Writing An Ode!!!

by Robert Gardiner   Nov 2, 2007

O You Want To Write An Ode

Ode: (ohd) 1. A lyric poem characterized by lofty feeling, elaborate form, and dignified or elevated style; a form of stately and elaborate lyrical verse. 2. A lyric poem usually marked by exaltation of feeling and style, varying length of line, and complexity of stanza forms. 3. A lyrical poem praising or glorifying a person, place, or thing.

The Ode is a very friendly form, in that its requirement is primarily focused not on the construction of the stanza but on the organization of stanzas in the poem, the requirement for these stanzas being little more than a personally constructed meter and rhyme scheme.

There are two types of odes based on the classical poets Pindar and Horace, respectively called the Pindaric and Horatian ode.

The Pindaric Ode

Now I am pretty sure that these were originally written for public events, where they'd be sung by a chorus, but I'm not sure about that. What the Pindaric Ode uses is a three-stanza structure that is repeated throughout the poem. The first two stanzas, the strophe and the antistrophe both use an identical meter and rhyme scheme, but the third stanza, the epode, uses a unique form from these two. Throughout the poem the strophe and antistrophe repeat the same form, and the epode repeats the same stanza form as the previous epodes. A good example would be Ben Jonson's pindaric ode, found here,


but it's not necessary for stanzas to be as long as his are. I realize this is a workshop, so we're really just trying new stuff out, and stanzas of four or five line length would be fine.

The Horatian Ode

This is an easier one. Horace was a Roman poet who wrote more personal and less broadly-based odes, and so his format seems more personal and individual. All that is necessary to write a Horatian ode is that some stanza format (metered and rhymed) be developed and followed in every succeeding stanza in the poem. So it's similar to the Pindaric ode but without the strophe/antistrophe/epode rules, just a single stanza that is repeated.

Irregular Ode

Apparently (I just read this somewhere) comes from a misunderstanding of the Pindaric ode format. In this format no particular stanza form is followed but the traditional "themes" of the ode are present, the celebratory tone, the particular subject matter addressed from a personal perspective. There is still rhyme and meter used, but the stanza structures are diverse and disjointed.

Stanza Development

When developing your stanza, remember what you all probably know already about meter and rhyme from your participation in this workshop. Make sure that each line rhymes with at least one other line. A first stanza might operate best by curiously describing from an outside point of view the subject matter, and then delving further until coming to a more intimate understanding in the final stanza.

Developing the Pindaric "unit" one should try to keep a certain unity between the strophe/antistrophe and the epodes, so that the units are each distinct and transist one into the other.

The "epode" can differ from the other stanza formats but it is probably a good idea to keep a similar meter and rhyme style, with a subtle variance, or maybe a shortening of line count to have a more pointed effect.

Odes can be of any length but traditionally are long rather than short. I think that in this workshop we could happily function with Pindaric odes a length of three units or more, or Horatian odes of four stanzas or more (maybe less if the stanzas are on the larger side, more if on the smaller side).

Line lengths do not need to be consistent throughout a single stanza, but if they are inconsistent, then those inconsistencies must be maintained in stanzas following that format. If anybody doesn't understand this, please ask me in a reply, because I feel like I'm unclear.

Subject Matter

The subject matter of the ode tends to be celebratory, and of a particular subject matter or personage (ode to my sister, ode on a box of crayons, &c). Keep in mind when titling your odes, that typically an ode "to" something is written as address, with second-person reference (a "You" entity and an "I" entity). An ode "on" something is more detached and written with third person reference to the subject matter.

Again, if you want to stay traditional, Pindaric odes best celebrate something of public importance, where Horatian odes are more personally inclined---but even the great Romantics are guilty of wandering from these traditions a little, so it's not set in stone at all.

Some techniques that might come in handy

Apostrophe: Directly addressing a non-human or absent figure as though they were human or present. This is a good way to get started if you're stumped for a first line. Such as "O cheese stain! Had I but a drop of bleach," etc, etc, etc.

Personification: Speaking of something as though it were a human figure or had human characteristics, attributing thought, will and/or intent to inanimate objects. "The torrent beat me back with anger," or "The sunset smiled at me," something like that.
Thanks for playing, and good luck!

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