Epodes are the concluding part of an ode. They are usually quite short (most likely a couplet) that serves as a conclusion to the entire poem. The first and second lines serve to inform readers about a topic. Sometimes, the second line changes how the first is interpreted. For example, the first line might describe something in cheerful, light-hearted language, while the second line reveals that there is something darker or sadder going on underneath the surface. It is usually used to summarize what’s already been discussed in the strophe and antistrophe (the first two, often contradictory, parts of classical Greek odes).
The word comes from the Greek meaning “said after,” which makes sense considering that it follows the strophe and antistrophe. Explore the three parts of an ode in more detail below.
Parts of an Ode
In traditional odes, there are three parts. They are:
- Strophe: refers to a group of verses within a poem that forms a unit as well as the first part of the ode in Greek tragedies. This part of the poem usually explained what the ode was about and bragged about its high points. During this part of the poem, the classical Greek chorus danced, marched, and moved across the stage while chanting.
- Antistrophe: traditionally refers to an ode sung by a chorus in its returning movement from west to east. It was sung in response to a strophe in order to balance it out.
- Epode: the third part of an ode. It is usually composed of two lines of different metrical patterns. The second is shorter than the first. While this final part of the poem was sung, the chorus usually stood still. The epode often summarized the two previous, often contrasting, sections of the poem. The lines were usually highly metrical and rhymed.
Examples of Epodes
Throughout the history of English language poetry, writers have experimented with versions of classical Greek lyric poetry. Below, or a few examples of how writers interpreted the three parts of an ode in a new way.
The Progress of Poesy by Thomas Gray
‘The Progress of Poesy’ is an example of a Pindaric ode, the style of ode best-known for using the three distinct sections discussed above. The piece explores the power of English poetry, the different kinds of writing, and its origins. It begins with the lines:
Awake, Æolian lyre, awake,
And give to rapture all thy trembling strings.
From Helicon’s harmonious springs
A thousand rills their mazy progress take:
The laughing flowers, that round them blow,
Drink life and fragrance as they flow.
Now the rich stream of music winds along
Deep, majestic, smooth, and strong,
Thro’ verdant vales, and Ceres’ golden reign:
One of the most common subjects that poets, especially those writing in the traditional or classical styles, devoted their odes to is the active writing itself. Such is the case with Thomas Gray’s fame, ‘The Progress of Poesy.’
This Pindaric ode suggests that poetry is built upon a strong and ancient foundation and that the Muses that once inspired the ancient Greek poets are still audible to this day. The poem ends with a third, very clearly defined section that begins with the lines:
Hark, his hands thy lyre explore!
Bright-eyed Fancy hovering o’er
Scatters from her pictur’d urn
Thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.
The final stanza serves as an epode summarizing what the first two sections discussed regarding the power of writing.
Discover more Thomas Gray poems.
Another famous example of a Pindaric ode is ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’ by William Wordsworth. This long poem, which represents a Romantic twist on the traditional ode form, is a great example of how Greek poetry influenced generations of writers. Here are the last lines of the poem which can be considered as part of the epode:
The Clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober colouring from an eye
That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
This ode is devoted to the celebration of one thing— the natural world. But, the poem also serves as an allergy, mourning the loss of the way nature used to move the poet and how his relationship with it has changed throughout his life.
Read more William Wordsworth poems.
An episode is the final section of a Pindaric ode. The strophe and antistrophe precede it. During this section of the ode, the chorus stood still in the middle of the stage in the classical Greek tradition.
The last stanza of Thomas Gray’s ‘The Progress of Poesy’ is a great example of an epode written outside the tradition of classical Greek poetry. The stanza is slightly longer than those which proceeded with it, uses a variation of the previous rhyme schemes, and summarizes the juxtaposed ideas the poet previously presented.
Related Literary Terms
- Epistrophe: also known as epiphora, is the repetition of the same word, or a phrase, at the end of multiple clauses or sentences.
- Anadiplosis: refers to the repetition of words so that the second clause starts with the same word/s that appeared in the previous.
- Hexameter: refers to a meter commonly used in Greek and Latin epic poetry. It contains six feet and usually utilizes a combination of dactyls and spondees.
- Muse: a source of inspiration for the writer. This could be someone they know or a direct reference to the traditional Greek muses.
- Pindaric Ode: refers to the body of work, and style, of the Greek poet Pindar. It is used to refer, specifically, to his odes and those written in his traditional style.
- Pyrrhic: used to refer to a metrical foot that contains two unstressed syllables. The foot is less common today than it was in classical Greek poetry.
- Watch: The Greek Chorus Explained
- Watch: Modern Interpretations of the Greek Chorus
- Listen: Greek Lyric Poetry