A ballad is a narrative poem, usually set to music. It usually follows a rhyme scheme of ABAB.
One example of a ballad that we've covered in the course is Expostulation and Reply, by William Wordsworth.
His use of the ballad is important because the ballad, before Wordsworth, was generally associated with only rustic or common writers. Wordsworth paved the way for the ballad to become a way to express serious poetry while receiving proper respect as a literary work.
In relation to the course, William Wordsworth's Expostulation and Reply, along with his other ballads, is significant because it's an example of the shift from the Neoclassical format of "upperclass" writing to the Romantic emphasis on writing in the language of "common man." In the neoclassical era, the subject of poems covered elevated life, and stressed Reason. After the Romantic Revolution, writers like Wordsworth began covering common life and imagination. The ballad, in reverting poetry back to simpler diction and syntax, represents the shift between these two eras, from complex ideas back to simplicity.
According to the OED online a ballad is a simple spirited poem in short stanza in which some popular story is grammatically narrated. Another definition of a ballad from the OED is one celebrating or scurrilously attacking persons or institutions.
William Wordsworth wrote many ballads. His ballads are introduced after the preface to the Lyrical Ballads. The ballads we read from him are “Expostulation and Reply”, The Tables Turned”, “The world is too much with us”, and “Tintern Abby”.
In Wordsworth’s ballad “The Tables Turned” Wordsworth attacks and celebrates humanity. He celebrates his theory that humans should learn from nature, “Let nature be your teacher”(16). In addition, Wordsworth proposes humans should quit reading books, instead he suggests that humans should “Come hear the woodland linnet…There is more of wisdom in it”(10) Thus, nature will educate one more than a book can. The “woodland linnet” is an example of one of nature’s teacher’s that will offer more “wisdom” than “Books!”(9) In addition to Wordsworth rejoicing over his transcendentalist theory, he is also “attacking” academic institutions within the ballad as he mentions, “Books! ‘tis a dull and endless strife”, for Wordsworth “Books!” are tedious and a boring struggle.
Ballad’s can associate with any satirical literary works we have discussed in class. A satire can function as an attack on a person or an institution. Seemingly, ballads need victims just as a satire does. Don Juan by Byron is an example of romantic poetic satire and Dryden’s “Mac Flecknoe” is an example of a neoclassical poetic satire. Byron and Dryden’s satirical literary works are relevant to the ballad form that Wordsworth illustrates.