Monday, July 07, 2008

Ballade Contest

All right, here it is: the long-awaited ballade contest. Now is the time to let your entries come pouring in--or to scratch your head and hope for inspiration.

I'm posting some examples of the ballade form, written by Chesterton and Belloc, in another post. That should give you an idea of what ballades are all about. But here are the basic characteristics.

1. The rhyme form is ababbcbC ababbcbC ababbcbC bcbC. That is, three stanzas of eight lines, and one of four. The final capital C stands for the refrain. Rhyme is continuous throughout the poem--all a's rhyme throughout, and all b's--fourteen b rhymes altogether! So pick an easy-to-rhyme word to end your second line. "Orange" simply will not do.

2. The refrain: this is a catchy little bit to end each stanza. It has to sound the same in each line--but you may change the punctuation, swap in a homonym here or there--just so long as they sound the same.

3. The Envoi. This is the final four line stanza. Chesterton, Belloc, and company would address this to the prince. As we have none, do as you will, but please address it to somebody. You can just say "Prince" and let us guess who you mean, throw in the President, or address it to your mother. But the Envoi is meant to be a sending-forth or farewell stanza--as Byron's introduction to Don Juan:

"Go, little book, from this my solitude;
I cast thee on the water: go thy ways!
And if, as I believe, thy vein be good,
The world will find thee after many days."
When Southey's read, and Wordsworth understood,
I can't help putting in my claim to praise--
The first four rhymes are Southey's, every line:
For God's sake, reader! take them not for mine.

So, send your poem out to somebody. It could be me. I don't care.

4. On some study, it looks like iambic pentameter is the thing for ballades. If another foot suits you, that's fine with me, but pick a solid medium-length line. For examples of what I mean by iambic pentameter, see the sample ballades. Or just say, "ba-DUM ba-DUM ba-DUM ba-DUM ba-DUM." Or read some Shakespeare aloud. You'll be able to hear it.

5. Any subject will do.

Just leave it in the comment box or email it to enchiridion1 at yahoo dot com. I'm looking forward to the submissions--if I get any. Be brave and try one! They're easier than they look.


dylan said...


I was nineteen in 1988;
Before that, I was younger, I suppose.
And now I'm middle-aged, a sorry state;
The bloom (to coin a phrase) has left the rose.
The muse, like lovely weather, comes and goes;
But mostly I drink, eat, read, sleep, complain:
And what the future holds, nobody knows --
One thing's for sure: I won't be young again.

And what is left for me to celebrate?
The cerebellum shrinks, the belly grows.
Try running windsprints when you're overweight,
When years of health are drawing to a close.
The heavy limbs that trudge through winter snows,
The graying hair that's soaked by summer rain,
The litany of ills and psychic woes --
One thing's for sure: I won't be young again.

The blunted wit that fails me in debate,
The memory recalling sins, pains, throes,
The mind conspires to humiliate
Both by what it blots out and what it shows:
The weakening soul that seeks a sweet repose
Suffers unceasing and unhallowed pain
Dealt by those thoughts which are its fiercest foes --
One thing's for sure: I won't be young again.

O holy Virgin, blest mystical Rose,
Through your most clement prayers may I regain
Some strength, some hope; for time's great river flows,
And one thing's sure: I won't be young again.

Sheila said...

Confessions of a Late-Night Literata

(inspired by my staying up late studying and writing, and consequently being discovered at noon in my pajamas)

I grab swift bites of poetry on the run,
Between Latin and Greek I snatch a line,
My time does not allow for book-loads by the ton:
And yet I somehow try to jot a bit of mine
In between the elder poets so divine.
I barely heard my mother's solemn warning--
That no matter how brim-full of words my time,
I still must get dressed in the morning.

I've written sixty thousand words so far, not one
Of which came unconsidered from my mind;
A novel's growing slowly, in the sun
Of inspiration, dense but so sublime.
I push aside my hopeful efforts at sweet rhyme
To place in prose a hint of my mind's soaring.
And yet my pajama'd appearance seems a crime:
I still must get dressed in the morning.

An artist's life means protocols to shun:
Shelley frowned on marriage (such a crime),
And Beethoven used pianos like a drum.
It rather palls, this "decadence" of mine.
And yet my mother ignores my case so fine
And looks a touch askance at my late snoring.
"It cannot come to good," she says, "it's wasting time."
I still must get dressed in the morning.

Prince, who stay up late those documents to sign,
Or wakes the night, for thy sad nation mourning,
Listen to the words of that sweet wife of thine--
"I still must get dressed in the morning."

Sheila said...

P.S. Read the previous with a slight slur, so the m's and n's sound like they rhyme ... :P

dylan said...

My submission is an early draft, and I'm afraid it shows. Might I be allowed a revision? I think "sins, pains, throes" in line 2 of the third stanza should be emended to read "pangs and throes" -- works better rhythmically, and avoids repetition of the word "pain."

Sheila said...

Go ahead and re-submit a draft if you like. I'll just take the latest one.

Meredith said...

Here is another ballade of Belloc's, this one to Our Lady of Czestochowa:

Lady and Queen and Mystery manifold
And very Regent of the untroubled sky,
Whom in a dream St. Hilda did behold
And heard a woodland music passing by:
You shall receive me when the clouds are high
With evening and the sheep attain the fold.
This is the faith that I have held and hold,
And this is that in which I mean to die.
Steep are the seas and savaging and cold
In broken waters terribly to try;
And vast against the winter night the wold,
And harbourless for any sail to lie.
But you shall lead me to the lights, and I
Shall hymn you in a harbour story told.
This is the faith that I have held and hold,
And this is that in which I mean to die.
Help of the half-defeated, House of gold,
Shrine of the Sword, and Tower of Ivory;
Splendour apart, supreme and aureoled,
The Battler's vision and the World's reply.
You shall restore me, O my last Ally.
To vengence and the glories of the bold.
This is the faith that I have held and hold,
And this is that in which I mean to die.

Prince of the degradations, bought and sold,
These verses, written in your crumbling sty,
Proclaim the faith that I have held and hold
And publish that in which I mean to die.

dylan said...

It's amazing when poets attempt (at succeed at) the ballade using only two rhymes!

Meredith said...

At last I'm finished! Please don't speculate.

A Confidence

Because of you my eyes are always wet -
I never loved so vehemently before.
You perfect chevalier with hair of jet,
Just thinking of you fells me to the floor!
I know you're sweet and smart and witty for
I read you daily on the Internet.
And so I pine upon this Hither Shore:
How can I love you when we've never met?

A date, they say, could all my dreams upset -
You might find talking to me quite a chore.
Or you could light a sordid cigarette,
Or accidentally walk into a door.
I might turn fickle like Queen Eleanor,
Offered a corner-office or a coronet.
But saving humiliations so galore -
How can I love you when we've never met?

I'll have to reinvent the alphabet
To write the world how madly I adore,
Or cry it from a heathen minaret,
Or cast a spell on Glastonbury Tor.
Between us there's a thousand miles and more,
And colloquies too filmy to forget.
Yet here's my heart. It's beautiful and poor.
How can I love you when we've never met?

Prince of the heart's desire (in Grecian lore)
Whom Psche loved unseen without regret,
Grant me some day to see him, I implore;
How can I love him when we've never met?

Laura said...

cute. :D

Sheila said...

Oh, wow, I like it!

Meredith said...

Sheila, I kept meaning to tell you that the third verse of your ballade was so delightfully Chestertonian that I could believe GKC had written it. It feels more delicate and feminine, though.

Sheila said...

One more, just for fun:

I Remember Thee Zion

When morning comes I wake and rise alone.
In at the window streams a hot, uncolored light.
The cicadas whine, and birds sing their sad moan.
A new Virginia day is dawning to my sight.
Yet however still the day and however bright,
The damp air makes me long for burning sand
And rolling hills of a country mine by right.
How can I sing of Zion in a foreign land?

By the waters of Babylon my harp has lost its tone.
The damp has got into the strings, before so tight.
It leaves an aching in each weary Northern bone,
This Southland, draped in mist and fog and blight.
The manuscript is wilting as I write.
I raise my eyes to seek the mountains where they stand—
Or ought to—over the horizon, cold and white.
How can I sing of Zion in a foreign land?

I cannot find a country of my own.
It seems an eon since I stood upon the height
Of the sharp Cascades, in a cooler zone.
There, even summer breezes had a bite;
There, the very stones were full of might.
Here I am a stranger in an alien band,
But with no ammunition left to fight.
How can I sing of Zion in a foreign land?

Prince, who wept for your city on the height:
Listen to my cry from here where I stand!
Bring me home again, before the fall of night.
How can I sing of Zion in a foreign land?

Meredith said...

Poor Sheila! Just try and hold out for the Virginian fall... so beautiful and so much cooler.

It was right around this time last year that I visited you and Sarah in Washington and saw the Not-So-Lonely Mountain. Ah! Those were good times.