Poetry Guide: An Ode


The Ode is a poetic styled poem with expression at the heart of it, and the creation of the Greek poet Sappho, and later re-defined by Pindar and Horace.  It was lengthy and lyrical, in its early days and used in accompaniment with choral music, for Greek dramas.  It came in three parts, or three acts; “The Strophe” told one side of the story, “The Antistrophe” conveyed its counterpart, whilst “The Epode” recounted the adventure.”

It wasn’t long before the ode, was seen as an ideal way for poets to get their poems across to the people.  Two stand out; Pindar the Greek lyric poet, whose ode’s are responsible for the foundation of English Ode’s and their writing style.  Sappo another Greek poet who gave ode’s that femine touch in his works.

The single – voice style was favoured by the Romans.  What started out as music accompaniments eventually changed to the spoken word of poetry.

In the Renaissance period, the Ode’s developed by the Greek poets, changed to spoken word only, much like the style used by the Romans.

Sir Edmund Spenser wrote in the Horation Ode style during the 16th century, writing “Epithamalion” and “Prothamalion” for the English poetry scene.

Elizabethan poets and dramatists created elaborate styled lyrical poetry for the popular culture, and so England experienced an ode revival into the 17th and 18th centuries.

Abraham Cowley created his own style of Ode, which used stanzas (a group of lines forming a regular metrical division within a poem) of varying lengths which greatly influenced the 18th century revival by John Dryden, Alexander Pope and William Collins.

As with other poetic forms the Romantic poet John Keats wrote “Ode to a Nightingale” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” after that the ode seemed to fade from favour until its rebirth in the early part of the 20th century.

There are many lyrical forms when it comes to poetry, and the Ode, especially the Greek Ode, will always be remembered, for it is quite simply one of the most expressive styles in its long history.

One of the beauty’s of writing an ode, is that the poet, is not constrained by a pre-set stanza length, metrical or rhyming scheme.

An Ode is a celebration based on a person, event or relationship: Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains

My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,

Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains

One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:

‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,

But being too happy in thine happiness,—

That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees

In some melodious plot

Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,

Singest of summer in full-throated ease.


O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been

Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,

Tasting of Flora and the country green,

Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!

O for a beaker full of the warm South,

Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,

With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,

And purple-stained mouth;

That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,

And with thee fade away into the forest dim:


Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget

What thou among the leaves hast never known,

The weariness, the fever, and the fret

Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;

Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,

Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;

Where but to think is to be full of sorrow

And leaden-eyed despairs,

Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,

Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.


Away! away! for I will fly to thee,

Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,

But on the viewless wings of Poesy,

Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:

Already with thee! tender is the night,

And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,

Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;

But here there is no light,

Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown

Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.


I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,

Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,

But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet

Wherewith the seasonable month endows

The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;

White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;

Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;

And mid-May’s eldest child,

The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,

The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.


Darkling I listen; and, for many a time

I have been half in love with easeful Death,

Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,

To take into the air my quiet breath;

Now more than ever seems it rich to die,

To cease upon the midnight with no pain,

While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad

In such an ecstasy!

Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—

To thy high requiem become a sod.


Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!

No hungry generations tread thee down;

The voice I hear this passing night was heard

In ancient days by emperor and clown:

Perhaps the self-same song that found a path

Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,

She stood in tears amid the alien corn;

The same that oft-times hath

Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam

Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.


Forlorn! the very word is like a bell

To toll me back from thee to my sole self!

Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well

As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.

Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades

Past the near meadows, over the still stream,

Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep

In the next valley-glades:

Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?


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