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What Is an Ode Poem?
An ode poem is a short lyric poem that praises an individual, an idea, or an event. Odes originated in ancient Greece and were originally accompanied to music. The word “ode” comes from the Greek word “aeidein,” which means to sing or to chant. Odes are often ceremonial, and formal in tone. There are several different types of odes, but they are all highly structured and adhere to poetic forms.
How Is an Ode Poem Constructed?
The most common structure for an ode poem is in three parts or stanzas:
- The strophe. Two or more lines repeated as a unit.
- The antistrophe. Structured the same way as a strophe, but offers a thematic counterbalance.
- The epode. A summary stanza.
The English romantic poets wrote many odes, all of which explored intense emotions. Their odes varied in form and meter, but all tended to follow some kind of traditional verse structure. For example, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind,” believed to have been written in response to the loss of his son, is written in iambic pentameter.
Another English romantic pet considered a master of the ode was John Keats. Three of his odes that are still much studied and loved today are “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “Ode to a Nightingale,” and “To Autumn.” All three feature beautiful, lush imagery, and a deep exploration of the poet’s own emotions.
What Are the Different Types of Ode Poems?
There are three main types of ode poems:
- Pindaric ode. Pindaric odes are named for the ancient Greek poet Pindar, who lived in the fifth century BC. A Pindaric ode consists of a strophe, an antistrophe that is melodically harmonious, and an epode. These odes are also characterized by irregular line lengths and rhyme schemes.
- Horatian ode. A Horatian ode refers to the first-century AD Roman poet Horace. Horace adapted the old models of ode poetry and used it to reflect his current-day life under the emperor Augustus.
- Irregular ode. Irregular odes are rhymed and use irregular verse structure and stanza patterns. They do not follow the three-part form of the Pindaric ode or the two or stanzas of the Horatian ode.
Examples of the 3 Types of Odes
Pindaric ode. Pindar’s odes were formal victory odes, delivered to boys and young men who triumphed in the Greek Classical games, and were performed with song and dance. A Greek chorus would have moved to one side of the stage to deliver the strophe, moved to the other side of the stage for the antistrophe, and then delivered the epode in the center of the stage. Pindaric odes, repopularized in the 1550s in France, have derived from poetic imitations of Pindar’s style.
The first three stanzas of “Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” by William Wordsworth is a good example of a Pindaric ode:
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
The rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose;
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where’er I go,
That there hath past away a glory from the earth.
Horatian ode. Horace broke away from the strict structure for odes that Pindar has established, and also focused more on personal, informal topics. Horatian odes were revived during the Renaissance, but were not meant for public performances; they are more often intimate reflections on friendship, love, and poetry itself. Horatian odes are written in two and four line stanzas.
John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” is a good example of Horatian ode:
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of the happy lot,
But being too happy in thy happiness,-
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
Irregular ode. American poet Allen Tate’s “Ode to the Confederate Dead,” written in 1928, is an irregular ode—however, it still features the poet meditating on his inner emotions and considering mortality. Here is an excerpt:
Row after row with strict impunity
The headstones yield their names to the element,
The wind whirrs without recollection;
In the riven troughs the splayed leaves
Pile up, of nature the casual sacrament
To the seasonal eternity of death;
Then driven by the fierce scrutiny
Of heaven to their election in the vast breath,
They sough the rumour of mortality.
Learn more about poetry from former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins here.