What is an Ode ?

John Keat , William Wordsworth , Thomas Gray , Alexander  Pope , Percy Bysshe Shelley etc are some renowned ode  poets of the past  centuries .

The word ode comes from two   Ancient Greek words ὁδός which means ” path or way ” and  word aeidein, which means to “sing or to chan“.

In English poetry ,

Ode is a poetic form that can be generalized as a formal address to someone or something.

M.H Abrams defined the ode as , ” a long poem that is serious in subject and treatment elevated in style and elaborate in its stanzaic structure .”

It is a structured poem praising or glorifying an event or individual, describing nature in lyric form  often  in ceremonial, and formal tone.

Originally  the Greek odes were pieces of poetry  performed with musical or without music  accompaniment , sung or recited . 

It is seen that an ode can be in the form of  sonnet or elegy. 

It is patterned in lyrical literary technique which is not very lengthy. The subject matter of the poem is highlighted in a serious but formal tone with elaborated patterns of stanzas.

 Besides addressing some animate or inanimate objects or abstract ideas , the ode is sometimes used to commemorate important public events.

 A salient feature of ode is its uniform metrical feet, but poets generally do not strictly follow this rule though use highly elevated themes.

Some examples of odes are 

Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood (By William Wordsworth),

Ode to the Confederate Dead (By Allen Tate),

The Progress of Poesy: A Pindaric Ode (By Thomas Gray,

Ode on a Grecian Urn (By John Keats), etc.


 Structure of an Ode Poem 

An lyrical form poem , ode is traditionally divided into three stanzas:

• The strophe • the antistrophe • the epode 

Traditional odes are an example of lyric poetry, which means that they have a regular rhyme scheme, pertain to feelings or emotions and generally use only one speaker’s perspective. The characteristics of an ode vary depending on the time period and geographical location in which it was written. 

• The strophe. In a Greek ode, the strophe usually consists of two or more lines repeated as a unit. In modern usage, the term strophe can refer to any group of verses that form a distinct unit within a poem.

•The antistrophe. The second section of an ode is structured the same way as the strophe, but typically offers a thematic counterbalance.

The epode. This section or stanza typically has a distinct meter and length from the strophe and antistrophe, and serves to summarize or conclude the ideas of the ode.

Types of ode 

Traditionally ode is of three types 


Horatian, and

 Irregular or English ode 

Pindaric ode :-

Pindaric odes were performed with a chorus and dancers, and often composed to celebrate athletic victories.

The Pindaric is named for the ancient Greek poet Pindar, who is credited with innovating this choral ode form.

The ode contains  formal opening,( strophe,) with a complex  metrical structure, followed by an antistrophe, which mirrors the opening, and an epode, the final closing section of a different length and composed with a different metrical structure.

Best example of Pindaric ode is  William Wordsworth ‘s  poem “Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” 

     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 Horatian ode :-

The Horatian ode, named for the Roman poet Horace.

This type of ode contains two or four lines stanzas that share the same metric rhyme scheme and length.

It is generally more tranquil and contemplative than the Pindaric ode.

 Less formal, less ceremonious, and better suited to quiet reading than theatrical production.

Best example of Horatio ode  is the Allen Tate poem “Ode to the Confederate Dead,” 

     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 sought the rumour of mortality.

English  Ode ( Irregular Ode )

English ode is the type of ode which neither follows the Pindaric form nor the Horatian form .

It follows irregular versus structure and stanza pattern , hence also known as irregular ode . There is no formal rhyme scheme in this kind of ode .

 For example, 

Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats ,  Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind,” Robert Creeley’s “America,” Bernadette Mayer’s “Ode on Periods,” and Robert Lowell’s “Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket ”  are some examples of irregular ode .

An ode usually expresses feelings in a dignified and sincere manner with a formal tone of imagination and discursive expounding of philosophical ideas .


Significance of ode 

In the  history of literature, odes are seen to hold elevated positions . 

Romantic poets used odes to celebrate their strongest sentiments and deepest administrations . Ode was a famous form of poetry in both 18 th and 19th centuries. 

Odes are usually written in appreciation or reflection. They are almost always written about a significant event, or someone or something that the poet admires and hence has its significance in the history of literature.