As distinct from Ballade
Strictly speaking, a ballad should consist of four-line stanzas with a specific scheme of iambic feet. The first and third (etc.) stanzas should have four feet, the second and fourth should have three feet. Less strictly, octosyllabic iambic stanzas may be used. In either case, the rhyme schemes of either ABCB or ABAB are used. In the case of the Tennyson or 'In Memoriam' Ballad, the rhyme scheme ABBA is used, and each line has four feet.
The term 'Ballad' is often used to describe any directly and simply told rhyming folk-poem, usually using quatrains, as in this example:
FRED'S EPIC DRIVE TO PARIS
A Modern Ballad
Swinging out of Town just after dawn,
a coachful of people, early one morn.
on to the motorway, tooting the horn,
with Fred at the wheel, driving with zeal.
We'd paid our fares, just sixty pounds a head,
all the way to Paris, plus breakfast and bed,
quite a little bargain, the passengers said,
with Fred at the wheel, you get a good deal.
We crossed the Thames, over and back,
then did it again, were we on the right track?
By the time we got to port, the skies were black,
with Fred at the wheel, no time for a meal.
From Calais to Paris was half a day,
now I'm not suggesting that Fred lost his way,
but six hundred miles? I mean to say,
with Fred at the wheel, it's less than ideal.
Around the Peripherique for the fourteenth time,
it was all becoming a real pantomime,
maybe we'll get there today some time,
with Fred at the wheel, you need nerves of steel.
Four hours round the city, feeling nearly dead,
a map would have helped, some bright spark said,
the man's got no compass inside his head,
with Fred at the wheel, it's quite an ordeal.
At last we reached the hotel, with eyes sore and red,
heads all woozy, and limbs like lead,
too late for breakfast, too early for bed,
with Fred at the wheel, with Fred at the wheel.