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Irregular Ode

An irregular ode is a common ode form that does not conform to the characteristics of the Pindaric or Horatian ode forms.

These odes use a variety of rhyme schemes, metrical patterns, and vary in their subject matter. Some of the most famous odes in the English language are irregular. For example, Ode to a Grecian Urnby John Keats. 

Irregular Ode Definition and Examples

Irregular Ode Definition

The irregular ode is a poem that does not make use of the patterns set out in the traditional Pindaric or Horatian ode forms.

 If a poem is not Horatian or Pindaric, it is irregular. Sometimes, this ode form is known as a Cowleyan ode, after English poet Abraham Cowley. Below are a few examples of irregular odes. They are dedicated to important subjects, like love, nature, aging, and more. This means that they are almost universally relatable. It’s for this reason that some of the best-loved poems in the English language are odes.

Types of Odes 

  • The Pindaric ode is also known as the Greek ode. It takes its name from an Ancient Greek poet, Pindar. These poems were irregular in their length, metrical patterns, and rhyme. But, most importantly, they had (and still to this day) three sections: strophe, antistrophe, and epode
  • The Horatian ode is named for the 1st-century-BC poet Horace. These odes were written with the intention of creating peace within the reader. They are usually concerned with specific themes (love, the act of writing, etc). These poems are short and made up of around two quatrains or sets of four lines. 
  • The irregular ode, as noted above, is a poem that does fit into either one of the previous categories. Below, readers can explore a few of the best-known irregular odes. 

Examples of Irregular Odes 

Ode to the Confederate Dead by Allen Tate 

This famed poem of the Fugitive School is an irregular ode. It was written in 1928  and is considered to be one of Tate’s best poems. Ode to the Confederate Dead’ was published in 1928 in Mr. Pope and Other Poems. Here is a quote from the beginning of the poem: 

Row after row with strict impunity

The headstones yield their names to the element,

The wind whirrs without recollection;

In the riven troughs the splayed leaves

Pile up, of nature the casual sacrament

To the seasonal eternity of death;

Then driven by the fierce scrutiny

Of heaven to their election in the vast breath,

They sough the rumour of mortality.

Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth 

This beautiful poem discusses time and aging in its 206 lines. The poem is split into eleven stanzas, each of which varies in length. Throughout, Wordsworth uses rhyme, but there is no single rhyme scheme. There are some Alexandrine lines in the poem but also examples of iambic pentameter and other metrical patterns. Here are a few lines from the first stanza

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, 

The earth, and every common sight, 

To me did seem 

Apparelled in celestial light, 

The glory and the freshness of a dream. 

It is not now as it hath been of yore;— 

Turn wheresoe’er I may, 

By night or day. 

The things which I have seen I now can see no more. 

The poem, like most great odes, explores essential themes. These include aging, as noted above, as well as nature and religion. 

Explore more William Wordsworth poems


What is an irregular ode? 

An irregular ode is a poem that has the elements of an ode but does not strictly follow the Pindaric or Horatian form. These poems are usually dedicated to something ephemeral, like love, joy, or nature. Others may be more specific and written to celebrate something physical, like another person.

What is an ode?

An ode is a formal lyric poem that is written in celebration or dedication. They are generally directed with specific intent. They are traditional poems that are dedicated to something meaningful, like beauty. 

How do you write an irregular ode?

The easiest way is to simply write a poem dedicated to the celebration or appreciation of something. Most odes use quatrains, including irregular odes. But that doesn’t mean you have to. 

Does an irregular ode have to rhyme?

No. But most do. They may not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern, but they usually contain elements of both. See Ode: Intimations of Immortalityby William Wordsworth. 

How long are odes usually?

Odes are usually reasonably long poems, around five stanzas of four lines each (known as quatrains). But, that doesn’t mean that a shorter poem can’t be an ode. They are more commonly defined by their subject matter. 

  • 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.

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