Odes: Forms & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is an Ode?
  • 0:32 Pindaric Ode
  • 2:08 Horatian Ode
  • 3:15 Irregular Ode
  • 4:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Heather Carroll

Heather teaches high school English. She holds a master's degree in education and is a National Board Certified Teacher.

Have you ever appreciated something or someone so much you were inspired to write a poem? If so, then the ode is the poem for you! Learn about the three types of odes and how they are used to celebrate the people and things.

What Is an Ode?

Sometimes, you just want to say, 'Hey, you're doing a great job!' or 'Man, I love my car!' When the need to praise arises, it's time to write an ode.

An ode is a serious and fairly long reflective, lyric poem that conveys the speaker's sentiments about a person, place, thing or idea. An ode offers praise or reflection on something or someone of interest or importance, which sometimes may include appreciating that thing you drive.

Pindaric Ode

The ode goes all the way back to ancient Greece. Of course, the Greeks didn't have cars to write about, so they wrote about things most important to them: art and games. The Pindaric ode, named after the Greek poet Pindar, began as a choral poem meant to be sung during a public event. The most influential of Pindar's poems are four books of odes celebrating the Greek classical games: the Olympian, Pythian, Isthmian and Nemean. These heroic odes celebrated the winners through metaphors, myths, a chorus chant and a dance.

To further explain, we first need to understand that a chorus, in this case, is a group of people who would sing or chant the lyrics of the ode. The chorus moved collectively in a sort of dance during certain parts of the ode. The chorus was responsible for delivering the three stanzas that made up the Pindaric ode: the strophe, the antistrophe and the epode.

To begin, the chorus would chant the strophe, the first stanza of two or more lines repeated as a group, as they danced in one direction. The chorus would then retrace the steps, moving in the opposite direction that it had followed during the strophe; this is called the antistrophe, the second stanza that followed the same meter as the strophe. Finally, the chorus would stop mid-stage and sing the epode, the third stanza consisting of summarizing lines and followed a different meter. The chorus would repeat the movements with each set of three stanzas in the ode.

Horatian Ode

Unlike Pindar's heroic odes, the Horatian ode is meditative, intimate and informal. Named after the Latin poet Horace, these odes also dealt with different subject matters than Pindar's. Horatian odes dwell on simple pleasures and find subjects in anything of interest. Again, Horace lived before the time of the automobile, so he had to write about other things of importance, from seasons to beautiful women. He took the ordinary and combined it with the sacred to create his insightful appreciations.

It's probably no surprise that with the informal tone, these odes do not follow the strict structural guidelines we see with the Pindaric odes. Instead, they are short and written in equal-length stanzas, which have the same rhyme scheme and meter.

William Wordsworth's 'Ode to Duty,' a poem that looks at the devotion to duty and integrity, is a Horatian ode. If we look at the first two stanzas, we can see they are of equal length and follow a consistent rhyme scheme, in this case ababccdd.

Stern Daughter of the Voice of God! (a)

O Duty! if that name thou love (b)

Who art a light to guide, a rod (a)

To check the erring, and reprove; (b)

Thou, who art victory and law (c)

When empty terrors overawe; (c)

From vain temptations dost set free; (d)

And calm'st the weary strife of frail humanity! (d)

There are who ask not if thine eye (a)

Be on them; who, in love and truth, (b)

Where no misgiving is, rely (a)

Upon the genial sense of youth: (b)

Glad Hearts! without reproach or blot; (c)

Who do thy work, and know it not: (c)

Oh! if through confidence misplaced (d)

They fail, thy saving arms, dread Power! around them cast. (d)

Irregular Ode

It is important to note, however, that Wordsworth did not use the Horation ode form for all of his poems. His 'Ode: Intimations of Immortality' follows the last of the ode variations, the Cowleyan ode, named after Abraham Cowley, better known as the irregular ode.

The irregular ode does not follow the Pindaric or the Horatian ode structure. In fact, it does not have a set structure at all, so the poet is allowed greater flexibility to a variety of subjects and moods.

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