How To Write Ode

Last Updated on August 28, 2023

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How To Write Ode

Writing an ode is a fun task for anyone who wants to exercise both their creativity and their analytical mind. The form follows a prescribed format that anyone—child or adult—can learn. 

What Is an Ode? 

An ode is a lyric poem that is written to praise a person, event, or object. You may have read or heard of the famous “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats, for example, in which the speaker reflects on images carved into an urn.

The ode is a classical style of poetry, possibly invented by the ancient Greeks from an older form, who sang their odes rather than writing them on paper. Today’s odes are usually rhyming poems with an irregular meter, although rhyme is not required for a poem to be classified as an ode. They are broken into stanzas (the “paragraphs” of poetry) with 10 lines each, typically consisting of three to five stanzas in total. 

There are three types of odes: Pindaric, Horatian, and irregular. ​

  • Pindaric odes have three stanzas, two of which have the same structure. It was the style used by the Greek poet Pindar (517–438 BCE). Example: ​“The Progress of Poesy” by Thomas Gray. 
  • Horatian odes have more than one stanza, all of which follow the same rhyme structure and meter. The form follows that of the Roman lyric poet Horace (65–8 BCE). Example: “Ode to the Confederate Dead” by Allen Tate.​ 
  • Irregular odes follow no set pattern or rhyme. Example: “Ode to an Earthquake” by Ram Mehta.

Read a few examples of odes to get a feeling for what they are like before you write your own.

Writing Your Ode: Choosing a Topic

The purpose of an ode is to glorify or exalt something, so you should choose a subject that you are excited about. Think of a person, place, thing, or event that you find truly wonderful and about which you have plenty of positive things to say (although it also might be a fun and challenging exercise to write an ode about something you truly dislike or hate!). Think about how your subject makes you feel and jot down some adjectives. Think about what makes it special or unique. Consider your personal connection to the subject and how it has impacted you. Make note of some descriptive words you can use. What are some specific qualities of your subject? 

Choose Your Format 

Although a rhyming structure is not an essential component of an ode, most traditional odes do rhyme, and including rhyme in your ode can be a fun challenge. Test out a few different rhyming structures to find one that suits your subject matter and personal writing style. You might start with an ABAB structure, in which the last words of every first and third line rhyme and so do the last word in every second and fourth line—the A lines all rhyme one another, the B lines do the same, and so forth. Or, try out the ABABCDECDE structure used by John Keats in his famous odes. 

Structure and Write Your Ode

Once you have an idea for your subject matter and the rhyme structure you want to follow, create an outline of your ode, breaking each part into a new stanza. Try to come up with three or four stanzas that address three or four different aspects of your topic to give your ode structure. For example, if you’re writing an ode to a building, you might devote one stanza to the energy, skill, and planning that went into its construction; another to the building’s appearance; and a third about its use and the activities that go on inside. Once you have an outline, start filling in the ideas using your brainstorm and chosen rhyming structure.

Finalize Your Ode 

After you’ve written your ode, step away from it for a few hours or even days. When you return to your ode with fresh eyes, read it out loud and make a note of how it sounds. Are there any word choices that seem out of place? Does it sound smooth and rhythmic? Make any changes, and begin the process again until you are happy with your ode. 

Although many traditional odes are titled “Ode to [Subject]”, you can be creative with your title. Choose one that embodies the subject and its meaning to you.

how long is an ode

Structure of Odes

Odes are not restricted to a fixed stanza length, rhyme scheme or metrical scheme. Instead, what is important to the ode is how the stanzas are organized and the consistency of the metrical and rhyme patterns. There are three types of odes: two are classical in structure and the third is irregular. Regardless of type, short odes are very rare, and most odes are at least five stanzas long.

Types of Odes

Odes appear in three varieties: Pindaric, Horatian and irregular. The Pindaric ode — the original type — came from Ancient Greece. It was written by Pindar, a Theban poet, who is given credit for inventing the ode. A later version of the ode, invented by the Latin poet Horace, is the Horatian ode. This type of ode was later adopted by John Keats, a 19th century English poet, and used in one of his famous works, “Ode to a Nightingale.” The irregular type of ode does not fit into either the Pindaric or the Horatian category.

Pindaric Ode

The Pindaric ode has a pattern of three stanzas, which include the strophe, antistrophe and an epode. The poem opens with a strophe — a complex metrical structure that is then mirrored by the antistrophe. The poem ends with an epode — a section of different length that has a different metrical structure from the other two stanzas. Stanzas vary in length, from four to thirty lines. The Pindaric ode was originally performed by a chorus in front of an audience; an example of the Pindaric ode in English is William Wordsworth’s “Ode on Intimations of Immortality From Recollections of Early Childhood.”

Horatian and Irregular Odes

Unlike the Pindaric ode, the Horatian ode is more contemplative and less formal and ceremonious. It is not meant to be performed, but read. The Horatian ode uses a regular, recurrent stanza pattern. A contemporary example of this type of ode is Allen Tate’s “Ode to the Confederate Dead.” The irregular ode retains both the tone and the thematic elements of the classical odes as well as their formal structures, but it is not exclusively Pindaric or Horatian. Examples of irregular odes include John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind.”

Horatian Ode

The Horatian ode, named after the Latin poet Horace (65 to 8 B.C.), are philosophical and given to the contemplation of simple pleasures. The Horatian ode traditionally consists of quatrains, or four-line stanzas, that feature a consistent rhyme scheme and metrical pattern. Andrew Marvell offers a fine example of the form. He writes his Horatian ode in the traditional quatrain form with an AABB rhyme scheme, which he carries throughout the poem. For meter, his ode alternates between tetrameter and trimeter couplets, eight-syllable and six-syllable lines respectively.

Pindaric Ode

The Pindaric, or Greek, ode is the classic celebratory poem. The Pindaric ode features a three-stanza structure repeated throughout the piece. The stanzas follow a pattern of strophe-antistrophe-epode. The strophe refers to the first section of the ode, and the antistrophe to the second; the two sections follow the same metrical and rhyming patterns. The epode comes last and features a rhyming and metrical structure unique from the strophe and antistrophe. Ben Jonson offers a clear example in his aptly named “A Pindaric Ode.” He utilizes ten-line stanzas with AABB rhyme scheme in the strophe and antistrophe, switching to twelve-line stanzas with ABAB rhyme scheme in the epode.

English Romantic Ode

The English Romantic ode comes from the romantic poets’ modifying the Horatian and Pindaric forms. Romantic poets used the Pindaric irregularity in stanza for Horatian-style meditation. Their odes followed the Romantic style in addressing intense emotions, personal crisis and revelation. Indeed, the outline of English Romantic odes revolve around subject development. They start by describing a natural scene. They then meditate, considering how the scene reminds them of a problem or universal situation. The meditation leads to insight; the narrator returns to the original scene with his new perspective. Typical of the style, Percy Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” introduces the wind, meditates on its destructive and preserving powers, and ultimately reflects on his own art through the metaphor of the wind. For format, Shelley uses three-line stanzas, ABA rhyme scheme and couplets that end “oh hear!”

Sapphic Ode

The Sapphic form dates back to the poet Sappho in ancient Greece. Sapphic odes consist of quatrains in strict meter. Algernon Charles Swinburne’s “Sapphics” offers a clear example of the style. The lines of these odes build on trochees and dactyls. Trochee refers to a two-syllable metrical foot that’s stressed-unstressed. Similarly, a dactyl features three syllables, one stressed followed by two unstressed. In outline, the first three lines consist of two trochees, a dactyl then two more trochees: “All the night sleep came not upon my eyelids.” The fourth line of the quatrain, called an Adonic, contains just one dactyl followed by one trochee: “Stood and beheld me.” Sapphic odes do not rhyme.

Choose Your Subject

The subject of your ode can be anything, ranging from actual items to intangible ideas. One of the most famous odes is William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.” The only criteria for your ode is that you should be commemorating or offering tribute to the subject or idea. Odes are positive, but they can also take on a more serious and dignified tone beyond simple praise. An ode is written in a single voice, typically from the perspective of the poet.

Write a Horatian Ode

If you choose to adopt a formal structure for your ode, the Horatian ode is the easiest to write. The Horatian ode has a more reflective tone, and is written to be read rather than performed. The only rule for writing a Horatian ode is that it must have repeating stanzas. The format for those stanzas is up to you. Therefore, if you choose a rhyme scheme of abab and a meter of iambic pentameter, you must repeat that rhyme and meter in each stanza you write. You can include as many stanzas as you like, though most odes are at least four stanzas.

Write a Pindaric Ode

The Pindaric ode is a bit more difficult to write because it has a more rigid structure. This style of ode was written to be performed — usually sung by a chorus. A Pindaric ode begins with a strophe, a stanza with two pairs of rhyming lines. The lines do not have to be couplets, so they can have a rhyme scheme like abab or abcb. The stanza is followed by the antistrophe, which has the same meter but a different rhyme scheme. The strophe and antistrophe are known as the “turn” and “counterturn,” and they are also marked by a change in tone. The Pindaric ode ends with the epode, which has a different rhyme pattern and offers a conclusion or moral.

Revise for Language

Once you write the draft of your ode, you can revise it for language. Whether you or not you chose to adopt a formal rhyme scheme or meter, you will need to conform to the language conventions of the ode, which call for dignified language that shows admiration for the subject. Read your poem for content first, ensuring that it shows the importance of your subject, as well as your own appreciation for it. Then eliminate any casual word choice and revise for precision.

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