A Ballade For Truth

I like learning about new poetic forms.

For me personally, wrestling just the right words into exactly the configuration I want them to have is a good time - intellectual bubblegum, if you will. Teach me a format, scheme or meter that follows a set of rules and must fit a framework, and I will spend happy hours working the puzzle backward, saying what I want to say within the stricture suggested. To my mind, it beats Sudoku, crosswords and Scrabble to hell and back.

Today, I'd like to share with you a particularly challenging poetic form, the Ballade, not to be confused with the ballad.

First of all, the Ballade consists of three mains stanzas of eight syllables each (which all share the same rhyme scheme) followed by a shorter closing stanza called the envoi. All fours stanzas have identical final refrain lines. They originated in France in the early fourteenth century. As one of the Formes Fixes (alongside the Rondeau and Virelai) Ballades were often set to music.

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote English Ballades in the fourteenth century, and then they came back around into vogue in the early 19th century when presented by Dante Gabriel Rosetti and Algernon Charles Swinburn. But enough history lesson.

Ballades are hard to write, but like the New York Times Sunday Crossword, if you complete it, you will understand the immense satisfaction. First off, the rhyme scheme means you need a LOT of rhyming sets.

The initial three stanzas all use the same rhyme-scheme:


with the shorter envoi as follows:


Now, just to throw you a curve ball, the closing envoi is usually written as an aside, addressed to the king, prince or God, allowing for a change in perspective at the end which concludes the poem.

Here is a fine modern example of a Ballade, by G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) called A Ballade of Theatricals - a beautifully done example of the form.

OK, you still with me so far?

So what subject is worthy of the lingual calisthenics required to present fourteenth century standards to the iPad generation? There can only be one.


Do not be fooled, nor be misled,
let your vision be ever clear.
Pray you care what the poet said,
let ideas prosper and adhere.
Hear with more than your outer ear.
Truth is rarely freely displayed,
nor is it as it first appears -
fear actors beneath the charade.

Our senses always thrust ahead
to expand what is meant by ‘near’,
we’re amused by circus and bread
and corralled by that which we fear,
talking like a drunk auctioneer
is the only way to persuade,
or we watch the sale disappear -
fear actors beneath the charade.

Stability hangs by a thread
when signposts quickly disappear.
Virgin snow stained bloody wet red,
we run for safety in the rear
and drown our yellow in our beer,
ensuring our parts are well played,
the curtain rises on the premier -
fear actors beneath the charade.

When you forge a strong new frontier
Your true kingdoms you will upgrade,
your Grace will be without a peer -
fear actors beneath the charade.

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