The form is named for the first century BC poet Horace. It comes from the Latin tradition of the Aeolic ode and is written with the intention of crafting a calm and contemplative tone. These odes were meant to bring peace to the reader.
Horatian pronunciation: hor-ay-she-un
Explore Horatian Ode
Horatian Ode Definition
Horatian odes are meant to convey a peaceful mood to the reader. They are usually concerned with themes of love, joy, and even the active writing itself. These poems are fairly short, usually around two quatrains, or eight lines total.
Like all odes, they are written with the intention of celebrating something specific. This might be something one can touch, like a painting, or something one experiences, like love or passion.
What is an Ode?
An ode is a formal lyric poem. It is written by the poet in order to celebrate or appreciate something. Often, that “thing” is mentioned in the title. For example, ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ by John Keats. These poems are generally directed at a specific person, experience, idea, or object. Odes do not have a strict line or stanza requirement.
They also do not follow a strict rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. But, that does not mean there aren’t commonly used patterns. Traditionally, odes are also accompanied by music. They were originally written as songs. So, it is not uncommon to see phrases like “I sing of, or “Let’s sing of,” and odes.
Types of Odes
- Horatian: named for the poet Horace. These odes use quatrains or couplets. They are usually penned with the intention of bringing peace to the reader.
- Pindaric: also known as the Greek ode, derives its name from an Ancient Greek poet, Pindar. These odes celebrate major events and moments in history. They use irregular lengths, meters and rhyme. But, they are recognizable in their use of three distinct parts: the strophe, antistrophe, and epode.
- Irregular: a poem that does not conform to either the structures set out in the Horatian or Pindaric forms. The form is irregular and the stanzas lack a specific order. Writers have the freedom to experiment with their verse.
Some of the best-known odes in the English language are:
- ‘Ode on Indolence’ by John Keats
- ‘Ode to the West Wind’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley
- ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ by John Keats
- ‘Ode on Solitude’ by Alexander Pope
Examples of Horatian Odes
‘Ode to Solitude’ is a famous example of a Horatian ode. It is a beautiful and peaceful poem that asserts a speaker’s desire to live a good, simple life and go unnoticed by the world. As is common, the subject of the ode is mentioned in the title: “solitude.” When Pope wrote his work, he had the idea of solitude in mind. Here are a few lines:
Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.
Whose heards with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.
This first verse of ‘Ode on Solitude’ begins the analogy that will carry through the poem, seen through the life of an anonymous man who is described as being an ideal for happiness. He’s content with what he has, land, and room to breathe.
Read more Alexander Pope poems.
On Cromwell’s Return from Ireland by Andrew Marvell
‘On Cromwell’s Return from Ireland’ by Andrew Marvel is another ode that could be classified as Horatian. It is written in quatrains, or sets of four lines, using rhyming couplets. Here are the first two stanzas:
The forward youth that would appear
Must now forsake his Muses dear,
Nor in the shadows sing
His numbers languishing:
‘Tis time to leave the books in dust
And oil th’ unusèd armor’s rust,
Removing from the wall
The corselet of the hall.
Discover more Andrew Marvell poems.
Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats
This is one of the most famous odes in the English language. It is a Horatian ode due to its consistent pattern of stanzas. The poem contains eight stanzas of ten lines each. All the lines, except for the eighth in each stanza, are written in iambic pentameter. The eighth line uses iambic trimeter. Here are a few lines from the poem:
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 thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine 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.
This poem was written at Charles Brown’s house after Keats was struck by the melancholy singing of a nightingale bird. The piece emphasizes the feeling of melancholy he experienced.
Explore more John Keats poems.
Horatian odes are also sometimes known as “homostrophic odes.” They are less formal and more reflective. They usually have two or four-line stanzas.
The three types of odes are Pindaric, Horatian, and irregular. All three are written with the intention of celebrating something. But, the forms shift slightly, as do the tones and formal language the poets use.
‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is a Horatian ode. It is written in the style of the Roman poet Horace. The poem uses eight, ten-line stanzas. It is consistent in the way that Horatian odes are meant to be.
Related Literary Terms
- Cadence: the natural rhythm of a piece of text, created through a writer’s selective arrangement of words, rhymes, and the creation of meter.
- End Rhyme: a common type of rhyme found in poetry. They occur when the last word of two or more lines rhyme.
- Eye Rhyme: a literary device used in poetry. It occurs when two words are spelled the same or similarly but are pronounced differently.
- Free Verse: lines are unrhymed and there are no consistent metrical patterns. But, that doesn’t mean it is entirely without structure.
- Quatrain: a verse form that is made up of four lines with fifteen different possible rhyme schemes.
- Irregular Ode: a common ode form that does not conform to the characteristics of the Pindaric or Horatian ode forms.