Unexpected Odes

Year

2009

The ode form is about celebration and reverence. Originally accompanied by music and dance, odes were performed in public with a chorus during ancient Greek times, and were often composed to celebrate athletic victories. While modern odes are not often written to be performed in such a way, their aim is still to describe or report using celebratory language and grand metaphors.

Some of the most famous historical odes describe traditionally romantic things and ideas: William Wordsworth's "Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood" is an ode to the Platonic doctrine of "recollection"; John Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn" describes the timelessness of art; and Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" addresses the strength of nature.

Contemporary odes, however, draw their power from unexpected celebration. Pablo Neruda's Elemental Odes, including poems like "Ode to My Socks," were written in celebration of common objects; Lucille Clifton's "homage to my hips," Bernadette Mayer's "Ode on Periods," and Sharon Olds's "Ode to the Hymen" sing praise for traditionally unsung aspects of the female body.


Try writing an ode to something unexpected: traffic jams, divorce, the flu, a cockroach. Challenge yourself to describe your chosen object or idea through flourishes of romantic language. Aim to convince your reader of the true and hidden worth you've discovered.

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