The ode has a long and illustrious history, from the ancient Greeks to the Romantics. Notable examples include Keats’s Ode on a Grecian Urn and Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind. It is usually a lyrical stanza in praise of, or dedicated to someone or something that has captured the poet’s imagination, thus serving as inspiration for the poem.
Naturally, classical odes use all the devices of prosody; meter, rhyme etc.
But it doesn’t have to be so. Nobel Prize-winning, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda developed his own style of ode, producing numerous examples dedicated to such every-day objects as tomatoes, lemons, his suit, or – as below – a pair of socks.
|Oda a los calcetines
Me trajo Maru Mori
Y es ésta
Pablo Neruda (1956)
|Ode to My Socks
Maru Mori brought me
And the moral of my ode
Translation © 1997 Stephen Mitchell
As you look at this poem the most obvious thing about it – other than that it is in Spanish – is the length, or rather the brevity, of Neruda’s lines. The use of such short lines has several effects: first, it gives the poem a long and sinuous appearance on the page; second, the brief lines propel the poem – and the reader – down the page at an exhilarating pace; third, the short lines allowed Neruda to isolate and emphasise key words, images and units of sense.
And it is the cascade of images and metaphors that make Neruda’s odes so successful. In Ode to My Socks (above), Neruda compares his feet to fish, sharks, blackbirds, cannons and firemen! In Ode to the Lemon, the sliced fruit is compared to a cathedral:
Oda al Limón
En el limón cortaron
Ode to the Lemon
In the lemon
This week’s Form for All challenge is to try writing your own Ode in the style of Neruda. So how do you do that?
First, you need to choose an object or a person to write a praise poem about. Next, explore the subject of your poem from as many different angles as possible. Push the boundaries as far as you dare – and then push some more. Look for any and every association you can find for your object; religious, scientific, historical, sociological, cultural and linguistic associations are all fair game and can open up new ways of presenting every-day, ordinary, taken-for-granted objects. You might find that you need – even want – to do some research to help in finding all these links.
For example, if you wanted to write an ode to an apple, you might want to think about the uses of apples, the stories – religious and otherwise – in which apples feature; you could think about the many different varieties of apple and the rich soundscape of their names etc. There really is no limit to where you might go. Not every line of enquiry will be fruitful (sorry – bad pun there); not everything you write in your first draft will succeed, but that’s what editing is for … smiles.
Don’t forget to use lots and lots of concrete images in your poem; try to avoid abstraction and focus on real-life objects. Here’s an excerpt from Neruda’s Ode to the Tomato which should help to show the type of thing we’re aiming at:
Oda al tomate
Ode to the Tomato
Don’t be afraid to pile up your images – one to a line, or even one over a couple of lines. This is your chance to really go to town, to show us the world – or at least a small part of it – in a completely new way, to show us the mundane in an extraordinary light, to make bratwurst, or pigeons, or ketchup, or … exciting again.
You don’t have to write your poem in Spanish … smiles … but you do need to stick to the short lines of Neruda’s style. Oh, come on, there has to be one rule, right?
What to do now.
• Write your Nerudan ode and post it to your blog.
• Add a link to your poem via the ‘Mr Linky’ below.
• This opens a new screen where you’ll enter your information, and where you also choose links to read. Once you have pasted your poem’s blog URL and entered your name, click Submit. Don’t worry if you don’t see your name right away.
• If you write more than one ode, it’s OK to link them separately … smiles.
• Read and comment on other people’s work to let them know it’s being read.
• Share your work and that of your fellow poetsvia your favourite social media platforms.
• Above all – have fun!