Difference Between a Ballad and a Sonnet

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    a Ballad vs a Sonnet

    Poems are a form literary art in which words are used to aesthetically deliver or reflect meaning or simply a story out of human experience. Two of the most popular kinds of poems are the ballad and the sonnet. Both of which tell a story and maintains specific rhyming schemes. Between the two, the ballad can be considered as narrative in nature, backed by a self-contained story, often brief and rich in imagery rather than description. It can speak of romance, comedy, tragedy and even history. Often set to music, many ballads have made significant contributions in music starting 18th century. It has always taken pleasure in a direct affiliation to music. Tracing back from early centuries, its interpreters and composers were song-poets and courtly musicians. Thus, its rhythmical nature, like music at its bare form, greatly appeals to the heart. They were then popularly known as lyrical ballads. Throughout the years, the term’s meaning slowly evolved akin to that of a love song.

    Sonnet, on one hand, is much more lyrical in itself. In fact, it Is named after the Italian word ‘sonetto’ which means ‘little song’ or ‘little sound’ to justify its lyrical intricacies. Its early form was described as a poem of fourteen lines, constricted by a rhyme scheme. This property gives it a sing-song quality, even by merely reading the words.

    In terms of form, the ballad is less complex than the sonnet. The standard form for it is iambic heptamber (technically described as seven sets of unstressed, stressed syllables per line) in 4 sets, with the 2nd and 4th lines at a rhyme. It eventually deviated to many subclasses as far as form is concerned. An example is the Italian balata, distinctive of its classic 4-3-4-3 beat of balladic quatrain. The sonnet is supposed to be stricter in structure as it is expected to render a lyrical effect even in its bare form. Ironically, though, the supposedly strict conventions evolved into a number of subtypes even during its early years. Most prominent of these are: 1) the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet, with a standard pattern a-b-b-a, a-b-b-a, 2) the Occitan sonnet, with the scheme a-b-a-b, a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d-c-d , 3)the Shakespearean (English) sonnet, maintaining an end-rhyme a-b-a-b, c-d-c-d, e-f-e-f, g-g, 4) the Spenserian sonnet ,with abab, bcbc, cdcd, ee pattern, and 5) the Modern sonnet, often with 14 lines and sonnet rhymes, though without regular sonnet meter.

    Furthermore, ballads and sonnets have also some variations in terms of function. Besides the traditional ballad which has a rather serious mood to it, there were also the broadside ballad that then aimed to inform and entertain commoners with current events, and the literary ballads that served as an artistic outlet for social elites and intellectuals. The ballad has, as well, been affiliated with operas and musical acts. Today, we identify the ballad as the backbone of a love song. And it is through this form that it continues to move human emotions as it did during its early years. On the other hand, the sonnet found its place in courts and plays, dating back to the medieval ages. It was mostly used to demonstrate affection, (indeed a crucial element in the concept of ‘courtly love’) sheer artistic and literary prowess, and satirical stand on matters of romantic love, social stature and politics. Of course, the sonnet played a big role on plays. The most popular of which being William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Nowadays, the sonnet maintains these functions, but in less constricted forms. We see it through the works of Pablo Neruda, E.E. Cummings, and Robert Frost, to name a few.


    1. A ballad is narrative, while a sonnet is lyrical in nature.

    2. The ballad is less complex than the sonnet.

    3. Ballads were affiliated to musical acts and operas while sonnets were linked with courts and plays.

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