Ballad form has appeared and disappeared throughout poetic history many times as it gained and lost popularity as a poetic form. The form was first developed during the Middle Ages and is often associated with oral traditions. Because of its oral nature, the ballad was used as a way to keep history years before it was written down as poetry (Child 214). Poems written in ballad form are characterized by four- and three-beat lines which usually have a set rhyme scheme, however, not always as seen here in Tennyson's poem The Lady of Shalott:

"And up and down the people go,Alfred_Lord_Tennyson,_autographed_portrait_by_Elliott_&_Fry.jpg
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
On the island of Shalott" (6-9)

This pattern makes the poem melodic and song-like, however, the simple meter has also caused the form to be considered as one of the most predictable forms of poetry (Rudy). This precise melody and predictable beat pattern reflect the ballads origin of oral tradition while allowing the pattern to be easily used by modern poets (Child 214).

The ballad was a popular poetic form used during the Victorian era by poets such as Alfred Lord Tennyson. During his life, Tennyson used the ballad form both traditionally and experimentally. His earlier poetry, such as The Lady of Shalott, is considered to be more complex in nature while the poems comprised in Ballads and Other Poems (1880) is about the common people and in response to Wordsworth’s pre-Victorian poetry. However, it is these later ballads that are often disregarded because their form and content are much more simple (Sewell).

The ballad form is most often associated with the common people (Sylvia). Oral tradition and the primitive ballad existed before class structures were important to society. It is considered one of the earliest forms of poetry, which has allowed it to represent all people throughout society (Child 214). It is because of this that the ballad has been continually written and read by all people throughout history. In other words, it has become accessible to all people.

The accessibility of the ballad to the common people has allowed the poetry to evolve throughout poetic history. For example, Tennyson’s poetry became significantly more political throughout his later work. Ballads have played a large role in almost every major societal change throughout history, including the Victorian era (Rudy 590). An example of this is The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll. This poem portrays the concern for Victorian progress while maintaining the playful and song-like tone of the ballad form (Sewell).

The flexibility of the form also allows the ballad to be used by many Victorian poets in a religious context. The revenant ballads are usually sharply contrasted with medieval ballads to the point where they are placed within two spheres: literary or Christian. These devotional ballads began as pagan poetry, which proceeded to gain more Christian elements as time went on. Christina Rossetti’s poetry is an example of how the religious themes of a ballad evolved after the seventeenth century. Her devotional poems are clearly written in a traditional ballad form but were influenced by her own religious beliefs as well as traditional Christian ballads.

Another Victorian poet who used the ballad form extensively was Elizabeth Sewell. While her poetry is often considered simple by critics, her ballads have been recently acknowledged for their formal innovation (Hassett). Much of her poetry is written in ballad form, which is the reason why she used to be dismissed as an unsophisticated poet. Yet her poetry demonstrates how religious ballads influenced the everyday poet (Sylvia). She is another example of how religious ballads made poetry accessible to the everyday person. By using the ballad form, which was most natural for her, she was able to write poems that are arguably complex in nature. Her ability to infuse new meaning into the form has allowed more modern scholars to see the depth of her poetry (Hassett).

The ballad as a form is accessible to both the highest and lowest levels of Victorian readers thanks to its oral tradition. This tradition has helped the ballad become one of the most pliable poetic forms. This was proven important during a time that was constantly changing and rewriting itself. The ballad continues to connect people throughout the world under one unchanging and similar form (Child 218).

Works Cited
Child, Francis J. “Ballad Poetry," Johnson's Universal Cyclopædia, 1900.” Journal of Folklore Research. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1994. 214-222. Print.

Fowler, David C. A Literary History of the Popular Ballad. Durham: Duke UP. 1968.

Hassett, Constance W. “Elizabeth Siddal’s Poetry: A Problem and Some Solutions.” Victorian Poetry . 1997. 443-470.

Lord Tennyson, Alfred. "The Lady of Shalott." Poetry Foundation. Web. 18 Jan. 2014. <>.

Rudy, Jason R. “On Cultural Neoformalism, Spasmodic Poetry, and the Victorian Ballad.” Victorian Poetry.West Virginia: West Virginia University Press, 2003. 590-596. Print.

Sewell, Elizabeth. “In the Midst of His Laughter and Glee: Nonsense and Nothingness in Lewis Carroll.” Soundings. Pennsylvania: Penn State University Press, 1999. 541-571. Print.

Sylvia, Richard A. “Reading Tennyson’s ‘Ballads and other Poems’ in Context.” The Journal of Midwest Modern Language Association. Midwest Modern Language Association,1990. 27-44. Print.