Famous Ballad Poems

Need examples of famous ballad poems? The ballad poem is a classic form of poetry, so you probably know more ballad poems than you realize. Songs are ballad poems, put to music, so you can find ballad poems simply by listening to the radio. Nursery rhymes and folk songs are great sources for ballad poems too. Classic ballad poems were popular in the 1600s and 1700s, when stories were often told through song.

Ballad Basics
Ballad poetry usually rhymes and is written in a specific form, using refrains and stanzas. Many ballad poems were originally set to music. Some famous ballad poems were written for children, or written to tell a story or record a historic moment. A short list of famous authors who have written ballad poems includes Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Rudyard Kipling, James Joyce, Edgar Allen Poe and Robert Burns. The following famous ballad poems are known throughout the world: "John Henry," "On Top of Old Smokey," "The Mermaid," and "A True Tale of Robin Hood."

The following is an example of a famous ballad poem, "John Henry."

John Henry was a railroad man.
He worked from six 'till five,
"Raise 'em up bullies and let 'em drop down,
I'll beat you to the bottom or die."

John Henry said to his captain:
"You are nothing but a common man,
Before that steam drill shall beat me down,
I'll die with my hammer in my hand."

John Henry said to the Shakers:
"You must listen to my call,
Before that steam drill shall beat me down,
I'll jar these mountains till they fall."

John Henry's captain said to him:
"I believe these mountains are caving in."
John Henry said to his captain: "Oh, Lord!"
"That's my hammer you hear in the wind."

John Henry he said to his captain:
"Your money is getting mighty slim,
When I hammer through this old mountain,
Oh Captain will you walk in?"

John Henry's captain came to him
With fifty dollars in his hand,
He laid his hand on his shoulder and said:
"This belongs to a steel driving man."

John Henry was hammering on the right side,
The big steam drill on the left,
Before that steam drill could beat him down,
He hammered his fool self to death.

They carried John Henry to the mountains,
From his shoulder his hammer would ring,
She caught on fire by a little blue blaze
I believe these old mountains are caving in.

John Henry was lying on his death bed,
He turned over on his side,
And these were the last words John Henry said
"Bring me a cool drink of water before I die."

John Henry had a little woman,
Her name was Pollie Ann,
He hugged and kissed her just before he died,
Saying, "Pollie, do the very best you can."

John Henry's woman heard he was dead,
She could not rest on her bed,
She got up at midnight, caught that No. 4 train,
"I am going where John Henry fell dead."

They carried John Henry to that new burying ground


His wife all dressed in blue,
She laid her hand on John Henry's cold face,
"John Henry I've been true to you."

Once you learn to recognize ballad poems and start reading them, you may wish to read more obscure poetry instead of just the famous titles. In the world of publishing, poems are found usually in collections, so you may find interesting ballad poems that are fresh and new if you read a collection of poetry written by the author of your favorite poem.

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