10 Most Famous Odes by Renowned Poets

Ode is a poetic form that can be generalized as a formal address to someone or something. There are three typical types of odes: Pindaric, Horatian, and Irregular. Pindaric odes follow the form and style of ancient Greek poet Pindar. They contain a three part form (strophe, antistrophe and epode). Horatian odes follow conventions of odes by Roman lyric poet Horace. They are less formal, less ceremonious and more tranquil and contemplative than Pindaric odes. They follow a two or four line stanza pattern. Irregular odes rhyme, but they do not follow the structure of Horatian or Pindaric odes. Here are 10 most famous odes written by some of the greatest poets in the English language from Alexander Pope to Allen Tate. We have specified the year of publication and to which of the three forms it belongs.



#10 Ode on Solitude

Poet:Alexander Pope
Type:Horatian
Published:1709

Poem:-

Happy the man, whose wish and care
   A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
                            In his own ground.

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
   Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
                            In winter fire.

Blest, who can unconcernedly find
   Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
                            Quiet by day,

Sound sleep by night; study and ease,
   Together mixed; sweet recreation;
And innocence, which most does please,
                            With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
   Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
                            Tell where I lie.

Synopsis:-

Written by Pope before he was twelve years old, the poem tells about the virtues of a simple, quiet life where “hours, days, and years slide soft away”. He explains this through the simple, unhurried life of a farmer who has inherited a few acres of land.


#9 Ode to Duty

Poet:William Wordsworth
Type:Horatian
Published:1807

Poem:-

Stern Daughter of the Voice of God!
O Duty! if that name thou love
Who art a light to guide, a rod
To check the erring, and reprove;
Thou, who art victory and law
When empty terrors overawe;
From vain temptations dost set free;
And calm'st the weary strife of frail humanity!

There are who ask not if thine eye
Be on them; who, in love and truth,
Where no misgiving is, rely
Upon the genial sense of youth:
Glad Hearts! without reproach or blot;
Who do thy work, and know it not:
Oh! if through confidence misplaced
They fail, thy saving arms, dread Power! around them cast.

Serene will be our days and bright,
And happy will our nature be,
When love is an unerring light,
And joy its own security.
And they a blissful course may hold
Even now, who, not unwisely bold,
Live in the spirit of this creed;
Yet seek thy firm support, according to their need.

I, loving freedom, and untried;
No sport of every random gust,
Yet being to myself a guide,
Too blindly have reposed my trust:
And oft, when in my heart was heard
Thy timely mandate, I deferred
The task, in smoother walks to stray;
But thee I now would serve more strictly, if I may.

Through no disturbance of my soul,
Or strong compunction in me wrought,
I supplicate for thy control;
But in the quietness of thought:
Me this unchartered freedom tires;
I feel the weight of chance-desires:
My hopes no more must change their name,
I long for a repose that ever is the same.

Stern Lawgiver! yet thou dost wear
The Godhead's most benignant grace;
Nor know we anything so fair
As is the smile upon thy face:
Flowers laugh before thee on their beds
And fragrance in thy footing treads;
Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong;
And the most ancient heavens, through Thee, are fresh and strong.

To humbler functions, awful Power!
I call thee: I myself commend
Unto thy guidance from this hour;
Oh, let my weakness have an end!
Give unto me, made lowly wise,
The spirit of self-sacrifice;
The confidence of reason give;
And in the light of truth thy Bondman let me live!

Synopsis:-

In ‘Ode to Duty’ Wordsworth conveys the importance of duty which is like a light that guides us; and a rod which prevents us from erring. Although he recognizes the worth of love and joy, he is now not sure whether blindly trusting them can guide man to all good. He realizes that duty, though stern, is also graceful and divinely beautiful and hence he is willing to serve it more strictly.


#8 Ode on a Grecian Urn

Poet:John Keats
Type:Irregular
Published:1820

Poem:-

Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
       Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
       A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape
       Of deities or mortals, or of both,
               In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
       What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
               What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
       Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
       Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
       Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
               Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
       She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
               For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
         Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
         For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
         For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
                For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
         That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
                A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
         To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
         And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
         Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
                Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
         Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
                Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
         Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
         Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
         When old age shall this generation waste,
                Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
         "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

Synopsis:-

Keats believed that classical Greek art was idealistic and captured Greek virtues. This led to him writing ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ which has five stanzas of 10 lines in which he has discoursed on the design of a Grecian urn. At the time of its publication, the poem was not received well by the critics but it is now considered one of the greatest odes in the English language.



#7 Ode to the Confederate Dead

Poet:Allen Tate
Type:Horatian
Published:1928

Excerpt:-

Row after row with strict impunity
The headstones yield their names to the element,
The wind whirrs without recollection;
In the riven troughs the splayed leaves
Pile up, of nature the casual sacrament
To the seasonal eternity of death;
Then driven by the fierce scrutiny
Of heaven to their election in the vast breath,
They sough the rumour of mortality.

Autumn is desolation in the plot
Of a thousand acres where these memories grow
From the inexhaustible bodies that are not 
Dead, but feed the grass row after rich row.
Think of the autumns that have come and gone!--
Ambitious November with the humors of the year,
With a particular zeal for every slab,
Staining the uncomfortable angels that rot
On the slabs, a wing chipped here, an arm there:
The brute curiosity of an angel's stare
Turns you, like them, to stone,
Transforms the heaving air
Till plunged to a heavier world below
You shift your sea-space blindly
Heaving, turning like the blind crab.

Read Full Poem Here

Synopsis:-

This famous ode is considered by some critics as Tate’s most important work. The poem is about “a man stopping at the gate of a Confederate graveyard on a late autumn afternoon.” Although the narrator grieves the loss of the Confederate soldiers, Tate’s ‘Ode’ is not a straightforward ode. He uses the dead as a metaphor of the narrator’s troubled state of mind and delves into his dark consciousness.


#6 Dejection: An Ode

Poet:Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Type:Pindaric
Published:1802

Excerpt:-

I
Well! If the Bard was weather-wise, who made
       The grand old ballad of Sir Patrick Spence,
       This night, so tranquil now, will not go hence
Unroused by winds, that ply a busier trade
Than those which mould yon cloud in lazy flakes,
Or the dull sobbing draft, that moans and rakes
Upon the strings of this Æolian lute,
                Which better far were mute.
         For lo! the New-moon winter-bright!
         And overspread with phantom light,
         (With swimming phantom light o'erspread
         But rimmed and circled by a silver thread)
I see the old Moon in her lap, foretelling
         The coming-on of rain and squally blast.
And oh! that even now the gust were swelling,
         And the slant night-shower driving loud and fast!
Those sounds which oft have raised me, whilst they awed,
                And sent my soul abroad,
Might now perhaps their wonted impulse give,
Might startle this dull pain, and make it move and live!

Read Full Poem Here

Synopsis:-

The poem was initially written to Sara Hutchinson, a woman not his wife, at a time when Coleridge was separated from his family. Published editions, however, have no mention of Hutchinson. The poem describes Coleridge’s poetic paralysis which fuels the mood of dejection and he is unable to enjoy nature. ‘Dejection: An Ode’ is considered one of the finest poems written by Coleridge and bears testimony to his genius.



#5 The Bard. A Pindaric Ode

Poet:Thomas Gray
Type:Pindaric
Published:1757

Poem:-

I.1.
"Ruin seize thee, ruthless King!
Confusion on thy banners wait,
Tho' fann'd by Conquest's crimson wing
They mock the air with idle state.
Helm, nor hauberk's twisted mail,
Nor even thy virtues, tyrant, shall avail
To save thy secret soul from nightly fears,
From Cambria's curse, from Cambria's tears!"
Such were the sounds, that o'er the crested pride
Of the first Edward scatter'd wild dismay,
As down the steep of Snowdon's shaggy side
He wound with toilsome march his long array.
Stout Glo'ster stood aghast in speechless trance;
To arms! cried Mortimer, and couch'd his quiv'ring lance.

I.2.
On a rock, whose haughty brow
Frowns o'er old Conway's foaming flood,
Rob'd in the sable garb of woe,
With haggard eyes the poet stood;
(Loose his beard, and hoary hair
Stream'd, like a meteor, to the troubled air)
And with a master's hand, and prophet's fire,
Struck the deep sorrows of his lyre;
"Hark, how each giant-oak, and desert cave,
Sighs to the torrent's awful voice beneath!
O'er thee, O King! their hundred arms they wave,
Revenge on thee in hoarser murmurs breathe;
Vocal no more, since Cambria's fatal day,
To high-born Hoel's harp, or soft Llewellyn's lay.

I.3.
"Cold is Cadwallo's tongue,
That hush'd the stormy main;
Brave Urien sleeps upon his craggy bed:
Mountains, ye mourn in vain
Modred, whose magic song
Made huge Plinlimmon bow his cloud-topp'd head.
On dreary Arvon's shore they lie,
Smear'd with gore, and ghastly pale:
Far, far aloof th' affrighted ravens sail;
The famish'd eagle screams, and passes by.
Dear lost companions of my tuneful art,
Dear, as the light that visits these sad eyes,
Dear, as the ruddy drops that warm my heart,
Ye died amidst your dying country's cries—
No more I weep. They do not sleep.
On yonder cliffs, a griesly band,
I see them sit, they linger yet,
Avengers of their native land:
With me in dreadful harmony they join,
And weave with bloody hands the tissue of thy line:—

Read Full Poem Here

Synopsis:-

This iconic poem is based on the legend that Edward the First ordered the death of all the Welsh bards after he conquered the country. In the poem, the army of Edward I encounters a Welsh bard who curses the king. The bard tells about the various misfortunes that the king’s descendants will suffer; and predicts the return of Welsh rule over Britain and the flowering of British poetry in the verse of Spenser, Shakespeare and Milton. ‘The Bard’ was highly influential on future artists and laid the root of the Romantic Movement in Britain. For a century after its publication it was considered by many as the best ode in the language.


#4 Ode to the West Wind

Poet:Percy Bysshe Shelley
Type:Irregular
Published:1820

Poem:-

I
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh hear!

II
Thou on whose stream, mid the steep sky's commotion,
Loose clouds like earth's decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,

Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine aëry surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith's height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: oh hear!

III
Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lull'd by the coil of his crystalline streams,

Beside a pumice isle in Baiae's bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave's intenser day,

All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic's level powers

Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know

Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: oh hear!

IV
If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seem'd a vision; I would ne'er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chain'd and bow'd
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.

V
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like wither'd leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguish'd hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken'd earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Synopsis:-

In the first part of this famous ode Shelley talks about the great powers that the west wind possesses. In the second part he concentrates on the relationship between the wind and the narrator. Shelley believed that a poet could be instrumental in bringing social and political change and his ode personifies the west wind as an agent to spread that change.



#3 To Autumn

Poet:John Keats
Type:Horatian
Published:1820

Poem:-

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-eves 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 cyder-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.

Synopsis:-

Keats wrote ‘To Autumn’ after a walk near Winchester one autumnal evening. The poem marks the end of his poetic career as his efforts were not giving enough financial returns. ‘To Autumn’ describes three aspects of the season in its three eleven line stanzas. It is considered as one of the most perfect short poems in the English language. Unfortunately Keats’ contracted tuberculosis the same autumn which caused his death in 1921.


#2 Ode: Intimations of Immortality

Poet:William Wordsworth
Type:Pindaric
Published:1807

Excerpt:-

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
       The earth, and every common sight,
                          To me did seem
                      Apparelled in celestial light,
            The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
                      Turn wheresoe'er I may,
                          By night or day.
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

                      The Rainbow comes and goes,
                      And lovely is the Rose,
                      The Moon doth with delight
       Look round her when the heavens are bare,
                      Waters on a starry night
                      Are beautiful and fair;
       The sunshine is a glorious birth;
       But yet I know, where'er I go,
That there hath past away a glory from the earth.

Read Full Poem Here

Synopsis:-

In Intimations of Immortality the narrator realizes that his divine relationship with nature has been lost. It is based on the belief that soul existed before body allowing children to connect with the divine in nature. As a child grows he loses this divine vision, however, recollections from early childhood allows the narrator intimations of immortality. The poem is ranked among the best by Wordsworth and is referred to as the “Great Ode”.


#1 Ode to a Nightingale

Poet:John Keats
Type:Horatian
Published:1819

Excerpt:-

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

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
         Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
         Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
         Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
                With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
                        And purple-stained mouth;
         That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
                And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Read Full Poem Here

Synopsis:-

A nightingale built its nest near Keats’ home in the spring of 1819 and inspired by its song Keats wrote this famous ode in a single day. In the poem Keats describes a nightingale that experiences a type of death but does not actually die. The bird is able to live through its song, a fate which is impossible for a human to achieve. Ode to a Nightingale is perhaps the most famous ode in the English language.



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