Here’s what the Ode poetry form is:
An ode is a short version of lyric poetry.
Odes were originally sung or chanted with a musical instrument, especially in ancient Greece.
Odes are often performed to praise and glorify people, things, or events.
Thus, they are typically formal or ceremonial in tone.
So if you want to learn all about the Ode poetry type, then you’ve come to the right place.
Let’s jump right in!
Forms of Poetry: The Ode
Odes have been around nearly as long as our records of poetry go back.
As with many popular forms of poetry, they root themselves firmly in ancient Greece, where they were an entirely different art form that bridged theater and poetry.
One thing that has remained consistent, however, is that odes exist to glorify.
People, places, things, events.
Whatever you want to express a profound appreciation for, you’ll find some solace in an ode.
Basic Properties of an Ode
|Depends on variant
|Depends on variant
|Can be traced back as far as ancient Greece
|Consistently popular throughout the ages, especially immediately after famous odes are written
|Glorification and appreciation of a person, place, thing, event, time period, etc.
How Are Odes Structured?
There are, first off, multiple variants of the ode.
The main variants are the Horatian ode (imitating Greek principles), the Pindaric ode (mimicking Pindar), and the irregular ode.
Irregular odes are the most common in the modern-day, so we’ll discuss those first.
This is not an exhaustive list of the types of ode (Horatian odes are themselves a descendent of the Aeolic ode) but since the form has been around for a very long time, it would be unrealistic to cover every variant.
Unrealistic and boring, rather.
While there were periods in history where English odes were predominantly iambic, the irregular ode has always been closer to free verse than to the strict extremes of villanelles and sonnets.
This is evidenced largely by the lack of hard-set rhyme schemes or line lengths, even in early English odes.
As such, odes have experienced a bit more freedom in their expression than their contemporaries, seemingly appropriate for a form that seeks to express gratitude or admiration openly.
The key point of an ode is its focus on devotion.
Odes are specifically meant to glorify, idealize, or appreciate a key event, person, object, etc.
An ode can be written for anything from a vase on your windowsill to a loved one to a day at the carnival.
The goal is simply to express a devout and detailed appreciation for the subject of the ode.
Since odes are an attempt at glorification, they are naturally prone to techniques such as hyperbole and metaphor.
A car key may just be a car key, but an ode may shape it into proof of adulthood, permission to be free, and the ability to keep your vehicle safe.
It’s not uncommon for an ode to connect concrete objects or events to abstract concepts such as freedom or power in an attempt to portray as much about the speaker’s inner voice as possible.
Example of an Ode
Excerpt From Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats
Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
The ode this excerpt is from is amongst the most famous of all odes, and for good reason.
It features nearly all the techniques you would expect of a well-written ode.
Densely packed imagery.
The most important aspect of this poem, however, is its tone.
Note the absolute reverence and awe that the speaker feels for what should just be a simple urn.
It’s not just an urn because it’s a “foster-child of silence and slow time” that captures a time period long lost to us.
The poem goes on to continuously and lovingly probe at the urn with questions about what it represents.
Keats doesn’t know “what men or gods” the urn paints an image of, but he falls madly in love with the possibilities.
This willingness to fall in love with the subject and dive head over heels into everything it could conceivably represent sits at the very core of what a well-written ode should be.
This isn’t a good ode because of the technical mastery and educated background proudly on display.
It’s a good ode because it sincerely and unashamedly pays tribute to the subject, as a proper ode must.
Pindaric odes utilize the strophe, antistrophe, and epode of classical odes.
Whereas the strophe and antistrophe are largely stanzas meant to complement each other, the epode acts as the conclusion of the poem.
The popular Pindarics were sixty-four lines but it should be noted that they were based on some apparent misconceptions about the work of Pindar.
Whereas Pindar’s work was very formal in its repetitions, the Pindaric odes popularized by Abraham Cowley featured a misinterpretation of Pindar’s style that ended up taking on a life of its own.
The defining feature of a Horatian ode is that the stanzas are built to match each other.
Loose interpretations may only match the number of lines, while strict interpretations may match the rhyme, meter, and syllable count throughout the poem.
As a result, Horatian odes are incredibly formulaic and consistent throughout the piece.
The advantage of this is that if the structure of the first stanza is solid and appealing, then it will consistently benefit the rest of the poem.
The obvious disadvantage is that once jarring choice regarding meter or rhyme scheme could easily throw off the entire poem.
History of Odes
Our understanding of odes begins in ancient Greece.
In the Greek tradition, odes were fairly formal poetry that would often utilize refrains (a common theme of Greek poetry) and they were written with an oral presentation in mind.
These ancient odes consisted of the strophe, antistrophe, and epode mentioned earlier, but here the intent was much clearer.
The strophe was meant to be presented by the chorus as the first part of an ongoing debate or discussion to which the antistrophe would answer.
The epode, as it does in Horatian odes, acted as the conclusion to the piece.
The form has rarely waned in popularity, except in cases where poetry itself has waned, and has as such become a very complicated and vague term that could refer to any one of dozens of forms coined by poets across the ages.
The bottom line, however, is that an ode is meant to be the sincerest form of flattery.
A thorough and often very formal compliment designed with love and care to express a deep and profound sense of appreciation.
Regardless of form or structure or meter, no self-respecting writer would insult a well-written ode as long as the intent and sincerity shine through.
Tips for Writing an Ode
While the nuts and bolts of writing an ode will vary wildly depending on which influences you the key will always be sincerity.
The power of a word or phrase comes from how true it is when it’s spoken or written, and your writing will naturally reflect your truth.
As such, choose a topic that truly speaks to you from the bottom of your heart.
Something that you love with every fiber of your being.
A deep and sincere connection to the subject of the ode is essential in writing one successfully, though you could almost certainly fake it with enough technical prowess.
But what would be the point of that?
Poetry is about communication and expression, to begin with, so the ode’s historic significance and popularity aren’t especially surprising.
Humans have been trying to express their love for each other and for the world around them since the very beginning and the ode, as an art form, exists solely to revel in that love.
Don’t shy away from exaggeration when writing an ode.
Going all out and screaming your love for the subject at the top of your lungs with ridiculous over-the-top statements and unrealistic comparisons will only strengthen your connection to the topic.
The best part of writing an ode isn’t in its ability to share your feelings with others.
It’s the opportunity to feel those feelings all over again, with renewed vigor, that truly makes the ode a pleasant experience.
I can never decide if odes are beautifully humble or tragically pretentious.
Jokes aside, an ode is a great icebreaker when you have writer’s block.
Just look around the room, choose a random object, and write an ode about it.
Maybe don’t choose anything from that shoebox under your bed, though
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