Poetry examples of odes date back to ancient Greece and the Greek poet Pindar, who is credited with inventing this form of poetry. The word "ode" comes from the Greek word oide meaning "to sing or chant:" odes were originally performed to music.
Emotional rip currents run through this ancient form of self-expression. 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.
There are three different types of odes: Pindaric, Horatian, and Irregular. It'll be helpful to be able to identify each form as you soak up the beauty and lyricism found within their stanzas.
Often describe as the greatest lyrical poet, the most lyrical style of ode was named after the master himself. Pindaric odes were meant to be performed with dancers and a chorus, celebrating events like the Olympics. Pindar loved to include mythological allusions in his writing.
Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, by William Wordsworth, is a good example of a poem in Pindaric style. It begins:
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 was named after the Roman poet, Horace. These were usually more thoughtful than a Pindaric ode, meant for personal enjoyment than a stage performance. Their subjects tend to be simple, reflecting on nature, people or abstract concepts.
A Horatian ode usually has a regular stanza pattern - usually 2-4 lines - length and rhyme scheme.
This excerpt from Ode to the Confederate Dead by Allen Tate demonstrates the structure of a Horatian ode.
"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 sough the rumour of mortality."
Authors of an Irregular ode will retain some of the elements of a classic ode, such as tone and subject, while enjoying the freedom to experiment with rhyming and structure.
You can see this irregularity in an excerpt from Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ode to the West Wind:
Scatter, as from an unextinguish'd hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken'd earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
An Irregular ode has no set structure, but it'll be helpful to highlight the similarities and differences between the Pindaric and Horatian odes before enjoying a few more examples. Understanding the rich history that lies within an ode will allow you to enjoy them even more.
Pindaric ode: Ode to Aphrodite - Sappho (ca. 630-570 B.C.)
Deathless Aphrodite, throned in flowers,
Daughter of Zeus, O terrible enchantress,
With this sorrow, with this anguish, break my spirit
Lady, not longer!
Hear anew the voice! O hear and listen!
Come, as in that island dawn thou camest,
Billowing in thy yoked car to Sappho
Forth from thy father's
Golden house in pity! ...
Horatian ode: The Ship of State (Odes I, 14) - Horace (ca. 65-8 B.C.)
On Ship! New billows sweep thee out
Seaward. What wilt thou? Hold the port, be stout
See'st not thy mast
How rent by stiff Southwestern blast?
Thy side, of rowers how forlorn?
Thine hull, with groaning yards, with rigging torn,
Can ill sustain
The fierce, and ever fiercer main;
Irregular ode: Ode to a Grecian Urn - John Keats
O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
Can you feel the emotion pouring through the page? Odes are a special form of lyric poetry, rooted in rich history. They always contain deep meaning. Read Examples of Lyric Poetry, to discover more poems with similarly deep and emotive undertones.
And if you'd like to dive deeper into poetic waters, enjoy What Are the Different Types of Poems.
As one of the truest forms of self-expression, we hope you'll continue a lifelong love affair with the beauty of poetry.