Ballad is a typical form of narrative poetry having the stamp of folklore. It is a song transmitted orally, which tells a story. Like lyrics, the ballads in the middle ages were sung and they too must be taken with their musical settings. Their poetic effects can be appreciated only when they are sung; They are to be treated as something inextricably bound up with the folk song. Their metrical forms are essentially musical form and their special narrative technique arises naturally from their story is divided into clearly defined stanzas.
The connection of ballads with folk songs which stemmed out of the cross-fertilization of the mores, manners, superstitions of the common masses living in the bucolic atmosphere, and the singers, indicates one very important aspect of ballads that they are the tales and yarns of the life of the unsophisticated masses, not of the sophisticated urban people. As a matter of fact, ballads are democratic by nature being, of the people, for the people, and in most cases, by the people.
Here are some common characteristics of the medieval ballads:
1. They are about love, legends, feats of some local heroes, weird and uncanny happenings or religious yarns and tales.
2. Common people’s elemental passions are expressed candidly in uninhibited terms.
3. They are more family or individual-centric than clan or nation-centric.
4. The unknown singers were noncommitted, never or seldom divulging their own personality through them. They are objective, rather than subjective in their treatment of their works.
5. They are orally transmitted down the centuries. Each singer learning the ballads orally are apt to introduce in both content and music.
6. They are sometimes dramatic, hence impersonal.
7. The ballad stanza is generally a quatrain in Iambic Tetrameter and Trimeter alternately
The earliest example of a Ballad is Robin Hood ballads like “Robin Hood and the Monk”, “Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne”, “Robin Hood and the Potter”. Other ballads are “The Ballad of Chevy Chase”, “Sir Patrick Spans”, 218th century John Keats’s “La Belle Dame sans Merci”, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas Hardy’s “During Wind and Rain,” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee”, and “The Song of Wandering Aengus” by William Butler Yeats, etc.