Ode- Definition and Examples

What is an Ode?

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, an ode is "a poem in which a person expresses a strong feeling of love or respect for someone or something," and is often associated with lyrical poetry.

Odes were traditionally accompanied by music and dance, but over time that stopped.

The earliest English odes known to us are Epithalamion and Prothalamion written by Edmund Spenser.

Triadic Structure: Strophe, Antistrophe, and Epode

Traditionally, an ode is comprised of three main parts: the strophe, the antistrophe, and the epode. In Greek tradition, a chorus is used to give commentary on the actions throughout the play or poem.

In an ode, the strophe ("the turn") is the first half of the debate or argument set forth by the chorus. It is usually two or more lines that are repeated in a unit.

The antistrophe ("the turn back") is the other half of the debate or argument that was set forth in the strophe. It is used to further explore the topic, and complicates the given issue so much that the character is confused about what the right course of action is.

The Strophe and the antistrophe are always in the same meter, but the epode is often in a slightly different meter.

The epode is where the chorus delivers the final summary line of the poem.


Ode by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ode On A Distant Prospect of Eton College Thomas Gray
Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth
An Ode for Him by Robert Herrick
Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats
Ode on Melancholy by John Keats
Ode on the Poetical Character by William Collins
Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats
Ode to Bill by John Ashbery
Ode to Evening by William Collins
Ode to Psyche by John Keats
Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley
The Progress of Poesy by Thomas Gray
The Bard by Thomas Gray
 Alexander's Feast by Alexander's Feast
Ode on the Death of Duke Wellington by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Pindaric Ode

This form of ode was developed by Pindar, a Greek professional lyricist of the 5th Century BC. Pindar formulated his odes by using the Triadic Structure, which was first introduced to us by Stesichorus (7th and 6th Century BC). It is important to envision this type of ode as if it were a Greek play. The strophe is where the chorus sets forth the argument that will be discussed during the poem. The chorus is split up equally between the strophe and the antistrophe. The strophe chorus will move from right to left as they recite the two or more repeated lines; they stop once they reach the center of the stage. Next, the antistrophe deliver their lines while moving from left to right until they meet up with the strophe at the center of the stage. The last line of the poem is the epode or the summary line, which is in a different meter. The chorus all recite this last line together.

Pindar's odes were often written for a specific occasion and make reference to personal situations and events that would have been well understood at the time, but readers of our time are left clueless. Pindar's odes were imitated by some, most notable are: The Progress of Poesy and The Bard, written by Thomas Gray in 1757.

The literary form known as Pindarics was introduced by Abraham Cowley when he published his work Pindarique Odes, in 1656. His odes were irregularly rhymed and the lines and stanza varied in lengths. He chose to do this as a way of paying homage to Pindar, but not to imitate his exact writing style. Some examples are: Alexander's Feast by John Dryden, Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by Williams Wordsworth, Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ode on the Death of Duke Wellington by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats.  

Horatian Ode

This form of ode was developed by Horace, a Latin poet of the 1st Century BC, and is comprised of stanzas with two or four lines. Horace's odes are more intimate and reflective than other ode practitioners. He would address his odes to friends, and would be about friendship, love, and the art of poetry writing. Horace adapted the Greek meter of Pindar, so that the meter was more standardized; this caused his odes to become more detached and deliberate, which in turn created a more elegant ode. Horace's tone is more sober and contemplative with a touch of irony and humor than his predecessor Pindar, whose odes tended to be more impassioned. 

Horace's ode form inspired Andrew Marvell's Horatian Ode Upon Cromwell's Return From Ireland, written in 1650.   

Sapphic Ode

This form is named for the ancient Greek lyric poet Sappho (625 BC-570 BC). There are only fragments of her poems left now, but her meter is quite distinct. Her style was introduced to Greek and Roman poets by Horace, who regularly used Sapphics in his odes. In Modern times, Sapphics have been used by poets such as Ezra Pound. The form is comprised of any number of stanzas, but each stanza had four lines. 

Traditionally, Saphhics used a quantitative meter, which mirrored how ancient Greeks spoke; "syllables were either long or short, depending on vowel length and ending sound" (Sapphic: Poetic Form). 

The Saphhic style is made up of trochees and dactyls. A trochee is a metrical foot that contains one stressed syllable followed by one unstressed one. A dactyl is a metrical foot that contains one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed ones. Each stanza in sapphic meter is structured as follows:

2 trochees / 1 dactyl / 2 trochees
2 trochees / 1 dactyl / 2 trochees
2 trochees / 1 dactyl / 2 trochees
1 dactyl / 1 trochee

This form allows for a variant: two stressed syllables replace both the second foot and the last foot of each line.

The meter of this form, with its inherent starts and stops, creates overwhelming emotion when read aloud, which is intensified by the words chosen. 

"Ode." Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.
"What Are Strophe and Antistrophe in Literature?." Classroom Synonym. Amber Hathaway. Web. 17 Oct. 2016. <>

"Pindaric ode". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 17 Oct. 2016 <>.

"Horatian ode". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 18 Oct. 2016 <>.

Wikipedia contributors. "Sappho." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 13 Oct. 2016. Web. 13 Oct. 2016. <>.

"Sapphic: Poetic Form." Poets. September 24, 2004. Web. 18 Oct. 2016. <>.

Picture Attribution
Bust of the lyric poet Pindar. Roman copy from original of the mid-5 century B.C. Napoli, Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Photo: Stas Kozlovsky. Place: Exhibition at Coliseo (Rome, Italy). Time of photo: 8th June 2006
Horace Sculture: By D.N.R. (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Sappho Bust: photographed by Marie-Lan Nguyen in 2011. The bust was photgraphed at the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Hall of the Geese

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