de rhétorique was first printed in 1493, and he added that if the refrain consists of eight syllables, the ballade must be written in huitains (eight-line stanzas), if of ten syllables in dizains (ten-line), and so on. The form can best be studied in an example, and we quote, as absolutely faultless in execution, the famous "Ballade aux Enfants Perdus," composed by Théodore de Banville in 1861:—

"Je le sais bien que Cythère est en deuil!
Que son jardin, souffleté par l'orage,
O mes amis, n'est plus qu'un sombre écueil
Agonisant sous le soleil sauvage.
La solitude habite son rivage.
Qu'importe! allons vers les pays fictifs!
Cherchons la plage où nos désirs oisifs
S'abreuveront dans le sacré mystère
Fait pour un chœur d'esprits contemplatifs:
Embarquons-nous pour la belle Cythère,

"La grande mer sera notre cercueil;
Nous servirons de proie au noir naufrage,
Le feu du ciel punira notre orgueil
Et l'aiguillon nous garde son outrage.
Qu'importe! allons vers le clair paysage!
Malgré la mer jalouse et les récifs,
Venez, portons comme des fugitifs,
Loin de ce monde au souffle délétère.
Nous dont les cœurs sont des ramiers plaintifs,
Embarquons-nous pour la belle Cythère.

"Des serpents gris se traînent sur le seuil
Où souriait Cypris, la chère image
Aux tresses d'or, la vierge au doux accueil!
Mais les Amours sur le plus haut cordage
Nous chantent l'hymne adoré du voyage.
Héros cachés dans ces corps maladifs,
Fuyons, partons sur nos légers esquifs,
Vers le divin bocage où la panthère
Pleure d'amour sous les rosiers lascifs:
Embarquons-nous pour la belle Cythère.


"Rassasions d'azur nos yeux pensifs!
Oiseaux chanteurs, dans la brise expansifs,
Ne souillons pas nos ailes sur la terre.
Volons, charmés, vers les dieux primitifs!
Embarquons-nous pour la belle Cythère."

This is the type of the ballade in its most elaborate and highly-finished form, which it cannot be said to have reached until the 14th century. It arose from the canzone de ballo of the Italians, but it is in Provençal literature that the ballade first takes a modern form. It was in France, however, and not until the reign of Charles V., that the ballade as we understand it began to flourish; instantly it became popular, and in a few years the out-put of these poems was incalculable. Machault, Froissart, Eustache Deschamps and Christine de Pisan were among the poets who cultivated the ballade most abundantly. Later, those of Alain Chartier and Henri Baude were famous, while the form was chosen by François Villon for some of the most admirable and extraordinary poems which the middle ages have handed down to us. Somewhat later, Clément Marot composed ballades of great precision of form, and the fashion culminated in the 17th century with those of Madame Deshoulières, Sarrazin, Voiture and La Fontaine. Attacked by Molière, and by Boileau, who wrote

"La ballade asservie à ses vieilles maximes,
Souvent doit tout son lustre au caprice des rimes,"

the ballade went entirely out of fashion for two hundred years, when it was resuscitated in the middle of the 19th century by Théodore de Banville, who published in 1873 a volume of Trente-six ballades joyeuses, which has found many imitators. The ballade, a typically French form, has been extensively employed in no other language, except in English. In the 15th and 16th centuries many ballades were written, with more or less close attention to the French rules, by the leading English poets, and in particular by Chaucer, by Gower (whose surviving ballades, however, are all in French) and by Lydgate. An example from Chaucer will show that the type of strophe and rhyme arrangement was in medieval English:—

"Madamë, ye been of all beauty shrine
As far as circled is the mappëmound;
For, as the crystal, glorious ye shine,
And likë ruby been your cheekës round.
Therewith ye been so merry and so jocúnd
That at a revel when that I see you dance,
It is an oinëment unto my wound,
Though ye to me ne do no daliance.

"For though I weep of tearës full a tine,
Yet may that woe my heartë not confound;
Your seemly voice, that ye so small out-twine,
Maketh my thought in joy and bliss abound.
So courteously I go, with lovë bound,
That to myself I say, in my penance,
Sufficeth me to love you, Rosamound,
Though ye to me ne do no daliance.

"Was never pike wallowed in galantine,
As I in love am wallowed and y-wound;
For which full oft I of myself divine
That I am truë Tristram the second.
My love may not refrayed be nor afound;
I burn ay in an amorous pleasance.
Do what you list, I will your thrall be found,
Though ye to me ne do no daliance."

The absence of an envoi will be noticed in Chaucer's, as in most of the medieval English ballades. This points to a relation with the earliest French form, in its imperfect condition, rather than with that which afterwards became accepted. But a ballade without an envoi lacks that section whose function is to tie together the rest, and complete the whole as a work of art. After the 16th century original ballades were no more written in English until the latter part of the 19th, when they were re-introduced, almost simultaneously, by Algernon Charles Swinburne, Austin Dobson, Andrew Lang, Edmund Gosse and W. E. Henley; but D. G. Rossetti's popular translation of Villon's "Ballade of Fair Ladies" may almost be considered an original poem, especially as it entirely disregards the metrical rules of the ballades. Mr. Dobson's "The Prodigals" (1876) was one of the earliest examples of a correct English specimen. In 1880 Mr Lang published a volume of Ballades in Blue China, which found innumerable imitators. The modern English ballades have been, as a rule, closely modelled on the lines laid down in the 15th century by Henri de Croi. With the exception of the sonnet, the ballade is the noblest of the artificial forms of verse cultivated in English literature. It lends itself equally well to pathos and to mockery, and in the hands of a competent poet produces an effect which is rich in melody without seeming fantastic or artificial.


Source: 1911 Encyclopedia




DJ McAdam

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