How to Write an Ode

John Keats, English poet, and his Ode to a Nightingale, 1819 (1958).
John Keats, English poet, and his Ode to a Nightingale, 1819. Print Collector/Getty Images / Getty Images

Writing an ode is a fun exercise for anyone who wants to exercise both their creativity and their analytical mind. The form follows a prescribed format that anyone, child or adult, can learn. 

What is an Ode? 

An ode is a lyric poem that is written to praise a person, event, or object. You may have heard of or read the famous "Ode on a Grecian Urn" by John Keats. (Some students mistakenly believe that this poem was written on the physical urn, when it fact the poem is written about an urn—it is an ode to the urn.)

The ode is a classical style of poetry, once used by the ancient Greeks and Romans, who sang their odes rather than writing them on paper. Today's odes are usually rhyming poems with irregular meter. They are broken into stanzas (the "paragraphs" of poetry) with ten lines each, sometimes following a rhyming pattern, although rhyme is not required for a poem to be classified as an ode. Usually, odes have three to five stanzas. 

There are three types of odes:  pindaric, horatian, and irregular. ​Pindaric odes have three stanzas, two of which have the same structure. An example is ​“The Progress of Poesy” by Thomas GrayHoratian odes have more than one stanza, all of which follow the same rhyme structure and meter. An example is “Ode to the Confederate Dead” by Allen Tate.​ Irregular odes follow no set pattern or rhyme. An example is “Ode to an Earthquake” by Ram Mehta. Read a few examples of odes to get a feeling for what they are like before you write your own.

Writing Your Ode: Choosing a Topic

The purpose of an ode is to glorify or exalt something, so you should choose a subject for your ode that you are excited about. Think of a person, place, thing, or event that you find truly wonderful and about which you have plenty of positive things to say (although it also might be a fun and challenging exercise to write an ode about something you truly dislike or hate!) Think about how your subject makes you feel and jot down some adjectives.

Think about what makes it special or unique. Consider your personal connection to the subject and how it has impacted you. Make note of some descriptive words you can use. What are some specific qualities of your subject? 

Choose Your Format 

Although a rhyming structure is not an essential component of an ode, most traditional odes do rhyme and including rhyme in your ode can be a fun challenge. Test out a few different rhyming structures to find one that suits your subject matter and personal writing style. You might start with an ABAB structure, in which the last words of every first and third line rhyme and the last word in every second and fourth line. Or, try out the ABABCDECDE structure used by John Keats in his famous odes. 

Structure Your Ode

Once you have an idea of what you'd like to include in your ode and the rhyme structure you want to follow, create an outline of your ode, breaking each part into a new stanza. Try to come up with three or four stanzas that address three or four different aspects of your topics to give your ode structure. For example, if you're writing an ode to a building, you might devote one stanza to the energy, skill, and planning that went into its construction; another to the building's appearance; and a third about its use and the activities that go on inside.

 

Finalize Your Ode 

After you've written your ode, step away from it for a few hours or days. When you return to your ode with fresh eyes, read it out loud and make a note of how it sounds. Are there any word choices that seem out of place? Does it sound smooth and rhythmic? Make any changes, and begin the process again until you are happy with your ode. 

Although many traditional odes are titled "Ode to [Subject]", you can be creative with your title. Choose one that embodies the subject and its meaning to you.