Ode: A lyric poem of some length, often meditative or serious, that lauds or exalts its subject. Traditional odes treat a noble or otherwise elevated subject in a formal, dignified, and lofty way, whether in celebration or reverence. There are three types of odes: (1) the regular, or Pindaric, in which the stanzas have a recurrent, triadic structure; (2) the Horatian, in which every stanza is homostrophic, i.e., having the same rhyme scheme, meter, and number of lines; and (3) the irregular, or Cowleyan, with a variable stanzaic structure and form.
Originally a classical Greek choral poem intended for performance at a public event, odes were composed in a trifold stanzaic form comprising a strophe sung while the chorus danced in one direction, an antistrophe sung while it moved in the opposite direction, and an epode sung while standing still. The strophe and antistrophe exhibited the same meter, the epode another. The fifth-century B.C. Greek poet Pindar, for whom the Pindaric ode is named, modeled his celebratory odes on the classical Greek choral ode. The first-century B.C. Roman poet Horace, for whom the Horatian ode is named, took a different approach, writing odes with homostrophic stanzas and a reflective tone. Subsequently, during the Renaissance, the ode was revived, and seventeenth-century English poet Abraham Cowley developed the irregular form. Composition of odes remained popular through the Neoclassical and Romantic periods but then declined. Although the form is relatively rare in English today, contemporary odes often take unexpected or even taboo topics as the subjects they laud.
EXAMPLES: John Dryden’s irregular ode “A Song for Saint Cecilia’s Day” (1687), Thomas Gray’s Pindaric ode “The Bard” (1757), John Keats’s Horatian “Ode to a Nightingale” (1819). Twentieth-century examples include Allen Tate’s irregular “Ode to the Confederate Dead” (1928); Robert Penn Warren’s Horatian “Ode to Fear” (1944); W. H. Auden’s Horatian “Ode to Gaea” (1954); Pablo Neruda’s irregular Odas Elementales (Elemental Odes) (1954), which celebrate the everyday; Frank O’Hara’s “Ode to Joy” (1960); and Robert Creeley’s “America” (1969). More contemporary examples include Lucille Clifton’s “homage to my hips” (1987); Gary Soto’s “Ode to Pablo’s Tennis Shoes” (Neighborhood Odes ); and Sharon Olds’s Odes (2016), which begins with her “Ode to the Hymen.”