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Ode

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English Literature

Beginning in Ancient Greece, odes are one of the most famous and popular forms of lyrical poetry in English Literature. There are three main types of ode that have come to be associated with signs of love and devotion: Pindaric, Horatian, and Irregular. Some of the most famous odes were written in the Romantic period, including John Keats' 'Ode to a Nightingale' (1819).

What is an Ode?

An ode is a lyric poem addressed to a subject with a varied or irregular rhyme scheme.

History of the Ode

The history of the ode dates back to Ancient Greece, where it was used in public settings for celebrations. The Greek ode was pioneered by the lyric poet Pindar (518-443 BC), whose 45 surviving victory odes (an ode celebrating the victory at events such as war or the Olympics) provide the basis for many famous odes in English literature. Many of Pindar's odes were based on the tradition of the Greek chorus and were performed using choirs.

Pindaric Ode - a form of ode associated with Pindar that comprises three units: the strophe, the antistrophe, and the epode.

Another Grecian form of ode was the Aeolic ode, which was commonly used by Sappho, who developed the single voice ode. Sappho's odes focused on a more feminine perspective.

Aeolic Ode - an early form of ode typically associated with the Lesbos dialect of Greek. It is most commonly known for its calm and contemplative tone.

Sappho was a Greek lyricist commonly regarded as the 'Tenth Muse'. The term 'lesbian' is widely regarded as an allusion to Sappho as she lived on the island of Lesbos with her female lover (to whom many of her odes were dedicated). Although much of Sappho's poetry was destroyed in 391 BC by Christian zealots, her surviving odes have led her to be considered a feminist and LGBTQ+ icon.

In Rome, the ode took on another form as it moved away from choral tradition and was employed for spoken word pieces. The Roman poet Horatio was a key figure within this movement who further developed the Aeolic ode. The Horatian ode became a distinctive type of ode within poetry and formed the basis of how the ode was used in English literature.

During the Elizabethan period, the ode experienced a revival and was frequently used by poets such as Ben Johnson, Andrew Marvell and John Milton. The English ode was typically written in either the Pindarian or Horatian form and was used to make observations about life and religion. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the ode was further used by poets including Alexander Pope and John Dryden.

The Romanticism movement of the 19th century saw a noticeable revival of the ode. This resurgence of the ode during this period included poetry by Percy Bysshe Shelley and a series of poems by John Keats. Following these odes being published, the form has been used less frequently throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, although it was notably used by the poet W. H. Auden.

Ode Examples

Odes have been commonly used in English literature for centuries and have become an important form within poetry. Famous odes include Andrew Marvell's 'Horatian Ode Upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland' (1650) and Thomas Gray's 'The Bard: A Pindaric Ode' (1757). Odes composed during the Romantic period include Percy Bysshe Shelley's 'Ode to the West Wind' (1819) and John Keats' 'Ode to a Grecian Urn' (1820) and 'Ode to the Nightingale' (1819).

Types of Ode

Pindaric Ode

The Pindaric ode (sometimes called the Choiric Ode) is the oldest form of ode and has been used frequently in English literature. Traditionally Pindaric odes have been used to celebrate Gods, athletes, and rulers after victories. During the Romantic period, the Pindaric ode was adapted by poets such as William Wordsworth to discuss themes centring around life.

Pindaric Ode - a type of ode pioneered by the Greek poet Pindar with three distinct units.

Pindaric Ode: Structure

The Pindaric ode is composed of three units and follows a strict structure where each stanza has a specific role. Each unit in a Pindaric ode will then be divided into three stanzas that have different purposes: the strophe, the antistrophe, and the epode.

1. The strophe

The strophe, or 'turn', is the first section or division of the ode.

The strophe is the first section of a Pindaric ode, which is composed of three stanzas with lines of varying lengths. Traditionally, during the strophe, the Greek chorus would move from the right-hand side of the stage to the left-hand side during a performance. While this element of the ode is no longer common, the strophe is still important as it will typically lay out the ideas or arguments of the poem.

I.1.Ruin seize thee, ruthless King!
Confusion on thy banners wait,
Tho' fann'd by Conquest's crimson wing
They mock the air with idle state.
Helm, nor hauberk's twisted mail,
Nor even thy virtues, tyrant, shall avail
To save thy secret soul from nightly fears,
From Cambria's curse, from Cambria's tears!"
Such were the sounds, that o'er the crested pride
Of the first Edward scatter'd wild dismay,
As down the steep of Snowdon's shaggy side
He wound with toilsome march his long array.
Stout Glo'ster stood aghast in speechless trance;
To arms! cried Mortimer, and couch'd his quiv'ring lance.

The extract above is the first stanza of the strophe of the poem 'The Bard: A Pindaric Ode' (1757) by Thomas Gray. This strophe outlines that the English King Edward I is returning from battle in Wales, where he has been victorious. During this return, he encounters a Welsh bard who invokes three dead Welsh figures.

2. The antistrophe

The antistrophe, or 'turn back', is the second unit of a Pindaric ode, and it presents another half of a debate or furthers the argument presented in the strophe.

The second unit of the Pindaric ode is the antistrophe, where the Greek chorus would traditionally move from left to right across the stage. The purpose of the antistrophe is to present either a counterargument to the strophe or to further explore the argument that the strophe offered.

I

'Weave the warp, and weave the woof,
The winding sheet of Edward's race.
Give ample room, and verge enough
The characters of hell to trace.
Mark the year, and mark the night,
When Severn shall re-echo with affright
The shrieks of death, thro' Berkley's roofs that ring,
Shrieks of an agonising King!
She-Wolf of France, with unrelenting fangs,
That tear'st the bowels of thy mangled mate,
From thee be born, who o'er thy country hangs
The scourge of Heav'n. What terrors round him wait!
Amazement in his van, with Flight combin'd,
And Sorrow's faded form, and Solitude behind.

The antistrophe of 'The Bard: A Pindaric Ode' is used to further the Bard's argument that he makes during the strophe. Here, the Bard develops the curse he places upon Edward as the figures mentioned in the strophe weave a story about the misfortunes that will plague Edward's descendants.

3. The epode

The epode, or 'after song', is the final unit of a Pindaric ode.

The purpose of the epode is to summarise the ideas presented in the strophe and antistrophe and to provide a final statement. The epode was traditionally performed in the middle of the stage by the full Greek chorus.

III. I

'Edward, lo! to sudden fate
(Weave we the woof. The thread is spun)
Half of thy heart we consecrate.
(The web is wove. The work is done.)'
Stay, oh stay! nor thus forlorn
Leave me unbless'd, unpitied, here to mourn!
In yon bright track, that fires the western skies!
They melt, they vanish from my eyes.
But oh! what solemn scenes on Snowdon's height
Descending slow their glitt'ring skirts unroll?
Visions of glory, spare my aching sight,
Ye unborn Ages, crowd not on my soul!
No more our long-lost Arthur we bewail.
All-hail, ye genuine kings, Britannia's issue, hail!

In the epode of 'The Bard: A Pindaric Ode', the final summarising idea is a prediction that Wales will rule Britain through the Tudor monarchy. This concludes the curse that the Bard places upon King Edward I.

Pindaric Ode: Meter, Rhyme Scheme, and Tone

There is no set meter in Pindaric odes due to the variation in line length throughout each stanza. The key characteristic of meter in Pindaric odes is that the epode will use a different meter to the strophe and antistrophe before it.

There is also no set rhyme scheme in Pindaric odes, meaning that the rhyme scheme will vary between the different poems.

Pindaric odes were traditionally used to celebrate art and the achievements of athletes and rulers. For this reason, they tend to take on a celebratory tone as they would be performed orally by a chorus. In the example above, the tone is celebratory as it praises the predicted fall of England and the rise of Wales.

Horatian Ode

Horatian ode - a stanzaic ode that is meant to convey a calm message to its audience.

The Horatian ode is named after the Roman poet Horace and was modelled around the Latin Aeolic ode. Unlike the Pindaric ode, Horatian odes focused on using a single voice to convey the central idea of the poem. During the Elizabethan period, this form of the ode was popular with poets such as Andrew Marvell and Alexander Pope. The Horatian ode also experienced popularity during the Romanticism movement, with poets such as Percy Bysshe Shelley writing in this form.

Horatian Ode: Structure

The structure of a Horatian ode is different to a Pindaric ode as, in Horatian odes, the poem is arranged in a nonce stanzaic structure.

A nonce stanzaic structure consists of 'nonce stanzas' (or 'homostrophic stanzas') that follow a specific structure created for one specific poem.

Many Horatian odes will be structured in quatrains or couplets and will be shorter in length than a Pindaric ode. The poem below is called 'Ode to Solitude' (1700) by Alexander Pope how many quatrains can you count?

Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.
Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.
Blest, who can unconcernedly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,
Sound sleep by night; study and ease,
Together mixed; sweet recreation;
And innocence, which most does please,
With meditation.
Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.

Horatian Ode: Meter

Horatian odes do not have a set meter throughout the form, as this decision is usually left to the poet. This is because of how the lines of the poem are constructed; Horatian odes will have lines of irregular length throughout, and so there can be no set meter because of this irregularity. As an example, let's compare the meter of 'Ode to Solitude' to the meter used in Andrew Marvell's 'Horatian Ode Upon Cromwell's Return From Ireland' (1650).

Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.

In 'Ode to Solitude', the meter of the first three lines is iambic tetrameter, while the fourth line is written in iambic diameter. Within the stanza itself, there are two changes in meter, showing that there is no strict rule for how meter can be used in an ode.

  • Iambic tetrameter - a form of meter where there are four metrical feet within a line.
  • Iambic diameter - a form of meter where there are two metrical feet within a line.
  • Iambic foot - a type of metrical foot composed of one unstressed syllable and one stressed syllable.

In Marvell's 'Horatian Ode Upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland', meter is also used in a similar fashion.

The forward youth that would appear
Must now forsake his Muses dear,
Nor in the shadows sing
His numbers languishing.

Here, the ode is also written in two separate meters. The first two lines of the stanza are written in iambic tetrameter, whereas the third and fourth lines are written in iambic trimeter.

Iambic Trimeter - when a line is written with three metrical feet.

Both examples use iambic tetrameter; however, the meter that is chosen for the second half of the quatrain is different in each. Because of this, we can see that there is no set meter used in Horatian odes.

Horatian Ode: Rhyme Scheme

Like meter, there is also no set rhyme scheme in Horatian odes. Historically, odes were set to music. Many odes follow this tradition and will, therefore, follow a rhyme scheme. For example, in 'Ode to Solitude', there is an ABAB rhyme scheme, whereas 'Horatian Ode upon the Return of Cromwell from Ireland' uses an AABB rhyme scheme.

Horatian Ode: Tone

Typically Horatian odes are used to deliver a message to the audience about how the speaker admires the subject of the poem. Therefore, the tone in Horatian odes is typically peaceful, calm and contemplative.

Irregular Ode

Irregular ode - an ode with an irregular stanzaic structure and no correlation between parts.

The third type of ode is the irregular ode. The irregular ode is also called the Cowelyan ode because the irregular ode was partially developed by Abraham Cowelyan (who it was said could not master the Pindaric or Horatian ode). The Irregular ode is one of the most popular forms of ode within English literature, with many of the most famous odes being written in this format.

Irregular Ode: Structure

There is no set structure that irregular odes follow it is usually left to the choice of the poet. Many irregular odes will use quatrains or octaves as their stanza structure.

Irregular Ode: Meter and Rhyme Scheme

There is also no set meter or rhyme scheme in an irregular ode. The freedom that the poet has is a key feature of the irregular ode, as they are able to choose the meter and rhyme scheme for themselves.

Irregular Ode: Tone

Irregular odes tend to have a contemplative tone as they focus on the speaker's appreciation for a particular subject. An example of this is in John Keats' 'Ode to a Grecian Urn' (1820):

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?

Odes: Key Differences

Pindaric OdeHoratian OdeIrregular Ode
StructureStropheAntistropheEpodeQuatrains or coupletsVaried, typically quatrains
MeterNo set meterEpode's meter will differNo set meterNo set meter
Rhyme SchemeNo set rhyme schemeNo set rhyme schemeNo set rhyme scheme
ToneCelebratoryCalm, contemplativeNo set tone, often appreciative

Ode - Key takeaways

  • An ode is a form of poetry that dates back to Ancient Greece.
  • There are three main types of ode: Pindaric, Horatian and Irregular.
  • The Pindaric ode is divided into three units: the strophe, antistrophe and epode.
  • Horatian odes are stanzaic and tend to use quatrains or couplets.
  • Irregular odes have no typical stanza structure.
  • Odes tend to celebrate and contemplate on a specific object.

Ode

Examples of odes include Percy Bysshe Shelley's 'Ode to the West Wind' (1819) and John Keats' 'Ode to a Grecian Urn' (1820) and 'Ode to a Nightingale' (1819).  

'Ode' means a lyric poem addressed to a subject, with a varied or irregular rhyme scheme. 

Yes! An ode is a type of lyrical stanza. 

Odes can follow many different structures. A Pindaric ode will be divided into three units, the strophe, antistrophe and epode while a Horatian ode will be divided into different stanzas. 

While there is no set rhyme scheme, many odes tend to rhyme. 

Final Ode Quiz

Question

What is an ode?

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Answer

An ode is a lyric poem addressed to a subject, with a varied or irregular rhyme scheme.

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Question

Where did the ode originate? 

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Answer

Greece

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Question

Which Greek poet is said to have pioneered the ode?

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Answer

Pindar

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Question

How were odes originally performed?

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Answer

Rap battle

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Question

True or false: the Romans used a Greek chorus when performing odes.

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Answer

True! The Romans used a Greek chorus when performing odes 

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Question

Which 19th-century literary movement saw a revival of the ode?

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Answer

The Enlightenment

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Question

True or false: all odes have a rhyme scheme of ABBA-CDDC-EFFE-GGHH

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Answer

False! There is no set rhyme scheme in an ode.

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Question

How many units are in a Pindaric ode?

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Answer

3

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Question

What is the first unit of a Pindaric ode called?

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Answer

Strophe

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What is the second unit of a Pindaric ode called?

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Answer

Antistrophe

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What is the final unit of a Pindaric ode called?

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Answer

Epode

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Question

What is the typical tone of a Horatian ode?

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Answer

The typical tone of a Horatian ode is calm and contemplative.

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Question

Is there a set meter in an ode?

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Answer

No! There is not a set meter in an ode.

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Question

True or false: the epode's meter will be different from the meter used by the strophe and antistrophe. 

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Answer

True! The epode's meter will be different from the meter used by the strophe and antistrophe. 

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