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14 Jun 2011

How to Write an Horatian Ode

An ode is a lyrical verse and its name comes from the Greek aeidein, which means to sing or chant. An ode is typically written in praise of, or as a dedication, to someone or something that captures the poet's interest or is an inspiration for their ode.

There are three typical types of odes: the Pindaric ode, the Horatian ode and the Irregular ode. In this workshop we're looking at the structure of the Horatian ode.

The Horatian ode is the creation of the Roman poet, Horace. Horace adapted the original Greek form of ode. Historically, the Horatian ode's subject is personal yet emotionally restrained.

The Horatian odes almost always repeat a single stanza shape throughout the ode, based upon the first stanza. However, the 'shape' of the stanza is at the discretion of the poet. John Keats' 'Ode to a Nightingale' example below uses the rhyme scheme of ABABCDECDE, which defines the shape of the ode as 10 lines per stanza.  However, 'Ode to a Skylark' by Percy Bysshe Shelley is also a Horatian ode, but differs in its rhyme scheme: ABABB, and stanza length, 5 lines.

An extract from 'Ode to a Nightingale'
by John Keats (1795-1821)

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains   (A)
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,        (B)
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains             (A)
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:      (B)
'Tis not through envy of the happy lot,                      (C)
But being too happy in thy happiness,-                 (D)
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,            (E)
In some melodious plot                                            (C)
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,   (D)
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.              (E)



An extract from 'Ode to a Skylark'
By Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!                     (A)
Bird thou never wert -                     (B)
That from Heaven or near it                 (A)
Pourest thy full heart                     (B)
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.            (B)

Higher still and higher                     (A)
From the earth thou springest,                 (B)
Like a cloud of fire;                         (A)
The blue deep thou wingest,                 (B)
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.     (B)


Whether you choose to imitate John Keats or Percy Bysshe Shelley's style, or take your own inspiration for the Horatian ode format, the ode is an excellent addition to any poet's repertoire.

If you've enjoyed this poetry writing workshop on odes, do have a look at the Pindaric Ode and Irregular Ode workshops we also have in our poetry writing workshop section.


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