What is a Ballata?

An examination of the history, form and use of the Ballata; a form of Italian poetry designed for lively dancing.

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The Ballata is an Italian form of poetry that was popular in the 13th to 15th Century.


It is an understatement to say that Italy is a religious country. Because of this, Italian poetry has often tilted towards Catholic imagery. The first poem cited to be written in modern Italian, Dante’s Divine Comedy, is an excellent example. However, it is unfair to suggest that all Italian poetry has kept to this. The Petrarchan Sonnet, for example, has normally focused on love, and the Ballata is known for its celebration of revelry.

Ballata emerged during the last half of the 13th Century and remained en vogue until the end of the 15th Century. This period is known in Italian history as the ‘Ars Nova’ which translates as ‘New Art.’

Early Ballata were sung by a single performer, though in time it wasn’t unheard of for multiple voices to participate. Early examples of the monophonic (single voice) Ballata can be found in the Rossi Codex, a collection of 14th Century secular music, held by the Vatican in their library.

While early Ballatae were written by courtly musicians, common-folk eventually realised that their construction was relatively simple and a number of Ballata travelled across Western Europe, written by less-aristocratic musicians.


The Ballata has much in common with the French Cirelai, rather than the similarly named Ballad, though the two forms seems to have emerged at the same time. The popularity of the Virelais form of poetry is also directly linked to the evolution of the Ballata.

There is no fixed rhythm for a Ballata, though fashion did dictate the use of a hexasyllabic metre in the Occitan region, and a heptasyllabic metre throughout the rest of Italy.

Most Ballata are written in three stanzas though some are a single stanza. There is a prescribed rhyme scheme to the Ballata. When writing a single stanza poem, the scheme is as follows:


The capital A represents the same word, creating a refrain-like effect, whilst the lower-case letters show the associated rhyme scheme. Further stanzas follow this using an echoing rhyme scheme:


This refrain-type follow-on is called a Ripresa, while the b lines are Piedi and the fourth line is a Volta.


The name Ballata comes from the verb ‘ballare,’ meaning ‘to dance’ (no prizes for spotting the link to the word ballet). With this in mind, when writing a Ballata, your poem should be joyous. Ballata are party poems, originally meant to be sung to get people moving.

Think of the Ballata as a call to the dance floor. Will your poem bring joy? Is it lively or funny? The Ballata is no place for sadness.

Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.

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