Types of Poem Forms - French Ballade Poems

French Poetry Forms

While any type of poetic form can be used to stimulate and awaken countless strong emotions for the reader, or by contrast give way to lighter and more frolicsome emotions, some of my favorite types of poem forms are found in the French forms in poetry.

It's interest that over time in the history of poetry, the more serious poets and writers, publishing on topics like drama, narrative odes, and lyrics about spring and nature, young love, lost love, war, and the similar melancholy like -- have always been more accepted and therefore taken more seriously. Some have suggested that perhaps it's because it is easier to cry than to laugh.

Fixed Forms Of French Poetry

Poetry can be like a pair of pants that have been outgrown from too many trips to the buffet table in that yesterday's poems can also be outgrown. Over time, hugely popular poetry forms can be so admired that they take a back seat to more modern prose when force fed to high school and college students. So it can be said that even the best of poetry can age and become outdated, at least in the eyes of the young.

Additionally, the poetic's hearts of expressions of yesterday simply can't be forever young or evergreen, with few exceptions. I was taught that poetry must be rephrased approximately every fifty years to be fresh enough to be enjoyed by those alive today and there may be some merit in that sentiment. Everyday expressions and words change over time and so does the fixed forms of poetry. This is especially true of fixed forms of older French poetry.

Favorite Poete - Artist: Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Favorite Poete - Artist: Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday's French Poetry

During medieval times a lot of fixed poetry primarily did not translate well to English thought and sentiment, nor hold the interest of the English speaking poets. This was true of the alba, breu-double, canzo, pastorella, retroensa, serena, and vers poetic forms. About that time, along came the religious crusades and new forms of poetic verse took root in Northern France. This is when the first ballade appeared.

Original Rules Of Fixed French Verse Forms

The early French poets weren't quite as strict in their rules for fixed poetry forms as the English, where no syllable once used as a rhyme could be used again in the same poem, not even if it is spelled differently, or even altered by a prefix. English poets used Fixed French Verse forms, but altered the rules once again to suit them and declared that the refrain (envoy) cannot be a meaningless repetition of sounds like in English ballads. While French poets permitted such, if it aided in the progression of the poem in a natural way.

The Ballade Poem Family

Actually, there are two regular forms of the ballade:

  • The first one has three stanzas of eight lines each. At the end of the poem the stanzas are followed by the envoy (a quatrain) that end with a line repeated sound by sound (refrain). This makes the poem a total of twenty-eight lines (twice the length of a sonnet).
  • The rhyme scheme for each stanza is 1,2,1,2,2,3,2,3R. (Note: the 3R being the refrain).
  • The rhyme scheme for the envoy is 2,3,2,3R.

In general this first form of the ballade has four main rules:

  1. The rhyme sounds used in the first stanza must be the same and used in the same order on each subsequent stanza, along with the last half it being used in the envoy.
  2. Rhyme sounds once used cannot be repeated again for that purpose anywhere in the poem.
  3. All of the stanzas and the envoy must end with the refrain line and it must be word for word without any alteration of sound. The only exceptions are that you can change the punctuation, meaning, and spelling if you so choose.
  4. The message of the refrain must be foremost throughout the ballade, and be natural to the stanza and envoy.

In the past, other rigid rules for this type of ballade were strictly adhered to, such as the length of the refrain dictating the length of each stanza. Additionally, the envoy was designed to properly address the patron of the poet. So often it would start out with "Sire! Sire! or other such royal bowing of the wordsmith's praise.

The second type of ballade poem consists of stanzas of:

  • Ten lines, of ten syllables each, followed by an envoy of five lines.
  • The rhyme scheme for each stanza being 1,2,1,2,2,3,3,4,3,4R (Note: The 4R being the refrain)

Golden Raintree - Source: Tatina Gerus, Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons
Golden Raintree - Source: Tatina Gerus, Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons
Chinese Golden Rain Tree - Source: mauroguanandi, Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons
Chinese Golden Rain Tree - Source: mauroguanandi, Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons

Example Of A French Ballade Poem

The following poem is one that I wrote in the first ballade fixed form about the Golden Raintree (Koelreuteria paniculata) that graces my front yard. If you've never encountered this type of flowering tree they are glorious. This tree evokes great sentiment on my part for a number of reasons:

1) It comes from Asia, reminding me of my son and granddaughter living in Hong Kong; 2) when it sheds it's flowers it is very much like watching a wintery white snow in the wildness, but instead in a yellow silent constant laying of a blanket of tiny flowers; 3) then like a miracle the flowers are replaced with papery seed pots of lusty red color -- a sheer delight to the eye. Eventually, both fall to the ground.

When the Golden Rain Tree Snows

Canary yellow flowery snowflakes falling

I surveyed until bitter sweet lemon yellow covered the ground

Your death and rebirth surely ultimately due to come calling

Still the beautiful irony of nature’s grand plan can only astound

I inspected this source of what should have been without a sound

Inflorescence panicle clusters buzzed and waved poetically making me feel small

I stared at the scarlet papery promise of another future new found

Onto the ground silently drops one and all.


Bee kissed gold plated meals from diminutive electric yellow petals crawling

I guarded the blanket of iceterine yellow floral sidewalk from the certain drown

Of jealous footsteps erasing that I was afraid might come lolling

This joke on mankind Mother Nature designed well-found

I watched over her Chinese paper lanterns glowing and growing in and around

While a Scottish mist of something foggy bothered me not at all

I considered tiny purple black seeds of death and rebirth destined to rebound

Onto the ground silently drops one and all.


A daffodil yellow colored blanket of petals that made me go bawling

I stalked the irony of perfection that never seems to last and felt myself drown

In cadmium yellow florets fading and yet mysteriously enthralling

September Golden Raintree, it’s your perfection I’ll remember wherever found

I’ll look after your flame red lanterns so translucently thin that too are earthbound

Sooner or later fading to bronze all and all

I’ll keep your young under surveillance while they peek through grass abound

Onto the ground silently drops one and all.



(Envoy)



Pride of India Tree you were once crowned

Legions of admirers call your name once and for all

Golden Raintree snows renowned

Onto the ground silently drops one and all.

© Jerilee Wei 2011

Fruits Of Koelreuteria paniculata - Source: Betty from Memphis, TN, USA, Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons
Fruits Of Koelreuteria paniculata - Source: Betty from Memphis, TN, USA, Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons

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Comments 18 comments

Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Denise Handlon! It's a colorful tree as well.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

Wow! What a beautiful poem, full of colorful description. I really enjoyed reading the explanation as well. Voted up!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Genna East! It's one of my favorite fixed poem forms too.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

French ballade poetry has always been one of my favorites; thus I was delighed to read this wonderful hub!

"I guarded the blanket of iceterine yellow floral sidewalk from the certain drown

Of jealous footsteps erasing that I was afraid might come lolling

This joke on mankind Mother Nature designed well-found

I watched over her Chinese paper lanterns glowing and growing in and around

While a Scottish mist of something foggy bothered me not at all

I considered tiny purple black seeds of death and rebirth destined to rebound

Onto the ground silently drops one and all."

Beautiful!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks tillsontitan! No, you didn't overuse beautiful. Thanks for the compliments.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

Great hub, great information. I especially liked: "Poetry can be like a pair of pants that have been outgrown from too many trips to the buffet table in that yesterday's poems can also be outgrown." Terrific simile. PLUS your poem is beautiful and quite a tribute to the tree with beautiful photos. Did I overuse beautiful? Voted up and interesting and surprisingly, beautiful.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks K9keystrokes! So much of the older Ballade takes my breath away, wish I was better at writing my own.


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 4 years ago from Northern, California

Well presented and chalked full of dynamic information. Thank you for reminding me just how much French Ballade Poetry can take my breath away.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Goonoo Munawwar! I love French poetry.


Goonoo Munawwar profile image

Goonoo Munawwar 4 years ago from Triolet, Mauritius

I love poetry, especially french poetry. This is a great hub on french poetry and the photos included is very enriching!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Tom Rubenoff! I am touched with your comment because I consider you the expert poetry guy here.

Thanks Paraglider! It's one of my favorites too. Too bad we don't have patrons today. I don't think a lot of readers or listeners would mind if a rule or two were broken when it comes to Villon.

Thanks WD Curry 111! I can see "funny" too especially when I watch my husband outside with his leaf blower talking to himself about those pesky lanterns (which are beautiful today, like a sea of pink red across the yard).


WD Curry 111 profile image

WD Curry 111 4 years ago from Space Coast

I studied poetry in college. This was top notch. This is a great medium in that you can have poetry and photos and videos about trees and funky advertisements. It is like a living magazine. I checked funny, because I kept thinking about who was going to rake up all of those lantern husks.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

Nicely done :) The ballade is one of my favourite forms to write in. It's important to pick a good refrain that can stand the repetition without jarring. The other tricky part is making the envoy sound natural, now that we don't have patrons to address!

Villon was the master, of course, and used to be able to improvise ballades to order. No mean feat, though you can't help wondering if any of his listeners would have noticed the occasional broken rule!


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 4 years ago from United States

A beautiful poem and wonderfully informative article. :)


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks robie2! Hopefully I can do this series I just finished on French fixed poem forms justice.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey

What a fabulous hub-- I have not thought about the ballade form since I had to read Francois Villon in college and oh how I could have used this hub then:-) I'm in awe at how erudite you are and how well you communicate. Voted up up up


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Paradise7! It's hard to tell, perhaps it just sounds more poetic in French?


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 4 years ago from Upstate New York

Beautiful tree, and beautiful poem. What a wistful idea, and very fitting to the French form of ballade. Who says this form doesn't translate to English?

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