Ode (from the Ancient Greek ὠδή) is a lyrical verse. A classic ode is structured in three major parts: the strophe, the antistrophe, and the epode. Different forms such as the homostrophic ode and the irregular ode also exist.
It is most likely that the Greek odes gradually lost their musical character; they were accompanied on the flute, and then declaimed without any music at all. The ode, as it was practiced by the Romans, returned to the personally lyrical form of the Lesbian lyrists. This was exemplified, in the most exquisite way, by Horace and Catullus; the former imitated, and even translated, Alcaeus and Anacreon, the latter was directly inspired by Sappho.
The initial model for English odes was Horace, who used the form to write meditative lyrics on various themes. The earliest odes in the English language, using the word in its strict form, were the magnificent Epithalamium and Prothalamium of Edmund Spenser.
In the 17th century, the most important original odes in English are those of Abraham Cowley and Andrew Marvell. Marvell, in his Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland uses a regular form (two four-foot lines followed by two three-foot lines) modelled on Horace, while Cowley wrote “Pindarick” odes which had irregular patterns of line lengths and rhyme schemes, though they were iambic. The principle of Cowley’s Pindaricks was based on a misunderstanding of Pindar’s metrical practice, but was widely imitated, with notable success by John Dryden.
With Pindar’s metre being better understood in the 18th century, the fashion for Pindaric odes faded, though there are notable “actual” Pindaric odes by Thomas Gray, The Progress of Poesy and The Bard.
The Pindarick of Cowley was revived around 1800 by Wordsworth for one of his very finest poems, the Intimations of Immortality ode; irregular odes were also written by Coleridge. Keats and Shelley wrote odes with regular stanza patterns. Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind, written in fourteen line terza rima stanzas, is a major poem in the form, but perhaps the greatest odes of the 19th century were Keats’s Five Great Odes of 1819 which included Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on Melancholy, Ode on a Grecian Urn, Ode to Psyche, and Ode to Autumn. After Keats, there have been comparatively few major odes in English. One major exception is the fourth verse of the poem For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon which is often known as “The ode to the fallen” or more simply as “The Ode”.
The English ode’s most common rhyme scheme is ABABCDECDE.
In the Spanish-speaking world, the Chilean poet and Nobel Laureate, Pablo Neruda revived the ode; composing odes to simple and common things that had never been the subject matter of poets before. Many of Neruda’s odes were published in three books, Odas elementales (Elemental Odes) (1954), Nuevas Odas Elementales (New Elemental Odes) (1956) and Navegaciones y regresos (Voyages and Homecomings) (1959). Neruda’s odes have been widely translated and have greatly contributed to the popularity of the ode among students and young poets. Some subjects of his odes included a tomato, a cat, wine, rum, and so on.
A musical setting of a poetic ode is also known as an ode.
Horatian odes were frequently set to music in the 16th century, notably by Ludwig Senfl and Claude Goudimel. In the 17th century Nicholas Brady’s Ode to St. Cecilia was set by Purcell. The Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day written by Dryden was set twice to music by Handel, as was his Alexander’s Feast, or the Power of Music which was also in praise of Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music and musicians. One of many settings of Schiller’s Ode to Joy (An die Freude) forms the crowning choral movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, completed in 1824. Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens, dating from 1887, is a setting of John Milton’s ode At a Solemn Musick, and Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s well-known Ode was set by Elgar in his The Music Makers, first performed in 1912. Gerald Finzi’s Intimations of Immortality is a setting for tenor, chorus, and orchestra of Wordsworth’s ode of the same title.
Odes to dignitaries were also often set, such as the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne by Handel. Byron’s Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte was set by Arnold Schoenberg.