Odes and elegies are types of lyric poetry that express grief or loss, either at the passing of an individual or in recognition of a more abstract or metaphysical loss. Both forms have their origins in the lyric poetry of ancient Greece. The traditional ode is usually longer than the elegy and has a more formal and elaborate style. During the Romantic period, poets such as John Keats were noted for meditative odes that allowed the poet to express his own thoughts and feelings.
Both the ode and the elegy are forms of Western lyric poetry. According to the "Norton Anthology of Poetry," the word "lyric" is a reference to the lyre, a musical instrument meant to accompany this type of poem. The present-day lyric poem is relatively short and personal, expressing the emotions and concerns of a speaker rather than telling a dramatic narrative. Different poets have written lyric poems since their origins in ancient Greece, but the style was particularly popular during the Romantic movement in the 19th century.
A traditional ode is longer than the average lyric poem and has a very elevated and elaborate style. The structure of an ode is often complex due to complicated stanza patterns. In subject matter, an ode generally concentrates on praising and exulting a specific person or object. Brooklyn College's "Guide to the Study of Literature" cites the Romantic period as particularly notable in advancing the meditative ode, which emphasizes the speaker's feelings and thoughts about the subject in question. Romantic poet John Keats is noted for his odes, including "Ode to a Nightingale" and "Ode on a Grecian Urn."
In contrast to the ode, an elegy usually focuses on personal grief and loss. The typical elegy consist of three parts: a lament that expresses the sense of loss, a segment of praise for the subject, and a conclusion that affords a feeling of consolation for the listener. Poet W. H. Auden's elegy "In Memory of W.B. Yeats" explicitly divides these three segments into different subsections of the poem. The death that inspires a modern elegy may be the literal demise of an individual, or it may be an abstract or metaphysical loss.
Identifying Odes and Elegies
To quickly differentiate between an ode and an elegy, quickly read over the poem. An ode consists primarily of praise and meditation throughout, and is usually writtten in a more formal and elaborate style, with little personal commentary. An elegy will usually begin with a lamentation that expresses grief and loss, and a conclusion that offers consolation to the reader. The middle and ending parts of both poems may be very similar, as the elegy moves on to praise the departed and provide a conclusion.