How to Make an Ode
Although Greek lyric poets such as Pindar, Horace and Catullus pioneered the ode well before the 1st century A.D., many of us are familiar with the ode in its English version. Starting in the late 16th century, English poets began to use the ode. Famous examples of English odes include Andrew Marvell's "Horatian Ode Upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland" and William Wordsworth's "Intimations of Immortality." To make your own English ode, you study previous examples of odes, select a subject and a rhyme scheme and begin writing.
Study odes by famous English poets to get an idea of how to go about composing your own. The Elizabethan poet and courtier Edmund Spenser produced two early notable English odes, "Epithalamium" and "Prothalamium." After Spenser, poets used the ode form with occasional success, but the sonnet mostly displaced the ode until the early 19th century, when English High Romantic poets such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Percy Bysshe Shelley revived it. Perhaps the most famous English practitioner of the ode was John Keats, who wrote what literary historians call the "Five Great Odes" in 1819. His "Ode to Autumn":
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
Select a subject for your ode. Choose something you feel comfortable offering the utmost praise to. You can choose anything from a person you love to a favorite place or time of year to an abstract concept. Edmund Spenser wrote his famous odes to his wife. Shelley composed an "Ode to the West Wind." Keats' five odes are about an animal (the nightingale), a feeling (melancholy), a work of art (a Greican urn), a Greek goddess (Psyche) and a season (autumn).
Decide on a rhyme scheme for your ode. Popular rhyme schemes for English odes include ABABCDECDE and ABABCBCDCDEDFF. The first stanza of Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind," which uses the second of these:
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being A
Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead B
Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing, A
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red, B
Pestilence-stricken multitudes! O thou C
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed B
The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low, C
Each like a corpse within its grave, until D
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow C
Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill D
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air) E
With living hues and odours plain and hill; D
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere; F
Destroyer and preserver; hear, O hear! F
Compose the first draft of your ode, reading each line aloud to yourself as you write. When you finish, read it to yourself several times. Share your ode with a friend who is interested in poetry if you feel comfortable doing so and see whether he suggests that you make any changes to it.
Revise your poem thoroughly based both upon your own feelings and those of anyone else. Remember that since it is your poem and that only you know what effect you are trying to achieve with it, you do not need to make every change that others suggest to you.
- If you write an ode about another person, wait until you finish the poem before you share it with her. Seeing a polished final draft will be far more flattering than an early work with pencil marks and crossed-out lines.
- "A Handbook to Literature"; William Harmon, et al.; 2002
- "Norton Anthology of English Literature"; Stephen Greenblatt, et al. (eds.); 2006
- "A Poetry Handbook"; Mary Oliver; 1994
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