Having spent the better part of my life loving, reading and writing poetry there are a couple of forms that I hold in a certain lofty esteem. The Sonnet for me is still daunting, and the Ode intimidating. It seems so exalted, so ethereal. The Ode forms once didn’t seem very approachable; and the best of them for me, the ones of Keats that I read when I was quite young, seem written in another world, or another time — written by a mind and spirit who wasn’t present in my time, in this modern world.
Yet investigating the Ode I’ve found that it can be as approachable as any of the other forms. True, the form is quite old. Born, perhaps, in Greece and made famous by Pindar, the Ode was used to glorify Olympic athletes. Having spent the other better part of my life in figure skating, I understand the need to versify and exalt the amazing dedication and persistence to gain physical perfection exercised by those athletes.
Gosse gives this definition: “Ode – Any strain of enthusiastic and exalted lyrical verse, directed to a fixed purpose, and dealing progressively with one dignified theme.” The term connotes qualities both of manner and form. In manner the ode is an elaborate lyric, expressed in dignified language. In form the ode is more complicated than other lyric types. The essential distinction of the form is the division into strophes: the strophe, the antistrophe, and the epode. Originally a choral work, the form has now evolved in English into three types:
The Pindaric – Regular, characterized by the three strophe divisions – the stophe and antistrophe each having the same metrical form while the epode differs from the other two. The metrics and verse lengths may vary within one strophe of the ode, but when the movement is repeated the metrical scheme for corresonding divisions should be similar though accompanied by new rhymes. It is also not essential that they alternate regularly since the epode may occur only at the end or may be repeated between strophes. The most famous example is Thomas Gray’s “The Progress of Poesy” which is far too long to reprint here but this version does have footnotes included.
The Horatian – (or homotrophic) consists of only one stanza type, and that type may be almost infinitely varied within its pattern. The Horatian ode employs uniform stanzas, each with the same metrical pattern, and tends to be more personal, more meditative, and more restrained.
Ode To Autumn – 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.
The Irregular. This type is credited to Abraham Cowley in 1656. It imitated the Pindaric style retaining the serious subject matter but opted for greater freedom. It abandoned the recurrent strophic triad and allowed for each stanza to be shaped individually which yielded stanzas of different line lengths, different rhymes and different number of lines. The Romantics adopted this form which gave them a good deal more freedom, combining the complexity of the Irregular Ode with the meditative qualities of the Horatian Ode traditions. They more or less abandoned stanza patterns and let the subject matter dictate their shapes. However there are three usual elements:
1. the description of a particular scene from nature
2. an extended meditation stimlated by that scene focusing on a private problem, universal situation or both.
3. the occurrence of insight or vision, a resolution or decision, which signals a return to the scene originally described, but with a new perspective created by the intervening meditation.
An excellent example is William Wordsworth’s – Ode: Intimations of Immortality. None of these poems are short poems so I am only reprinting the Keats Poem (one of my favorites) here but please click the links and enjoy and study them at your leisure.
Aided by this information, I am trying my hand at an Ode for today and I hope you will do likewise and link with us today. I have a feeling it will be a very “heady” experience. Cheers all!