Types of Ode: Pindar, Horatian & Irregular

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      Odes are typically divided into three types or forms: they are Pindaric Ode, Horatian or Lasbian Ode and Irregular Ode.

1. Pindar Ode

      The Pindaric ode was named after an ancient Greek poet, Pindar, who was a Greek professional lyrist of the 5th century BC. He began writing choral poems that were meant to be sung at public events. It contains three triads; strophe, antistrophe and final stanza as epode, with irregular rhyme patterns and lengths of lines. These three parts corresponded to the movement of the chorus to one side of the stage, then to the other, and their pause mid-stage to deliver the epode. Although fragments of Pindar’s poems in all of the Classical choral forms are extant, it is the collection of four books of epinician odes that has influenced poets of the Western world since their publication by Aldus Manutius in 1513. Each of the books is devoted to one of the great series of Greek Classical games: the Olympian, Pythian, Isthmian, and Nemean. Celebrating the victory of a winner with a performance of choral chant and dance, these epinician odes are elaborately complex, rich in metaphor and intensely emotive language. They reveal Pindar’s sense of vocation as a poet dedicated to preserving and interpreting great deeds and their divine values. The metaphors, myths, and gnomic sayings that ornament of the odes are often difficult to grasp because of the rapid shifts of thought and the sacrifice of syntax to achieving uniform poetic color. For modern readers, another difficulty is the topicality of the works; they were often composed for particular occasions and made reference to events and personal situations that were well-known to the original audience but not necessarily to later readers. In English literature, Abraham Cowley, Thomas Gray and some others are sought to construct Pindaric odes, although having correctly understood the system upon which Pindaric odes were built up. The result of these misconceptions was a set of odes wholly loose and undisciplined in form and measure. They are actually artificial productions, because, though, they aimed at preserving the ancient form, they are not faithful spirit of that age or its complicated harmonies and techniques. Gray’s The Bard and The Progress of Poesy are examples of Pindaric odes. The following is piece is based on the extract from The Progress of Poesy.

2. Horatian or Lesbian Ode

      The name of this ode was taken from the 1st century BC Latin poet, Horace. The odes of Horace deliberately imitated the Greek lyricists such as Alcaeus and Anacreon. Unlike heroic odes of Pindar, Horatian ode is informal, meditative and intimate. These odes dwelled upon interesting subject matters that were simple and gave pleasure to senses. Since Horatian odes are informal in tone, they are devoid of any strict rules. In contrast to the lofty, heroic odes of the Greek poet Pindar, most of Horace’s odes are intimate and reflective; they are often addressed to a friend and deal with friendship, love, and the practice of poetry. The Horatian odes are also known as Lesbian odes, which are similar in form than the Pindaric, and therefore proved easier to imitate. It consists of a number of short stanzas (two or four lines), similar in length and arrangement. The treatment is direct and dignified, and the thought is clearly developed. This type of odes was developed in Latin by two great Roman writers - Horace and Catulius. In short stanzas, the Horatian ode convey the thought in a plain, straight-forward fashion. Below are the first 2 stanzas of a Horatian ode - On Cromwell’s Return from Ireland Andrew Marvel (1621-1678). It is written in quatrains made up of rhyming couplets, L1, L2 iambic tetrameter, L3, L4 iambic trimeter and indented:

The forward youth that would appear (A)
Must now forsake his Muses dear, (A)
Nor in the shadows sing (B)
His numbers languishing: (B)
‘Tis time to leave the books in. dust (C)
And oil th’ unused armor’s rust, (Q)
Removing from the wall (D)
The corselet of the hall. (D)

      Horatian odes have influenced the 17th century English poets, especially Ben Jonson, Robert Herrick, and Andrew Marvell. Michael Drayton, in Poems Lyric and Pastoral (1606), acknowledged his indebtedness to Horace. In the early 18th century, Matthew Prior, Jonathan Swift, and Samuel Johnson revived the Horatian spirit, as did Giacomo Leopardi and Giosue Carducci in Italy in the 19th century. Since the odes of the Romantic period, which were successful imitations of the manner but not the form of Pindar, few English poets have attempted to return to the classical forms.

3. Irregular Ode

      This type of ode is without any formal rhyme scheme and structure such as Pindaric ode. Irregular odes use rhyme, but not the three-part form of the Pindaric ode, nor the two-or four-line stanza of the Horatian ode. Except of few attempts in the Pindaric or the Horation form, the English ode has pursued a course of its own as regards the subject-matter and style, treatment and outlook, not strictly bound by the classical traditions. Hence, the poet has great freedom and flexibility to try any types of concepts and moods. William Wordsworth and John Keats were such poets who extensively wrote irregular odes, taking advantage of this form. This type of ode is either Regular, consisting of a series of exactly similar stanzas, like the odes of Shelley and Keats or Irregular, when each stanza follows a different arrangement, as in Wordsworth’s Immortality Ode and several of the odes of Tennyson and Robert Bridges. An irregular ode is also sometimes called the Cowleyan ode for 17th-century English poet Abraham Cowley who studied the odes of Pindar and attempted to emulate them. But unlike Pindar, Cowley’s odes did not relegate the various strophes to the triad order of the Pindaric ode. Neither did it retain the uniform stanzas of the Horatian, Keatsian or Ronsardian odes. The various strophes of the Irregular or Cowleyan ode very purpose, line length, number of lines, meter, and rhyme. The frame of each strophe changes at the discretion of the poet. The following is the example of irregular ode:

Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood (first 4 stanza)

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