The “strophe,” or “turning,” in Greek tragedies is followed by the antistrophe and the epode. The strophe was chanted by the chorus as it moved from right to left. This definition of strophe can be explored in more detail below.
The word “strophe” is also used to refer to a division within a poem. For example, poems that are composed with stanzas of varying lengths. It is contrasted with the word “stichic,” which applies to epic poems (in the Greek tradition) and blank verse. Often, the term is also applied to any stanzas within an ode. This is seen in one of the examples below.
The word “strophe” is used in a variety of ways. It is related to Greek odes and the structure of poems. Today, the term strophe, when used to describe a unit of a poem, is used in reference to longer, less regular stanzas. The term “stanza” is utilized for regular and repeated structures.
In Greek poems, it is the first part of the ode performed by the chorus as the group moves from one side of the stage to the other. It was followed by the antistrophe (which used the same meter) and was performed as the chorus moved back across the stage. Then, the ode concluded with the epode. This section was chanted by the group as they stood still.
Examples of Strophes
France: An Ode by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
This lesser-read Coleridge poem is a good example of an ode divided into stanzas, referred to as strophes. The poem was written in April 1798 and described the poet’s changing feelings regarding the French Revolution. He speaks about how his allegiance to the movement shifted when they invaded Switzerland. Readers will also encounter religious thoughts within the text. Here are the first few lines:
Ye Clouds! that far above me float and pause,
Whose pathless march no mortal may control!
Ye Ocean-Waves! that, wheresoe’er ye roll,
Yield homage only to eternal laws!
Ye Woods! that listen to the night-birds singing,
Midway the smooth and perilous slope reclined.
Save when your own imperious branches swinging,
Have made a solemn music of the wind!
These first lines describe the poet’s feelings about liberty—the most important theme at work within the poem and within the French Revolution (or at least the version of it he supported).
Discover more Samuel Taylor Coleridge poems.
This Romantic ode is one of the best-known examples of John Keats’ poetry. It is also a great example of the ways in which modern English writers attempted to reproduce the ode structure of Greek lyrical poems. Here are the first lines:
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-wingèd Dryad of the trees,
The poem was written in 1819 and is the longest of Keats’ famous odes. It emphasizes a feeling of melancholy within nature (as is seen within Greek poetry). The stanzas within this poem are long, elaborately rhymed, and allude to the traditions of Greek lyric poetry.
Read more John Keats poems.
Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
Within this well-known play, there are famous traditional examples of Greek strophes. The strophe is the first stanza of the choral ode. For example, these lines from the beginning of the play:
Oh sweet speaking voice of Zeus,
you have come to glorious Thebes from golden Pytho—
but what is your intent?
My fearful heart twists on the rack and shakes with fear.
O Delian healer, for whom we cry aloud
in holy awe, what obligation
will you demand from me, a thing unknown
or now renewed with the revolving years?
Immortal voice, O child of golden Hope,
speak to me!
It’s during this first stanza that the chorus would make its initial movements across the stage. Then, following the first stanza, the second stanza would be chanted/sung while the chorus moved back across the stage. The next section, the antistrophe, begins with:
First I call on you, Athena the immortal,
daughter of Zeus, and on your sister, too,
Artemis, who guards out lands and sits
On her glorious round throne in our market place,
The strophe is the first stanza in any individual ode. Throughout the tragedy, there are numerous odes chanted by the chorus. These provide information about the play, including background, allusions to events outside the play’s scope, foreshadowing, flashbacks, and more.
Commonly, writers used strophes to mimic the structure of traditional Greek lyric poems. Specifically, the odes found within Greek tragedies. Inspired by the innovations of classical Greek poets, modern English poets (and poets from around the world) attempted to recreate the structure in their own work.
Related Literary Terms
- Antistrophe: a rhetorical device that’s concerned with the repetition of the same word or words at the end of consecutive phrases.
- 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.
- Read: Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
- Watch: Modern Interpretations of the Greek Chorus
- Listen: Greek Lyric Poetry