The ode is a poem of some length, addressed to a particular person or thing, which deals with its subject in a serious manner.

It originated in Ancient Greece with the poet Pindar. It had three stanzas and was originally intended to be performed by a chorus. The Horatian ode (named from the Roman poet, Horace, who invented it) is less formal, more personal and more suited to reading than performance.

The Romantic ode

This Romantic ode was adopted by the Romantic poets, especially John Keats. He also experimented with the form so that the three stanza structure is no longer necessarily the norm. Ode to Autumn has the regular three stanza structure, while Ode on a Grecian Urn and Ode to a Nightingale are irregular in form, both in terms of stanzas and line length. Other famous Romantic odes are William Wordsworth's Ode on the Intimations of Immortality and Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ode to the West Wind.

A typical structure of the Romantic ode includes:

  • Description of a place or object
  • Meditation arising from the contemplation of the place or object
  • Personal or spiritual insight into issues arising out of this contemplation.


Romantic odes

  • In Ode to a Nightingale Keats chooses the song of a nightingale as the basis for his meditation which takes on a very subjective form. He contrasts the eternal beauty of the bird's song with the fleeting nature of the material world and his own circumstances
  • In Wordsworth's Ode on the Intimations of Immortality, the beauty of the natural world in spring gives rise to meditations on childhood vision. He is aware of how this is lost to people as they age. Yet he concludes that knowledge of personal mortality can give individuals greater insight into the beauties of nature.

Modern odes

Odes are now rare in English poetry. However, a well known 20th century example is the Ode of Remembrance taken from Laurence Binyon's For the Fallen, which is often read on Armistice Day. It includes the famous quotation, ‘They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old'.

Probably the most prolific writer of odes in the modern era has been the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda who has written odes about everyday subject matter like clothes and tomatoes.

More on Pablo Neruda: This Chilean poet and political activist lived from 1904 – 1973. His works include love poems, surrealist poems and historical epics. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.
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