The ballade originated in France. In the strictest sense, it is a poem of three eight-line stanzas followed by a fourth stanza with four lines. The fourth stanza (called an ‘envoy’ in this case) is usually dedicated to some prince or patron. The first three stanzas all follow the same rhyme scheme (ababcbcb is a common one) and the fourth stanza also has a rhyme scheme tying it to the rest of the poem, bcbc for example. In a ballade, the a, b, or c rhyme from one stanza carries over to all the other stanzas – in other words, the stanzas are linked in rhyme. Finally, all four stanzas have the same ending line. Not all ballades follow this form exactly; some have seven-line stanzas, others have ten, and the rhyme scheme varies from one ballade to another.

The ballade below was written by Edmund Clerihew Bentley (creator of the clerihew). It is entitled ‘The Ballade of Liquid Refreshment,’ and it is a departure from the frequently serious subject matter of ballades.

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Last night we started with some dry vermouth;

Some ancient sherry with a golden glow;
Then many flagons of the soul of fruit
Such as Burgundian vineyards only grow;
A bottle each of port was not de trop;
And then old brandy till the east was pink
– But talking makes me hoarse as any crow,
Excuse me while I go and have a drink.

Some talk of Alexander; some impute
Absorbency to Mirabeau-Tonneau;
Some say that General Grant and King Canute,
Falstaff and Pitt and Edgar Allan Poe,
Prince Charlie, Carteret, Hans Breitmann – so
The list goes on – they say that these could clink
The can, and take their liquor – A propos!
Excuse while I go and have a drink.

Spirit of all that lives, from God to brute,
Spirit of love and life, of sun and snow,
Spirit of leaf and limb, of race and root,
How wonderfully art thou prison’d! Lo!
I quaff the cup, I feel the magic flow,
And Superman succeeds to Missing Link,
(I say, ‘I quaff’; but am I quaffing? No!
Excuse while I go and have a drink.)

Hullo there, Prince! Is that you down below
Kicking and frying by the brimstone brink?
Well, well! It had to come some time, you know,
Excuse me while I go and have a drink.