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 added an excerpt from each ode and specified the year of publication and to which of the three forms it belongs.
#10 Ode on Solitude
Poet: Alexander Pope
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.
Blest! who can unconcern’dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,
#9 Ode to Duty
Poet: William Wordsworth
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.
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;
#8 Ode to the Confederate Dead
Poet: Allen Tate
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.
What shall we say who have knowledge
Carried to the heart? Shall we take the act
To the grave? Shall we, more hopeful, set up the grave
In the house? The ravenous grave?
#7 Dejection: An Ode
Poet: Samuel Taylor Coleridge
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.
O Lady ! in this wan and heartless mood,
To other thoughts by yonder throstle woo’d,
#6 Ode to a Nightingale
Poet: John Keats
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.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?
#5 Ode on a Grecian Urn
Poet: John Keats
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.
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know
#4 The Bard. A Pindaric Ode
Poet: Thomas Gray
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.
With joy I see
The different dooms our Fates assign.
Be thine Despair, and sceptred Care;
To triumph, and to die, are mine.
#3 Ode to the West Wind
Poet: Percy Bysshe Shelley
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.
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
#2 Ode: Intimations of Immortality
Poet: William Wordsworth
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”.
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
#1 To Autumn
Poet: John Keats
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 Keats’ most famous poem and 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.
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-eaves run;