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How to Write an Ode

How to Write an Ode

What do you do when you feel like deluging someone with praises? Give them verbal plaudits or simply pat on their backs? It's deeply unimpressive, we say. There's nothing more affectionate and sincere than writing an ode to someone who merits commendation. Learn how to write an ode with this Penlighten article.
Sai Kardile
Ode is a literary design conceived by the Greeks. Greek odes were personal literary compositions, which used to be performed with euphonic accompaniment of instruments.

Ode in its preceding form (during the ancient Greeks and Romans) used to be composed to hail praises on athletic triumphs and in celebration of magnificent spectacles. As time elapsed, its lauding tone underwent a sublime shift and it became more reflective and personal.

The ode has three representative forms - the Pindaric, the Horatian, and the Irregular. The first two styles hew to the literary canons laid by the great Pindar (Ancient Greek poet) and Horace (Roman lyric poet). The third form, the Irregular Ode isn't bound by conventions, per se, and the poet is left with creative latitude and flexibility.

Now that we have got you oriented with three styles of Ode, let us now come down to understanding the writing part of it.

1. Choose your subject

This is where it all starts from. You can choose any idea - real or abstract and blanket it with your intimate and sublime warmth of words. It could be anything right from your pet, diary, lover, favorite place, dream - but make sure it wields goodly influence on you. Similarly, invest in singular subject, so that you are able to give your unstinted attention to it as well as you are able to weave it with its subtleties and nuances.

2. Decide your choice of form

After deciding on the subject, you will arrive at the most crucial juncture of ode writing - the form. As mentioned earlier, there are three forms of ode. Let us understand the three forms in detail-

Pindaric Ode form
The Pindaric structure follows a set course - it opens with a strophe (first stanza), and is followed by antistrophe (it moves in opposite direction of the strophe) and is concluded by an epode (the final section of the ode). It is to be noted that both strophe and antistrophe course with the same rhythm and meter (they can be distinct units but must cross over each other), while epode follows a different metrical and rhymic pattern. The Pindaric was essentially used to extol athletes, so the accentuation was given to the content and its flow. To give you a fair idea, we give you an example of Pindaric Ode by Ben Jonson.

Brave infant of Saguntum, clear
Thy coming forth in that great year,
When the prodigious Hannibal did crown
His rage with razing your immortal town.
Thou, looking then about,
Ere thou wert half got out,
Wise child, didst hastily return,
And mad'st thy mother's womb thine urn.
How summ'd a circle didst thou leave mankind
Of deepest lore, could we the centre find!

Did wiser nature draw thee back,
From out the horror of that sack;
Where shame, faith, honour, and regard of right,
Lay trampled on? The deeds of death and night
Urg'd, hurried forth, and hurl'd
Upon th' affrighted world;
Sword, fire and famine with fell fury met,
And all on utmost ruin set,
As, could they but life's miseries foresee,
No doubt all infants would return like thee?

For what is life, if measur'd by the space,
Not by the act?
Or masked man, if valu'd by his face,
Above his fact?
Here's one outliv'd his peers
And told forth fourscore years;
He vexed time, and busied the whole state;
Troubled both foes and friends;
But ever to no ends:
What did this stirrer but die late?
How well at twenty had he fall'n or stood!
For three of his fourscore he did no good.

Horatian Ode form
The second and more flexible form is Horatian, which is a quieter and less dramatic form of ode. The Horatian ode evolves from a more meditative tone. All stanzas are structured uniformly, which means that the rhythm scheme and metrical pattern followed in the first stanza must be maintained in the subsequent stanzas. Ode on Solitude by Alexander Pope is a good example of this form.

Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.

Whose heards with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.

Blest! who can unconcern'dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,

Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mix'd; sweet recreation.
And innocence, which most does please,
With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.

Alexander Pope's Horatian Ode follows the simple rhyming scheme ABAB throughout all stanzas and is composed in equal lengths.

Irregular Ode form
The Irregular Ode does not follow any rigid rules, thus gives more leeway to the poet. This also allows for more versatility in terms of subject. The subject can be as profound as your view on death to your frivolous perspective of life. The only thing that remains constant, irrespective of the rhyme and metric pattern, is the subject. William Wordsworth's 'Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood' is a perfect example of the irregular Ode, which does not adhere to any specific format.

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparell'd in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;-
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day, The things which I have seen
I now can see no more.
The rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose;
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where'er I go,
That there hath pass'd away a glory from the earth.

This Ode has different rhyme and metric, unlike Horatian Ode form and does not follow the strophe-antistrophe-epode stanza format of Pindaric Ode form.

3. Length

Since none of the forms are constrictive in terms of length, you can have as many lines as you want. Archetypal forms are very long, but that doesn't mean you drone about your favorite subject. Wherever necessary, avoid going cloyingly sentimental and keep it succinct.

4. Rhyme and metric pattern

Again, the poet can follow any rhyme scheme and metric pattern on his volition. However, for a more mellifluous tone and flow, it is advisable to follow easy rhyme scheme. This is not to discourage you from following Irregular ode format. It is important to know that Irregular ode don't follow any set pattern like Pindaric or Horatian form but it still has rhyme and meter like other odes for a song-like flow.

We hope the above tips will help you in crafting an Ode for a special one or simply help you in putting your personal idea in a smooth-flowing read.