World Poetry Month: Odes with Philip Kent Church
I love World Poetry Month. It gives me an opportunity to not only show off my own poetry, but give space to the poets that inspire me. Today’s poetry lesson is on odes, and I’ve got the great pleasure of Philip Kent Church to teach it.
Philip Kent Church considers himself to be an Appalachian/Inspirational writer. Philip’s first love is poetry and writing lyrics, but he also possesses a love for writing history (Appalachian history, especially). He was born, raised, and currently resides in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia! Within his heritage is included his famous/infamous great, great grandfather, “Devil” John Wright, his uncle Martin Van Buren Bates, the “Kentucky Giant” ( he was 7′ 11″ tall & 450+ Lbs. ) – and other ancestors which the author John Fox Jr. used to populate his famous novel, “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine!”
Originally done quite theatrically and set to music, the ‘ode’ is an archaic form of lyric poetry, developed in Ancient Greece. In modern times, the ode has been refurbished into different types of poems in praise of, or dedication to particular persons, places, things, or events. This is especially true with the ‘English Ode,’ proponents of which have included such notable poets as Keats, Wordsworth and Percy Shelly.
The classic format for the English Ode would be stanzas consisting of ten verses — with a rhyming scheme of a, b, a, b, c, d, e, c, d, e. That notwithstanding, one of the three major types of odes is called the ‘Irregular Ode,’ which has no formal structure, meter or rhyming scheme whatsoever. The other two types of ode are called the ‘Pindaric’ and the ‘Horation’ odes.
The ‘Pindaric Ode’ is named after the ancient Greek poet Pindar, who is generally credited with creating the form. These Pindaric Odes were normally performed ceremoniously at formal settings, or functions. This was especially true in celebrating military, or athletic victories.
As stated, the Pindaric Odes were quite theatric, set to music and began with an opening, called ‘the strophe.’ Comparable in some ways to the ‘volta’ used in sonnet forms, the word “strophe” simply means ‘to turn.’ In essence, the ‘strophe’ is likened to the first part of an argument. In ancient times it would be sung on the stage by a chorus. While performing the strophe, the chorus would ‘turn,’ moving in procession from stage-right, to stage-left.
The strophe would then be followed by the ‘antistrophe.’ If the strophe is seen as the introduction, or the “first part of an argument” — the antistrophe represents the ‘second part’ of that argument. It may also simply be a deeper exploration of the topic, presented in the strophe.
Just as ‘strophe’ means “to turn” — the word ‘antistrophe’ means “to turn back.” Accordingly, the chorus would move, ‘turning’ in the reverse direction, while reciting the antistrophe. In this way, the antistrophe functions as a reply, or retort to the strophe. The antistrophe may also be used as a ‘red herring’ to muddy the subject and make it difficult for the audience to guess the ode’s conclusion.
Finally, the Pindaric Ode is concluded with an ‘epode.’ The word epode means “after the song.” Comparable to a book’s ‘epilogue,’ it is the last part, and gets ‘the last word!’ Also similar to the final couplet of a sonnet, the epode ties together any of the story’s ‘loose ends,’ or serves as the ‘moral of the story.’ The epode is also where the chorus would move center-stage and convey, usually in a different meter of verse than the strophe and antistrophe — the ‘grand finale’ of the ode.
As an example, here’s the opening of a Pindaric, ‘English Ode’ by William Wordsworth:
“Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight
To me did seem
Appareled 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.
2. The ‘Horation Ode’ was developed in ancient Rome by the poet Horace. While following the Pindaric structure of strophe, antistrophe and epode, it is much more informal in its nature. This type of ode is not as ceremonial, or theatrical as the Pindaric Ode. It need only be narrated and may, or may not be performed with a chorus. It also differs in that the form of the first stanza, the meter of verse, must be repeated in subsequent stanzas, including the epode. However, the form and meter of the first stanza, is left up to the poet. Here’s an example of a Horatian Ode stanza by John Keats:
Ode to a Nightingale
A Horation Ode
By John Keats
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 the happy lot,
But being too happy in thy 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.
3. As mentioned, the third type of ode is called the ‘Irregular Ode,’ which only has the requirement of being a stanza of verse in praise of, or dedication to someone, something or someplace. This would be my personally preferred type of ode to craft. Here’s an example of one of my Irregular Odes — and a personal favorite, to recite at public readings.
ODE TO THE EXOSKELETON
An ‘Irregular Ode’
(Excerpted from the book “In Search of an Eternal Buzz” – Philip Kent Church)
Though I prayed, swatted and sprayed,
To just keep my house neat,
And, time’s since, a bunch – the occasional crunch –
Beneath my feet.
Then my cat has no doubt, and spits it out,
With no free meal today,
Nothing truer has been said, though dead –
STINK-BUGS NEVER GO AWAY!
You are hereby challenged to write an ode this week and share it in the comments. You can choose any form or all three. Remember, your poem could be published in an upcoming newletter or literary journal!