Term: Ode

An ode is a lyric poem, usually addressing a particular person or thing. It originated in Ancient Greece, and the Pindaric ode (so-called because it was written by the Theban poet Pindar, 518 ? 442 BC) was based on a pattern of three stanzas called the strophe, antistrophe and epode. It was performed by a chorus, which walked along one side of the orchestra chanting the strophe and down the other side chanting the antistrophe, then came to a standstill before the audience and chanted the epode. This performance was repeated with each set of three stanzas.

The Horatian ode (invented by the Latin poet Horace in about 65 BC) was adopted in the early 19th century by John Keats for one of his most famous poems, 'Ode to a Nightingale'. Many modern odes, however, are irregular in form, such as 'Intimations of Immortality' from 'Recollections of Early Childhood' by William Wordsworth.

While the ode does not necessarily have a regular metre or fixed rhyme scheme, Kit Wright's tongue-in-cheek Ode to Didcot Power Station uses both - as well as a repertoire of old-fashioned language - to parody the lofty style traditionally associated with this form. As Wright says in his introduction, "if you're going to have an ode, why not go the whole hog?"

How to use this term

'At the Grave of Asa Benveniste', by Roy Fisher, is arguably as much an ode, in its address to the dead poet, as it is an elegy.

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Daljit Nagra

From time to time a poet is in residence at the Poetry Archive, talking about poetry with anyone who wants to join in the conversation.

Comic Verse

I'm troubled, as you can tell by my introduction, about comic verse. Comic verse gets bad press because rigid notions of comedy foreground throwaway poems. Surely the best comedy is when the poem surprises us into laughter rather than setting up t... >