Ode – a poetic definition

I am sponsoring an “ode” category for the Poetry Society of Tennessee’s (PST)  annual Festival contest. As such, the brochure chairperson, Florence Bruce, asked me to proofread the abbreviated description of an “ode”.  She described it as a “poem of praise”.

ROSE: Florence, about the ode description – (poem of praise) is this the standard PST definition? I’ve reviewed some forms books and find a much expanded definition. I’m okay with your stating it’s a poem of praise. I’m just wanting to know, if PST has standardized the form for entries into their contests.

FLORENCE: The ode has no standard format.  Verses may be rhymed or not, free verse, blank verse, whatever.   That’s my understanding from my experience as a teacher.  

“Poem of praise” is, of course, an over-simplification. The brochure limits the amount of space I have to describe theme and format.  
However, by definition, Merriam-Webster’s Handbook of Literary Terms says “A ceremonious lyric poem on an occasion of public or private dignity.” It goes on to say it is emotional, marked by exaltation of feeling and style (here, I think, is where we get the “praise” thing); varying line lengths; complexity of stanza forms.  Example given:  Allen Tate’s “Ode to the Confederate Dead,” 1926.
The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics says:  “… a formal, ceremonious, and complexly organized form of lyric poetry, usually long, frequently the vehicle for public utterance on state occasions, as accession to the throne, birthday, dedication of monument,” etc. Examples:  “Ode to the West Wind” by Shelley; “Ode to a Nightingale” and “To Autumn” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by Keats.  I think the latter is the best example to give to your group, and it is easy to find a copy of that.  It’s not too long, weighty and discouraging – plus it has a lovely message.   
Thrall and Hibbard’s Handbook to Literature says:   “Any strain of enthusiastic and exalted lyrical verse directed to a fixed purpose, and dealing progressively with one dignified theme.  In manner, the ode is an elaborate lyric, expressed in dignified language,  sincere, intellectual in tone,” etc.  
ROSE: Thank you, Florence, for your insight into a standardized definition of the “ode” form. I will use this in my judging for the festival contest.
Also, I plan on using the judging criteria, I outlined in my previous post on this blog. This will help me to subjectively compare the poems.
Rose Klix

4 thoughts on “Ode – a poetic definition

  1. I use my grandson’s 12th grade literature textbook for many things in writing; especially definitions. This book gives the definition of an Ode as a long, formal lyric poem with a serious theme that may have a traditional stanza structure. It further states that Odes often honor people, commemorate events, respond to natural scenes, or consider serious human problems. Then it says “see Lyric Poem.” I went to Lyric poem and it is defined as a melodic poem that expresses the observations and feelings of a single speaker. That definition satisfies me better than all the other ideas about an Ode. I think it is the most common poetic form.


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