The next special form of the lyric is the ode. More complex in
structure than any of the forms discussed thus far, the ode is a
poem of some length treating an elevated theme in a lofty,
dignified manner. It has its origins in ancient Greece and was
initially written to be delivered with musical accompaniment.
Relatively early in its history, the ode developed into a
composition sung by two parts of a chorus; the first part of the
chorus would sing a division of the poem subsequently called a
strophe; then the second part of the chorus would sing the next
division, identical in structure with the first and subsequently
called the antistrophe; then the chorus as a whole would sing a
third division of the poem, different in structure from the
strophe and antistrophe and subsequently called the epode. It is
also likely that some odes were delivered not by the chorus in
two parts but by the chorus as a unit moving in one direction
during the strophe, then in the opposite direction during the
antistrophe, and standing still during the epode.
The modem ode, the ode in English, stems from the writings of the Greek poet Pindar and the Latin poet Horace. It exists in three major types, the first of which is the Pindaric or regular ode. Its structure is essentially that of the classical ode indicated above: the strophe and antistrophe can consist of any number of lines of any lengths following any rhyme scheme of the poet's choosing; they are, however, identical in structure. The epode differs in structure in whatever ways the poet chooses to make it differ to suit his content; it is usually placed after the antistropbc but may be used between the strophe and antistrophe. A strophe, antistrophe, and epode make up a triad. Thomas Gray's Progress of Poesy is an excellent example of the Pindaric ode: it is divided into three triads, each of which has a strophe, antistrophe, and epode. Though filled with artificialities, the poem illustrates the use of the Pindaric form.
The second type of ode is called the homostrophic ode. It consists of a number of stanzas alike in structure and rhyme scheme; the Po et is free to choose the structure of the basic stanza-its number of lines, line lengths, and rhyme scheme-in accordance with the demands of his content. Coleridge's Ode to France supplies a good example of the homostrophic ode as do Keats' Ode on Melancholy and Ode to a Nightingale.
The third type of ode is called the irregular or Cowleyan ode (after the poet Cowley who used the form in the seventeenth century). As its name indicates, the irregular ode consists of a number of stanzas that are unlike in structure-that is, in the number of lines, length of lines, and rhyme scheme. More flexible obviously than the other two types, the irregular ode can be seen superbly used by William Wordsworth in Ode on the Intinations of Immortality.
If we add to the poets already mentioned in connection with the ode such additional poets as Jonson, Crashaw, Milton, Marvell, Dryden, Collins, Shelley, Tennyson, Swinbume, Bryant, Lowell, Patmore, and Tate, it is clear that the ode has attracted poets from the Renaissance to the twentieth century in both England and America. It is a suitable vehicle for the expression of lyric content demanding greater length and complexity than characterize the short lyric or the sonnet. Even within the relative rigidity of the Pindaric ode, the poet has flexibility in determining the structure of the strophe (and hence, the antistrophe) as well as the epode. And even greater flexibility can be attained in the irregular ode. Frequently the ode has been used to commemorate an event of some significance to the poet and perhaps to his country; it has been used to mark a stage in the development of a poet's philosophic convictions with all the emotions attendant thereon; it has been used to compliment rulers and warriors and to celebrate the birth of Christ. Its range is wide.