Exercise Four: The Ode

There are several different types of odes which poets have created over the years - among the most famous are the Pindaric Ode, the Horatian Ode, the Cowleyan Ode, and, perhaps the most famous, the Keatsian Ode (also called the English Ode).

This is an exercise about creating "an ode" which is, in the most general terms, a poem that is attributed to an object, a person, a place, or an idea. Much like a psalm, the ode is a poem which is concerned with detailing the good (or perhaps bad) of its object. In this way, it is also very close to the blason.

For this exercise, you will be working at a simple exploration of an idea rather than working within a specified form. However, if you like to work in form (or would like to try it), here is the model for the Keatsian Ode:

a     She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
b          And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
a     Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
b          Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
c     Ay, in the very temple of Delight
d          Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
e    Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
c          Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
d     His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
e               And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
from “Ode on Melancholy,” John Keats
The poem consists of three ten-line stanzas in iambic pentameter. I've provided the rhyme scheme next to the portion of the poem. If you decide to use the form, be sure that you use true rhyme for your end rhymes - this will make it easier for you to keep up with the rhymes (notice how, without true rhyme, Keats poem might seem to have a few less rhymes - all of the long "i" words might be heard as a single rhyme, but Keats separates them with the true rhyme of the accompanying consonant sounds "ne" and "ght."

Step One
Choose your object. Shelley chose the West Wind, Keats chose the Nightingale and a Grecian Urn, and Lucille Clifton chose her hips. Be creative and have some fun, try to choose something that is not obvious (like your mom or your boyfriend or your childhood).

Step Two
Decide what tone you want to take - do you want to be reverent or mock-reverent? Remember that if you want to mock the ode - which is a great way to practice it - you must get the feel for it, know how it is supposed to sound. Be sure to check out all of the odes linked here so you get a real feel for the ode.

Step Three
Pick your moral. Good odes move beyond the simple job of naming qualities - they make a point (this is pretty much true for most poetry, that it should make a point - but Gertrude Stein might disagree with me). Take a look at the single stanza above from Keats' "Ode on Melancholy" - how has he personified the feeling and what does that do for your as a reader? Are you sympathetic? You want to get the reader to see the point you are trying to make by choosing the right aspects of your object to discuss. 

For example, if you choose to write lovingly about your hometown, every detail need not be lovely (i.e. you can talk about a graveyard or an old girlfriend's house or the place you almost drown) but it must be lovingly portrayed (graveyard = "the final gathering of our grandfathers and teachers"; drowning spot = "the first place I came up for air").

Step Four
Construct several non-formal odes first. Then, when you have a feel for it, try the Keatsian Ode (above).