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Paris was called the city of lights because it was a European center of learning and enlightenment. In 1828, Paris began lighting the Champs-Elysées with gas lamps. It earned the nickname “La Ville-Lumière” or The City of Light. After the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900 electric lights were installed making it the city of the most electric lights in the world. About that time those lights became a beacon for change.  Artists of every kind, thought of themselves as poets. So visions with words changed the way the world was seen. They broke up the world of color, of shapes, of meaning. Sam Peralta was correct when he said an artist is like an alien walking among us, one who sees differently and yet has the ability to show that strangeness to others who can’t see it.

Panoramic view over the western side of Paris, at dusk, from the top of the Tour Montparnasse. Courtesty Common Wikipedia

Today we look at the very Old French Form, the French Ballade, and we realize as with any form, it can be changed and modernized. It can be another way of seeing the ever changing world; taking the usual, standing it on its head to let the world experience it in a new way.

I know some of you were able to write that French Ballade in no time and link last time, and a few others had one ready by the next #OLN night. Some may still be working on them and others may only now be considering them. To avoid having to refer to the first article I will post again the requirements for the form. You may make the lines any length you like, but once you decide on the number of syllables in the line, the form calls for staying consistent. (However, like any good modernist you may add a syllable here and subtract there if it works for what you want to say.) There is no requirement regarding meter. It doesn’t have to be anapest, iambic, trocheé, etc. So here is the chart again for your information:

For the shorter Ballade
(the ‘true’ Ballade)
For the longer Ballade
(the Ballade Supreme)
Length of first three stanzas 8 lines (an octave) 10 lines
Length of final stanza (the “envoy”) 4 lines (a quatrain) 5 lines
syllables per line 8 syllables 10 syllables
total number of rhymes in the poem 3 4
rhyme scheme of first three stanzas (upper-case for refrain) ababbcbC ababbccdcD
rhyme scheme of final stanza bcbC ccdcD
  • Make a free-write or rough prose draft of a page or two, exploring what you want to say. You apparently can choose your line syllabic length, but then you should repeat it throughout.
  • Look at the free-write for repetition of words or phrases. That might give you some options for the refrain and for the rhymes to be used.
  • Look for rhyming words: you will need eight (8) ‘a’ rhymes and five (5) ‘b’ rhymes, in addition to the refrain.
  • The common practice of using end-stopped rhymes may allow you to pull phrases from you writing in order to construct lines of the appropriate length but whose sequence you can alter if that helps the poem. Like packing an inflated helium balloon into a suitcase, tussle with modifying the sequence to tug the poem into shape.
  • However, modern writers make more use of enjambment and of slant rhyme, for lively and less predictable poetry.
  • As with all formal poems nowadays, it is vital that the form does not “drive” your poem. If the rhyme scheme and form begin to feel forced, then you must assert the poem’s content.
    That’s the nuts and bolts of it; over the years poets have played with the form.  I thought I’d put up two American versions of the Ballade from somewhat recent times.

    Dudley Randall - Common Domain - courtesy of research.udmercy.edu

    The Southern Road – Dudley Randall

    There the black river, boundary to hell,
    And here the iron bridge, the ancient car
    And grim conductor, who with surly yell
    Forbids white soldiers where the black ones are.
    And I re-live the enforced avatar
    Of shuddering journey to a strange abode
    Made by my sires before another war;
    And I set forth upon the southern road.

    To a land where shadowed songs like flowers swell
    And where the earth is scarlet as a scar
    Friezed by the bleeding last that fell (O fell!)
    Upon my fathers’ flesh. O far, far, far
    And deep my blood has drenched it. None can bar
    My birthright to the loveliness bestowed
    Upon this country haughty as a star.
    And I set forth upon the southern road.

    This darkness and these mountains loom a spell
    Of peak-roofed town where yearning steeples soar
    And the holy holy chanting of a bell
    Shakes human incense on the throbbing air
    Where bonfires blaze and quivering bodies char.
    Whose is the hair that crisped, and fiercely glowed?
    I know it; and my entrails melt like tar
    And I set forth upon the southern road.

    O fertile hillsides where my fathers are,
    And whence my griefs like troubled streams have flowed,
    Love you I must, though they may sweep me far.
    And I set forth upon the southern road.                            1943

    Dorothy Parker - Courtesy wikipedia common domain

    BALLADE OF A GREAT WEARINESS- by Dorothy Parker

    There’s little to have but the things I had,
    There’s little to bear but the things I bore.
    There’s nothing to carry and naught to add,
    And glory to Heaven, I paid the score.
    There’s little to do but I did before,
    There’s little to learn but the things I know;
    And this is the sum of a lasting lore:
    Scratch a lover, and find a foe.

    And couldn’t it be I was young and mad
    If ever my heart on my sleeve I wore?
    There’s many to claw at a heart unclad,
    And little the wonder it ripped and tore.
    There’s one that’ll join in their push and roar,
    With stories to jabber, and stones to throw;
    He’ll fetch you a lesson that costs you sore:
    Scratch a lover, and find a foe.

    So little I’ll offer to you, my lad;
    It’s little in loving I set my store.
    There’s many a maid would be flushed and glad,
    And better you’ll knock at a kindlier door.
    I’ll dig at my lettuce, and sweep my floor,
    Forever, forever I’m done with woe.
    And happen I’ll whistle about my chore,
    “Scratch a lover, and find a foe.”

    L’ENVOI

    Oh, beggar or prince, no more, no more!
    Be off and away with your strut and show.
    The sweeter the apple, the blacker the core:
    Scratch a lover, and find a foe!                       undated c. 1935

    So I hope you enjoy this form. As with all forms, it’s important to make them your own. They should primarily be your voice, full of your passions, and concerns. If you choose to write in form, let it be something that enhances the subject matter, focuses your thought, and yields something that pleases you.  Looking forward to your links.

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