Ode Poems

PindarThe ode has been a popular form of poetry for thousands of years. This type of poem offers praise and appreciation to loved one, heros, and even historical events. The ode, done in the traditional format, is a very powerful means that poets use to remember and commemorate people or events which have inspired them. The first odes were composed by ancient Greek poets. A traditional ode, as established by the Greeks, were lyric poems, meaning that they deal with emotions and feelings as express by a singular personal perspective. The actual characteristics of these traditional odes often will vary due to the different time period it was written, or because of the location and culture in which it was composed. There are several variations to the traditional odes, yet there are really only three main categories of this form of poetry. These three traditional forms of odes are the Horatian, the Pindaric, and the English. (Often, these English versions of the ode are referred to as Romantic odes.) These different forms of traditional odes refer to the time period, style and country where written. Sometimes the English version of the ode is also referred to as the ‘irregular’ form; however, it must be noted that some English poets employed both Pindaric and Horatian structures to their poem.

Ode to Aphrodite
by Sappho

The ancient Greek poet, Pindar, is given credit for having invented the form of poetry known as the ode. These poems were first accompanied by music, and followed a very strictly enforced format. Any poem which uses this format is referred to as a Pindaric Ode. The Horatian Ode has its origins in the history of early Rome and are named after the Roman poet, Horace. This form of ode us often more personal and intimate than the Greek Pindaric Ode. It wasn’t until the 17th century that the English poets created the irregular ode. These were a combination of the Horatian and Pindaric forms, accompanied by some additional innovations. As the irregular ode developed, English poets took liberties with the subject matter and form of the traditional ode verse, which is the source of the Romantic Ode. These tend to be more personal and emotional than the Pandaric or Horatian Odes.

The Ship of State
by Horace

The traditional odes, namely the Pindaric and Horatian odes, consisted of rhyme schemes which were predetermined, along with a set number of divisions or sections. These three divisions include the strophe, the antistrophe, and then the final division the epode. Each of these divisions are comprised of stanzas, which are nothing more than groups of lines of verse which maintain the same rhythm and rhyming pattern. The reason the English ode is considered irregular is because it ignores these three divisions that are common to the traditional form of ode poem, which provided the English writers with much more freedom in composition and subject. Still, these irregular odes maintained a regular and consistent rhyme scheme. Regardless of the form of ode employed, the purpose of the ode was to serve as a meditation on some specific place or person who had provided some inspiration for the writer or speaker.

Ode to a Nightingale (excerpt)
by John Keats



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