A page from the "Poetry through the Ages" exhibit...

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Pindaric and Horatian styles.

Two ode structures emerged from antiquity: the Pindaric Ode and Horatian Ode. Both operated on multiple quatrain stanzas, but the Pindaric Ode tended to offer sweeping celebrations of events, gods, or other individuals, while the Horatian Ode was deeply personal. Two examples illustrate how the classic Pindaric style (Sappho) truncates the fourth line, while the Horatian style (Horace) cuts the third line, then offers a full fourth line.

Ode to Aphrodite
Sappho (c. 630-570 B.C.)

Deathless Aphrodite, throned in flowers,

Daughter of Zeus, O terrible enchantress,
With this sorrow, with this anguish, break my spirit
Lady, not longer!

Hear anew the voice! O hear and listen!

Come, as in that island dawn thou camest,
Billowing in thy yoked car to Sappho
Forth from thy father's

Golden house in pity! ... I remember:

Fleet and fair thy sparrows drew thee, beating
Fast their wings above the dusky harvests,
Down the pale heavens,

Lightning anon! And thou, O blest and brightest,

Smiling with immortal eyelids, asked me:
"Maiden, what betideth thee? Or wherefore
Callest upon me?

"What is here the longing more than other,

Here in this mad heart? And who the lovely
One beloved that wouldst lure to loving?
Sappho, who wrongs thee?

"See, if now she flies, she soon must follow;

Yes, if spurning gifts, she soon must offer;
Yes, if loving not, she soon must love thee,
Howso unwilling..."

Come again to me! O now! Release me!

End the great pang! And all my heart desireth
Now of fulfillment, fulfill! O Aphrodite,
Fight by my shoulder!
The Ship of State (Odes I, 14)
Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace) (65-8 B.C.)

On Ship! New billows sweep thee out

Seaward. What wilt thou? Hold the port, be stout
See'st not thy mast
How rent by stiff Southwestern blast?

Thy side, of rowers how forlorn?

Thine hull, with groaning yards, with rigging torn,
Can ill sustain
The fierce, and ever fiercer main;

Thy gods, no more than sails entire,

From whom yet once they need might aid require,
Oh Pontic Pine,
The first of woodland stocks is thine.

Yet race and name are but as dust,

Not painted sterns gave storm-tost seamen trust;
Unless thou dare
To be the sport of storms, beware.

O fold at best a weary weight,

A yearning care and constant strain of late,
O shun the seas
That girt those glittering Cyclades

Classic but flexible.

French poet Pierre de Ronsard was a key ode revivalist. He took the classic Pindaric story structure of strophe-antistrophe-epode and then added a closing couplet to each quatrain to form sestet stanzas with ababcc rhyme schemes:

To His Young Mistress
Pierre de Ronsard (1524-85)

Fair flower of fifteen springs, that still

Art scarcely blossomed from the bud,
Yet hast such store of evil will,
A heart so full of hardihood,
Seeking to hide in friendly wise
The mischief of your mocking eyes.

If you have pity, child, give o'er,

Give back the heart you stole from me,
Pirate, setting so little store
On this your captive from Love’s sea,
Holding his misery for gain,
And making pleasure of his pain.

Another, not so fair of face,

But far more pitiful than you,
Would take my heart, if of his grace,
My heart would give her of Love’s due;
And she shall have it, since I find
That you are cruel and unkind.

Meeting the needs of the ages.

Part of the ode’s history is the latitude that poets exercised to continually reshape the form to meet their needs. Sir Edmund Spenser and Ben Jonson carried the ode tradition into English literature, with Spenser bringing the Horatian Ode into vogue in the late 16th century and Jonson following some years later with the Pindaric form. Jonson also established a style of rhyming couplets in his stanzas, which was picked up by Alexander Pope, who included an echo from the ode’s earliest days: a chorus line.

From Ode to Sir Lucius Gray and Sir H. Morison
Ben Jonson (1572-1637)

It is not growing like a tree

In bulk, doth make man better be;
Or standing long an Oak, three hundred year,
To fall a log at last, dry, bald, and sear.
A Lily of a day
Is fairer far, in May
Although it fall and die that night;
It was the plant and flower of light.
In small proportions we just beauties see;
And in short measure, life may perfect be.
From Alexander’s Feast
John Dryden (1631-1700)

Twas at the royal feast, for Persia won

By Philip’s warlike son:
Aloft in awful state
The godlike hero sate
On his imperial throne:
His valiant peers were placed around;
Their brows with roses and with myrtles bound
(So should desert in arms be crowned).
The lovely Thais, by his side,
Sate like a blooming Eastern bride
In flower of youth and beauty’s pride.
Happy, happy, happy pair!
None but the brave,
None but the brave,
None but the brave deserves the fair.


Happy, happy, happy pair!
None but the brave,
None but the brave,
None but the brave deserves the fair.

Elevation by Romanticists.

When the Romantic poets wrapped their creative, intellectually astute, and historically inclined minds around the ode, the form received its greatest treatment since Gaius Valerius Catullus and Horatio made the ode personal. One of the greatest poems in the English language was written by John Keats.

From Ode to a Nightingale
John Keats (1795-1821)

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.

O for a draught of vintage, that hath been

Cooled a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provencal song, and sun-burnt 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:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget

What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs;
Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new love pine at them beyond tomorrow.