One thing that good poetry never fails to achieve is to evoke emotion. Poetry is art, and odes take this art to a whole different level—filled with love, glorification, and praise.
If you want to pen some positive poetry, talking about the things or people you like or adore, you write an ode.
Not that you can’t write some other forms of poetry in which you offer praise to someone or something (in fact, this is one of the most used functions with a lot of forms of poetry), but I think the lyricism and passion in an ode are both arousing and beautiful.
Odes are simple to write, especially irregular odes and if you’re a poetry writer, the odds of you having written one unknowingly are very high.
Alright, if you want to see some examples and learn how to write an ode, read on!
What Is an Ode?
An ode is a lyrical poem that showers praise, glorification, or tribute on an object or something abstract.
The ode is a classical style of poetry and dates back to ancient Greece, and it is said that the ancient Greeks sang their odes rather than writing them on paper.
Odes have three sections, namely strophe, antistrophe, and an epode; and, in general, there are three types of odes: Pindaric, Horatian, and irregular.
Contemporary odes are—more often than not—rhyming poems with an irregular meter, but a poem doesn’t have to rhyme for it to be classified as an ode.
Types of Odes
There are three types of odes: irregular, Horatian, and Pindaric. Here are the brief descriptions of each type:
- Pindaric odes: Takes its name from Pindar, a legendary lyrical poet of Ancient Greece. The strophe and antistrophe share a common meter and length, but the epode has its own distinctive meter and length. Pindar (518-438 BC) included mythology in his poetry and Pindaric odes were usually performed publicly using dancers and a chorus.
- Horatian odes: Named after Horace (65-8 BC), a Roman lyric poet who is said to have influenced English poetry. Horatian odes are—to a great degree—more intimate and personal than Greek Pindaric odes and were designed for personal reading or small group recitations. Standard Horatian odes contain traditional stanzas and rhyming schemes.
- Irregular odes: Irregular odes are looser than Pindaric and Horatian odes structurally and have different rhyme schemes. A majority of contemporary odes are irregular and most writers don’t even know they’re writing an ode.
What is the Difference between an Ode, Elegy, and Eulogy?
Before I discuss the difference between an Ode and an elegy, let me define an elegy and differentiate it from a eulogy.
What is an elegy?
In simple terms, it is a poem or song that is written to lament for the dead. It is confused with a eulogy because both are mournful or thoughtful. A eulogy is so literary and spoken at the deceased’s funeral—it’s a speech that one gives at the cemetery or the funeral mass.
So, back to the Ode vs. Elegy comparison…
Odes and elegies are similar in a way and both have the same main ingredient: predominant emotion. The noticeable difference between the two is the theme; while odes usually praise or glorify a person or object, elegies lament are centered on the theme of loss.
Example of an Elegy
Here’s an excerpt of Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.”
“The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
Now fades the glimm’ring landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;
Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow’r
The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such, as wand’ring near her secret bow’r,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.”
How to Write an Ode
Contemporary odes aren’t as standard as the classic forms, they’re looser in terms of structure, but they still contain some distinguishing qualities, characteristics that define them as odes, not just poetry.
Here are some times for writing an ode:
1. Choose Your Subject/Topic
You are free to choose anything as a topic for your ode, whether an actual object or an abstract thing.
The invaluable only advice anyone can give you concerning odes is that whatever topic you choose, just make sure it’s commemorating or offering tribute to something and that the topic is praiseworthy.
For you not to stray from the thematic boundaries of an ode is to choose a grand or intensely personal subject.
When choosing your subject matter, you should also factor in the issues of style. For example, Pindaric odes tend to have a scent of mythology and—now and then—does speak of admiration and praise gods and the majesty of nature, while Horatian odes are—most often than not—more personal to the writer.
So, after considering all these factors, you can choose a topic to write about; whether it’s the people you love (i.e., your kids, your hubby, your parents, siblings, et cetera), perhaps you can write an ode that praises and celebrates the life of your favorite pets, write an ode to a friend, or write an ode glorifying the beauty and grace of the natural world that surrounds us.
2. Use quatrain stanzas
Quatrains are stanza of four lines and that’s what classic Pindaric and Horatian odes are constructed with. Unless you intend to write an irregular ode, use these four-line stanzas.
3. Choose Your Format
Again, you don’t necessarily have to write a rhyming poem for it to qualify as an ode. But, a rhyming structure gives the ode a more traditional feel.
And, for you—as a writer—writing an ode that rhymes is a bit of creative fun. Therefore it does more good than harm when you try to fit a few different rhyming structures into your ode (or vice versa) and find a rhyming scheme that perfectly fits the subject matter and writing style for your ode.
But, again the fewer rules there are, the more creative one can be, so don’t worry if you like your free of rhyming requirements.
4. Pour Your Feelings
When you decide to write an ode, you’ve likely chosen a subject you feel good about, you will have a lot to say.
And you have to say all of it! Well… almost all.
One thing I’ve learned about writing poetry is that they’re better when you give the audience a piece of your heart. This works perfectly when you choose a subject that makes you emotional, either positively or negatively.
Although it is recommended to write your feelings about and reactions to the subject, you don’t have to cram your ode with words that have the same definition or meaning.
5. Mind the length of your lines
The fourth line in Pindaric odes is usually shorter than the rest of the quatrain; in Horatian odes, the third line is usually shorter than the rest of the quatrain; and an irregular ode has a loose structure and the writer has more freedom.
Odes by Famous Writers
To Autumn by John Keats
“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
ODE TO THE WEST WIND by Percy Bysshe Shelley
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed
The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow
Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh hear!
Thou on whose stream, mid the steep sky’s commotion,
Loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,
Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine aëry surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head
Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith’s height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge
Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might
Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: oh hear!”
The Bard: A Pindaric Ode by Thomas Gray
“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.
On a rock, whose haughty brow
Frowns o’er old Conway’s foaming flood,
Rob’d in the sable garb of woe,
With haggard eyes the poet stood;
(Loose his beard, and hoary hair
Stream’d, like a meteor, to the troubled air)
And with a master’s hand, and prophet’s fire,
Struck the deep sorrows of his lyre;
“Hark, how each giant-oak, and desert cave,
Sighs to the torrent’s awful voice beneath!
O’er thee, O King! their hundred arms they wave,
Revenge on thee in hoarser murmurs breathe;
Vocal no more, since Cambria’s fatal day,
To high-born Hoel’s harp, or soft Llewellyn’s lay.”
One last piece of advice is: obey the rules of language. It doesn’t matter if you write a Pindaric, Horatian, or irregular ode; you still have to write them within the laws of the language.
Having said that, you’re creating art, so you can’t be caged in by non-existent when writing an ode; because, apart from the rules of language, there are no holds barred.