How To Write An Ode

Writing an ode is no easy task, as most poets can tell you. As an ode is a lyric poem that pays tribute to someone or something, the verses have to be a perfect balance of praise and humility. In other words, the ode writer has to be able to capture the greatness of the subject and also make the subject feel flattered by the attention of the poet. If you’re looking to write an ode, the following steps will help you get started.


Study odes

There are many different types of odes. Some are named after people, like an ode to Chiron. Others are named after objects, like an ode to a bakery. So browse through some works of other poets, and see how many of them have composed an ode, and the type of ode they wrote. Once you’ve decided how the poet intends the ode to be read, you can try writing your own style of ode. Some people like to write a reflective ode. They think about different objects and their relationship to the world, and their place in the living world, and then compose a poem about it.

Others like to write a conversational ode, where they take a familiar object or idea, and suggest that other people take it for granted. Once the poet suggests to people that they should take a simple concept for granted, the poet then elaborate with an interesting and specific observation. For example, in a conversational ode about a bakery, the poet could suggest that people should take eating bread for granted, and then argue that everyone eats dozens of loaves of bread a year.

Think critically

The word “ode” very specifically comes from the ancient Greek, and translates as, “a song or poem of praise or worship”. An ode can take many forms, but one of the most recognizable incarnations is the ode recursive. This is where the writer takes a phrase or premise and keeps going, until the poem becomes the inevitable resting place for the phrase. This does a lot to elevate a poem. In fact, if you want to understand how to write an ode, the structure behind that happens to be very useful. The key to writing one is to make the phrase catchy at first, and keep it around in the background long enough to keep the reader attached. This is a valuable skill to have in any kind of writing, most especially if you’re looking to write a love poem or marriage proposal ode of your own.

One thing you’ll want to keep in mind is the difference between an ode and a sonnet. Both of these are poems, but they also have a tendency to stick to a particular word-count limit. An ode builds when describing the concept or image at the focal point, while a sonnet is all about the description itself. It doesn’t hold back, and then at its end, it pulls a complete and total U- turn. When you’re starting to write an ode, it can be a good idea to experiment with lines of different lengths. This is particularly useful in a controversial argument or statement, since you can use the length as a technique. If you’ve been looking for a little fun at home, you could even take a couple pencils and start thinking about them.

Find a problem you want to solve

Lyrically, an ode has to lend a great deal of grandeur to its subject, but without seeming out of place in the modern world. While they were originally written for leaders and notable figures, an ode today can be written for any person, place, thing, or idea. If you aren’t inspired, try thinking back to something in your childhood that inspired dreams and wonder — old toys or books, for example. Or take a nostalgic look back at the most fantastical things in your life right now. Remember that your ode should be earnest and thoughtful, but it doesn’t have to be completely serious, either. Find some kind of balance that will allow you to honor your subject while also writing something entertaining for your audience.

Of course, you can write an ode on any subject you’d like, but for a good ode, you’re going to want to pick one that can live up to the grandeur required by the form. This is particularly true if you’d like to submit your ode for publication — generally, poetry editors are looking for poems that are tightly structured, something that they can take out and read again, which an ode will need since it’s addressed directly to the subject. By the same token, odes tend to be fairly casual pieces of poetry, so make sure that your writing style is in keeping with the natural tone of the piece. 

Write something people want to listen to

Sonnets and ballads follow strict rules, but the principles are the same for verse writing in general — you want your ode to be listenable in addition to being memorable. Beyond that, the rules are loose enough that you can do whatever kind of poetry you like. No one’s going to bat an eye if you give them an “odyssey” instead of an “ode,” or if you switch the consonance of the last few lines for something more original.

When it comes to writing an ode, tone is a key factor. Successful odes evoke an emotional response — and not just the type of “awww” you’d give to a dark chocolate puppy or tiny food-baby. The great odes do so at both the emotional and the intellectual level. You want it to be clear to your listener not just that you’re telling the truth, but you’re tapping into something deep and introspective about your own psyche — no stiff upper lip here!

Choose an orator

Odes tend to be formal works that are meant to be recited, so it’s common to write them in a distinct style. Commonly, the author of the ode chooses a single character to serve as the “orator,” setting forth the main theme of the poem. Let the orator speak of the idea at hand and facilitate its expression. It’s also common to use the ode to send a message. If you’re writing an ode, it’s your way of spreading a specific idea or movement, or following a specific voice.

After determining what idea you want to spread, consider whether you want to be funny or are aiming for a serious tone. Odes often include praise or entertaining but clever lyrics, but they can also be mournful or serious. It’s important to keep the beat and flow clear, as an ode can be recited out loud during a special event. The orator should feel like an actor speaking to the audience, so make sure that what’s being relayed is clear. The length and the structure of the ode will be defined by its tone, so be careful to determine whether the orator is cheerful, somber, or powerful. If you’re feeling like it needs a lift, you can choose an ode with a lighthearted tone, or if you’re feeling somber, you can choose something with a heavy tone.

Create an opening that pulls readers in

Remember that opening line you labored over? Well, it’s all downhill from there — or uphill, depending on how you look at it. In an ode, the first stanza is the most important part of your poem. It’s where you capture the attention of the reader, it’s where you set the tone, and it’s where you prove that you are competent as a poet and worthy of advancing the five sentences that follow. Make your line editing decisions here. Let it breathe for another minute on the page, and then put it aside for two weeks. Then, look back and read it with fresh eyes. Have the images popped for you? Does the sentence read smoothly at this point? Does it give you any direction as you approach the next four stanzas? If not, it still needs some work.

Don’t hesitate to put in a phrase from your epigraph in this first stanza. You want your reader to think that all your hard work in searching for a perfect line is happening because you care about coming up with the right line for each position in your poem, not because the content is mild for a first stanza. Using from the poet’s epigraph early in the poem also introduces a historical element to the poem, which makes the poem more substantial. Be sure to weave good historical details into the poem at the points you insert the epigraph. This makes the poem as a whole more intriguing to the readers. Overwritten, pedantic historical details may actually overwhelm the overall quality of your poem.

Use positive, affirmative language and images

While any good poem will evoke an emotional responsiveness in its reader, this is particularly effective with stanzas of praise and honour. In this regard, the most effective odes trace a pattern in which the writer describes an object, concept, etc. in admiring terms, while at the same time making the poem itself sound highly attractive and desirable. Consequently, an ode should be both highly descriptive and powerfully performed to be effective and should resonate with an audience’s praise of those virtues most admired. Part of the allure of any ode is that it is an expression of far more than just a platitude, but, as with any piece of employed language, your performance and treatment must strike a chord with an audience’s own senses and comprehension.

Poets and scholars have determined that since odes convey a sense of apostrophe—paired with the use of the speaker addressing and glorifying a pre-existing entity—this may be considered an element that is used to provide a familiarity with the use of an ode’s composition and meaning. Because of the ancient times in which they were written, the inclusion of paan praise and likening of the performance of one’s feelings are considered intrinsic to such historical writing. Part of finding the right theme for an ode is writing in a metaphorical pattern, not only based on a comparison of the speaker’s observations with contrast to the topic they are addressing, but also the manner of which the speaker’s performance is articulated, in itself a primary performance act in this form. Poets and scholars have determined that since odes convey a sense of apostrophe—paired with the use of the speaker addressing and glorifying a pre-existing entity—this may be considered an element that is used to provide a familiarity with the use of an ode’s composition and meaning. It is the very same feature that provides the strength of God’s ascription to Moses, found in the second commandment of the Ten Commandments.

Make your stanzas complete

Odes can resemble sonnets or ballads in their structure. Odes can also vary in length, and so it’s advised that you do not exceed 38 lines in one stanza. At the same time, forget delivering an ode with longer than one page of stanzas, unless it’s one of your artistic projects. If you are going to deliver an ode with an extended stanza, make sure that it will be readable and enjoyable. Your moral of the stanza matters more of the cleverness of its structural order.

Odes are composed of separate longer stanzas that are interconnected, which can normally take 2 to 11 lines, depending on the topic of the poem. The first lines of the stanzas are often repeated in the end of the last stanza or of the next. Odes begin with an extended introduction that is meant to either praise, congratulate, or commemorate someone to be continued with reflexive themes or objects, which do return the odes back to just one idea but they still structure the odes.

Craft the rhythm

One of the most appealing aspects of writing an ode is the ability to write in patterns that you take from other songs, hymns, or writings. This mimicking can enhance the poem’s sense of rhythm. A good ode contains a regular number of quatrains, with each quatrain containing six hendecasyllabic lines. The rhymes can be tighter than other types of poetry. As far as metrical pattern, an ode aligns itself more with song structure than it does verse. The pattern often taken from hymns is A, B, B, A, B… or A, B, B, C, B…

There are a few pens that you might choose for an ode. Perhaps your poems are focusing on the lives of certain historical figures. You are free to use alliteration in odes. An ode’s main focus should be on praising a person, but you can also write about states, nature, moral truths, or even ideas. As with any other style of poetry, you will need to be careful with your use of metaphors and the images you include. The main thing that will help you write an ode is your ability to think of ways to describe the interesting aspects of your subject.

Work on cohesion

Readers of sonnets and blank verse know that there’s a certain grammatical repetition that makes poems like those resonate. In that same spirit, if you’re writing an ode, you should take the same approach to ensure that it’s cohesive. In fact, it’s more important to be cohesive when writing an ode because it makes the poem more intelligible and easier to understand. An ode is usually paean, or hymnic. You should portion out your material into three distinct sections, and use their same structure for each section of your ode. For example, a typical third stanza is a praise of a person or object to follow a criticism or exhortation.

To test whether you’re doing this correctly or not, ask someone else if they can follow the movement of the poem. If it isn’t clear, there needs to be an adjustment. To start, brainstorm an issue or idea. For example, you could discuss something negative happening to you, talk about your subjective experience of the world, or debate a universal concept like despair. Tighten it down into a central point, and stick with it – resist the urge to add tangents or side subjects. Next, identify how this issue or idea is addressed. Decide whether it’s an accusation, blame, reason, praise, defiance, or any other way. Keep an eye out for metaphorical levels relative to this.

Set yourself a challenge

Odes are often meant to be serious, but a challenge works well to produce an engaging and fun poem. While writing it, you should feel free to work in as much humor or wit as you’d like. One potential source of great lines of ode writing inspiration is to think about your subject and write a mix between the form of an ode and a list of reasons, or pros and cons. Many of the best writers of odes challenge themselves to work in certain elements and follow a specific structure. Some writers like to incorporate a progression of sounds or images, while others will only write dedications or prologues in rhyme. It’s important to be open to changing up your structure. An ode that you consider your best work might not be the best possible ode written, and that requires you to be willing to make big changes.

To put yourself in the right mindset when working on an ode, you could choose a simple, popular, and well-loved form for your poem. Make sure that your ode follows the basic structure of that particular form. If you’re unsure about odes, or how to write an ode, then you can use the list of forms below as a helpful guide. Quatrains or tetrameters probably won’t be as effective at encapsulating your particular poetic voice, opinions, or sense of humor, and parodies rarely make sense without the original work to play off of.

Try different forms of poetry

Odes were popular in Ancient Greece, Rome, and England. So odes are often written about things that happened long ago. The poetry form is complex, so you may want to try composing some odes in free verse before zeroing in on it. The rigid form of the ode can seem confining, but it’s a challenge that helps you write better poetry. When you write an ode, you’re usually trying to create a portrait or tribute. Odes make frequent use of symbolism, and usually have a message. Odes usually rhyme. Odes are written in iambic pentameter, the standard line of formal poetry. Odes have a tribute or message. Odes are usually poems in their own right, and not part of another poem.

The main difference between an ode and a sonnet is that odes don’t tell a story. They offer a narrow view of life, rather than a broad overview. In writing an ode, you’re depicting a truth or a way of life that’s so great, you don’t need to make up anything in order to tell the story of it in strong poetry. But rather than go all rhyming-and-meter on your ode, you might take your time and deliberately compose rhyming-and-meter poetry on other occasions, so that when you do get around to writing an ode, you’ll be able to smoothly chat it out. A sonnet goes with the psychology of sonnets. A poem needs to be an ode. An elegy is an ode. So is an epitaph. So, for the time being, we will call them poems. Glory is great in a poem. And odes make great poems.

While there are many poetic stanzas you can use, some are far better than others. Three stanzas is good for an ode. This is so it does not get too repetitive or monotonous. You also want to choose your stanza in a way that both provides entertainment for the reader as well as fitting what you want to do with the poem. Anapest, dactyl, and hendecasyllable are all good because they aid the stretching of the poem as well as making the poem colorful.

Read your poem aloud

One of the most important parts of finishing your ode is actually performing it for the listener. This is how you know if you’re fulfilling your end of the bargain by giving the audience a poem that they can fully enjoy. If you happen to show your paper to your mom, then consider yourself lucky! She’ll appreciate knowing that her hard-earned dollars are going toward fostering your talent rather than feeding your gluttony for gummies. She’ll also be a great help by evaluating your writing. Is the beat of the ode right, does it have the right mood for the point you’re trying to make, what could you include in future verses to really add some pleasant sound to your diction. Working with your mom might also cure her of the impression that all poets are dandies. This will finally stop her Halloween costumes and downplay your glorious flowing hair.

An ode includes not only the content and formal elements we talk about above, but it also captures the spirit of what we are using the word “odes” for. If technical mastery and language are a piece of writing, consider the fabric in which an ode is cut and the words embroidered. Like other works of art, a successful ode will transport the reader back to the true nature of the subject through the phrasing and content of the words. Using this to your advantage, you can inspire any reader with your ode to any person, place, idea, or aspect of the natural world. Go out there and write some odes!

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