A ballad is one of the most popular structures of poetry written even today. Although it appeared in ancient times with no certain date, it has traveled histories, cultures, and contexts and reached this age when ballads still catch the imagination of the public. Despite the ambiguities associated with their themes, they are powerful poetic tools to catch the public imagination and move the people along the popular cultural waves. Some of the ballads achieve greatness while some become popular. This list presents the top ten modern ballads arranged according to the use and effectiveness of the literary devices.
Maude Claire by Christina Rossetti
Out of the church she followed them
With a lofty step and mien:
His bride was like a village maid,
Maude Clare was like a queen.
“Son Thomas, “ his lady mother said,
With smiles, almost with tears:
“May Nell and you but live as true
As we have done for years;
Published in 1859, this modern ballad by Christina Rossetti tells a beautiful tale of a person, Lord Thoams, who marries Nell, an ideal Victorian lass, avoiding Maude Claire. However, Maude Clare, despite her expression of anger, presents some souvenirs of her love for the lord. Despite her freedom, Nell proves a good wife for Lord Thomas, though Maude Claire does not let her anger subside. Written in quatrains with several literary devices, including dialogs, similes, balladry in iambic pentameter, and ABCB rhyme scheme, the ballad tops the list of modern ballads in our order of ranking. Some of its stanzas given below suggests its major features.
Danny Boy by Frederick Weatherly
Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer’s gone, and all the flowers are dying
‘Tis you, ‘tis you must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow
‘Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.
This beautiful ballad by Frederic Weatherly, a popular English songwriter, first appeared in 1913 and took the world of London by storm with its beautiful verses. The popularity of the song brought it to several continents including America. With its two stanzas each having ABABCDCD rhyme scheme, the ballad presents the ambiguous story of a young boy whose Irish parents are desiring their son to return from the uprising. Whatever the story might be behind these lines, one thing is sure that the Irish people identify this song with their independence and the long struggle for it. The use of some literary devices such as repetitions, consonances, assonances, and dialogs have made this song come second in our order of ranking as its first stanza shows its qualities.
When Johnny Comes Marching Home by Patrick Gilmore
When Johnny comes marching home again
We’ll give him a hearty welcome then
The men will cheer and the boys will shout
The ladies they will all turn out
And we’ll all feel gay
When Johnny comes marching home.
The old church bell will peal with joy
This highly popular ballad emerged in 1863 when an Irish national wrote it for his sister, Annie, who was engaged in a prayer for her finance for his safe return from the American Civil War. Patrick Gilmore was stated to have published this song under his pen name, Louis Lambert, which could be a pseudonym. Gilmore took a fancy of the humming of a rebel, he confessed, that prompted him to pen down this song. Interestingly, it was shared by both sides, the Union and the Confederacy. The song presents Johnny being asked to come home with celebrations when all the people will welcome him with roses on his way. The melody and the tune of “hurrah” have brought this song to the third place in our order of ranking. Its first stanza shows its forcefulness.
Ha’ we lost the goodliest fere o’ all
For the priests and the gallows tree?
Aye lover he was of brawny men,
O’ ships and the open sea.
When they came wi’ a host to take Our Man
His smile was good to see,
“First let these go!” quo’ our Goodly Fere,
“Or I’ll see ye damned,” says he.
Aye he sent us out through the crossed high spears
And the scorn of his laugh rang free,
“Why took ye not me when I walked about
Alone in the town?” says he.
Written by Ezra Pound, a poet of note, this beautiful ballad was published in 1909 and instantly became a hit. The ballad comprises total 13 stanzas and a two-liner. It presents Simon the Zealot, speaking about the Crucifixion. His memories comprise the final days of Jesus in reverent terms. In simple and archaic diction with beautiful dialogs, Pound has presented a situation when Jesus “was good to see” and “a man o’ man.” This beautiful strain continues with “A man of God was the Goodly Fere.” The reverence, religious tone, and beautiful rhyme scheme have brought this ballad fourth in our order of ranking. Its first three stanzas show its features.
The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde
He did not wear his scarlet coat,
For blood and wine are red,
And blood and wine were on his hands
When they found him with the dead,
The poor dead woman whom he loved,
And murdered in her bed.
He walked amongst the Trial Men
In a suit of shabby gray;
A cricket cap was on his head,
And his step seemed light and gay;
But I never saw a man who looked
So wistfully at the day.
Written during his jail term for his indecency against the accepted norms of those days, Wilde published this ballad on May 19, 1897. The jail was located in Reading. The hanging of Charles Thomas, a soldier in the Royal Horse Guards took place a year back which impacted Oscar Wilde. The story of the ballad revolves around his character, his jail term, his hanging, and the crime he committed. The beauty of this long ballad having 109 stanzas lies in its ABCBDB rhyme scheme, connotations, denotation, and lines having 8 syllables each. Based on these poetic devices, the ballad stood fifth in our ranking of the best modern ballads. Its first two stanzas show its excellence in poetic diction.
I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gapèd wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.
And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.
This beautiful ballad comprising just 12 stanzas was first published in 1819. It is stated that Keats derived the title from the poem of Alain Chartier having the same title. It is considered one of the classic ballads in the English language due to its quality of presenting an enchanting atmosphere with an enchanting lady and a depressed knight who stayed depressed despite the promises of the lady. Also called femme fatale, several artists painted the image of this ballad on canvas. Its beauty lies in its depressing tone, the use of literary devices such as rhetorical questions, metaphors of nature, and sensual imagery. That is why the ballad stands seventh in our order of ranking.
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
This highly captivating ballad of love first appeared in 1849 when Poe himself breathed his last. It is stated that Poe wrote this ballad in the love of his wife. However, the debate has not been resolved as of yet. Yet, the exploration of its theme suggests that he and his wife both loved each other intensely, and angels seemed to have envied them. The beauty of the ballad lies in its intensity of love and expression. Several literary devices such as repetitions, enchanting context, setting, and the use of refrains such as “In a kingdom by the sea” have brought this ballad seventh in our order of ranking. Its first stanza shows its excellence.
Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
He holds him with his skinny hand,
‘There was a ship,’ quoth he.
‘Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!’
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.
He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.
This long ballad of Coleridge first appeared in 1798 though it was written a year earlier. Despite its archaic title and then modification in spellings show the major shift in the Romantic poetry from classical to modern. Comprising total 143 stanzas, this ballad has so many literary devices that it is really hard to believe that Coleridge has used personifications, supernatural elements, repetitions, mood, and tones all in a single ballad. The ballad presents the story of a returning sailor and his tales of how they boarded a ship going to the South pole and met enchanting contexts during this long voyage. The beauty of the ballad shows itself through its last two stanzas.
Greensleeves by Anonymous
Your vows you’ve broken, like my heart,
Oh, why did you so enrapture me?
Now I remain in a world apart
But my heart remains in captivity.
I have been ready at your hand,
To grant whatever you would crave,
I have both wagered life and land,
Your love and good-will for to have.
This beautiful composition of Spanish and English elements, Greensleeves, emerged out of nowhere in the middle of the sixteenth century and instantly hit the chords in England. The song became highly popular at that time due to its tune, its lyrics, and its rhyme scheme. Its main theme revolves around the vows a lover makes when meeting his former beloved or present beloved, who is proving otherwise. Greensleeves is a lady whom the speaker intensely loves and inquires in his monolog that she should love him. Only he speaks and declares that she would love him and he would love her. Due to this intense expression of passion, the song has come at ninth place in our order of ranking. These two stanzas from the ballad show its excellent features.
The Ballad of the Red Earl by Rudyard Kipling
Red Earl, and will ye take for guide The silly camel-birds,That ye bury your head in an Irish thorn, On a desert of drifting words? Ye have followed a man for a God, Red Earl, As the Lord o’ Wrong and Right;But the day is done with the setting sun Will ye follow into the night?
Comprising total 17 stanzas, this beautiful ballad was written by Kipling. It was first published in 1891. Modeled on the pattern of traditional Scottish border ballads, this poem uses several Scottish contractions to balance the number of syllables. The ballad presents the Red Earl, John Spencer, who was the fifth earl. He was a fiercely independent Irish icon who seemed to have raised the revolution in Ireland. The poem seems to praise his best qualities in quatrains having ABAB rhyme scheme. The use of other literary devices such as rhetorical questions, mechanics, metaphors, and images has made it one of the best ballads about a personality. That is why it stands tenth in our order of ranking. These two stanzas from the ballad show its excellent features.