If you want to know how to write an ode, this article is going to show you exactly how to do it, step-by-step.
Here’s how to write an ode:
To write an ode, choose a topic (a person, place, experience, idea, or thing) that lights you up with passion. Next, choose an ode format—short, long, rhyming, or nonrhyming. Outline and write the ode with writing sprints. Finally, polish and publish the ode.
In this guide, I’m going to give you all of the tools, tips, and tricks to write perfect odes right out of the gate.
Keep reading to learn how to write an ode in 7 easy steps with examples.
What Is the Definition of an Ode?
If you are a regular poem writer, you may have written odes in the past without ever knowing it.
That’s because odes are simply a lyrical poem, written in regular or irregular verse, that pays tribute to the love you have for one specific person, experience or object.
Odes can rhyme but they do not have to rhyme.
The ode conveys the love of the writer for a singular subject, while usually being sung or read lyrically. Many people write odes in the heat of inspiration. After all, an ode is a Greek word for “sing or chant”.
This is the most basic definition of an ode.
I find that starting from a basic framework often allows me to start, to get practice, and to make quick progress when learning a new form of writing and poetry.
How Long Is an Ode?
One of the most hotly debated aspects of writing odes is the proper length of an ode.
Even several centuries after the original ode was created, some writers will insist that they be no more than four to eight lines. Others argue that some of the most famous odes are well over 30 lines long.
Therefore, the length of an ode varies. There is no clear consensus.
To me, that means you have complete freedom of expression in how you write your odes. The key to a great ode is passion, not poem length.
Types of Odes
There are many shapes and forms of odes:
Odes also differ in specific format, structure, and style.
To write the perfect ode, it’s important to know the types so that you can choose the right one that makes the most sense for you.
Pindaric odes were first used in the 5th century BC by the Greeks, usually in stage plays by performers.
Employing the triadic movement, Pindaric Odes usually consist of three parts, allowing the performers to move as they sing one verse, then the next, with the third and final verse sung center stage.
These odes imbued more than just the passion for an object, as they conveyed story and emotions through song while continuing the plot of the play.
Some of the best odes written into story form in the 1500s were originally Greek stage plays.
One good example of the Pindaric Ode is the Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, by William Wordsworth.
Here is a selection of this ode so that you can clearly see the structure in action:
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, by William Wordsworth
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.
Horatian or Irregular Odes
These odes originated in the 1st century BC from the Latin Poet Horace and are a lot more intimate and personal than the epics told by Greek Pindaric odes.
This also meant that the size and structure of these odes were vastly different.
They can be considered a lot more romantic if read to a loved one in private.
Horatian and irregular odes are also not limited by the same rhyming schema of other ode forms. This does not mean they cannot rhyme. Horatian odes often do rhyme and are typically written with two or four stanzas.
You can follow these guidelines when you write your ode to ensure that you follow the Horatian style.
An example of a Horatian Ode is the Ode to the Confederate Dead by Allen Tate.
“Row after row with strict impunityOde to the Confederate Dead by Allen Tate.
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.”
English Romantic Ode
Simply put, this is the type of ode that you likely will be most familiar with and the type that I recommend that you write first.
English Romantic odes can be nothing more than four lines speaking intimately about one person, or they could be 30 lines talking about the author’s favorite pet, mountain trail or ballpoint pen.
This does not make the ode any less important than other ode types or structures.
However, it has meant that these are the more popular odes used by both writers and singers. As these odes are usually prone to more rhyming in the English language, they are popular inspirations for full songs.
Starting as epic tales in the middle ages, you can hear them now as the latest pop songs.
The sapphic ode is probably the most structured type of ode.
It was first introduced during the Roman era, and is one of the most difficult ode styles to write because of the strict structural requirements. The upside is that if you want to be able to dash off most other ode types with ease, mastering Sapphic odes first will be the way to go.
Sapphic odes consist of quatrains (four lines), with three 11-syllable lines, and then ending with a five-syllable line.
These odes are usually unrhyming.
I recommend that you put off writing these odes until you master some of the other, easier styles. There is a developmental progression to mastery of any craft.
Odes are no different!
The Step-By-Step Guide for How to Write an Ode
You can consider this your “how to write an ode for dummies”.
We’ll start with a quick review of the steps, then drill down into each step so that you know exactly how each step works to create the perfect ode.
- Choose a format or structure.
- Choose a topic (a subject of your ode).
- Word & Image Mapping
- Emotional Flooding
- Writing Sprint
- Polish and Shine
- Share your ode!
If you’d rather watch a video about how to write odes, then check this one out:
1) Choose an Ode Poem Structure
Your first task is to choose an ode format, outline or structure.
Different types of odes use unique structures, so choose the one that best fits your personality, style and needs.
As mentioned earlier in this article, I recommend that you start with the English Romantic Ode. You might be most familiar with this type of ode (even if you don’t realize it) and it can be written in as few as four unstructured and nonrhyming lines.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for writing an ode.
But, when you first start writing odes, it’s helpful to follow a specific pattern (that you can break later as you scale up your skills in this poetic form).
Here is an example ode structure you can use for your first ode:
- Write an ode with four lines
- Use a short fourth line
- Odes do not need to rhyme
I’ll do you one better and give you an exact Ode outline you can use.
Fourth Line: (Short punchy line)
Download your free Ode Outline:
2) Choose Good Ode Topics: Who or What Should You Write Your Ode About?
The next most important step in writing an Ode is to choose a topic or subject.
The topic is the focus of the ode – whether that be star-crossed lovers, the missing object, or even an unforgettable landscape. The critical element of your subject is that it must be praiseworthy to you.
An ode is a celebration of a subject.
The subject is completely up to you. It can really be anything! Heck, English poet John Keats wrote a famous ode about urns! (Hey, we don’t judge 😊)
If you are still wondering what to write an ode about, here are some examples of topics, people, and things that you can consider when brainstorming an ode topic.
- Kids: This can be your children, the children you wish to have one day, or even just the children you remember playing with when you were young. Some of the greatest odes are written by parents who have lost their children or are writing for their future children they hope to have one day. Remember, love is not limited to romance – it can be longing, missing, caring, or proud.
- Significant Other: A common ode written with passion is an ode you write to the one you love. Many great Greek tragedies include odes to the characters the hero loves. Writing about your significant other can be about the one you lost, the one you are looking for, or the one you have found.
- Animal: Many odes sing the praise of a loyal animal companion. You can write an ode that celebrates the friendship and utter cuteness of your pets. Like our human counterparts, our pets can strike us with a rich tapestry of emotions from love to fear to loss.
- Nature: Some would say that nature is in every ode, usually because it is happily used as a comparison (with figurative language). However, some of the most popular modern-day odes are made to the beauty and grace of nature and the natural world around us. As we have come to learn how fragile life can be, many people have gone out of their way to write odes to explain just how much we love and admire the natural wonders of our world.
- Friends: You can also write an ode to a friend. Usually, these types of odes reveal why you love them, what they mean to you, and just how much you would miss them if they were gone.
- Family: This is one of the strongest and most sure ways you can write an ode that is emotional and on point. Your family can be a rich source of inspiration. There will likely be many ways your family can inspire effective odes. Emotions about family range from love to anger, to indifference, and to the hopes you have of starting your own family one day.
Other sources for Ode topics:
- Answer the Public: This is by far my favorite topic-finding tool. You simply put in a keyword like “pets” (or anything) and the tool generates a shocking amount of topical ideas.
- Keyword Sheeter (Yes, that’s the actual name): Crazy name, but as of now, this is a free and effective keyword tool that can give you a crazy amount of topical ideas.
3) Word & Image Mapping
Once you have your Ode topic, the next step is Word and Image Mapping.
Word & Image Mapping is a way to generate language and emotion as you prepare to write your ode.
You can start by simply listing as many words and phrases you can think of to describe your topic or subject. You can make an organized list, but I think you can get even more creative by making a messy brainstormed list on a piece of paper without lines (think of a collage of words).
Speaking of collage, that’s where the images in Image Mapping come into play.
Collect images online or in magazines (do you still have magazines in whatever year you are in? 😊). Find any images that remind you of the topic (storms and mountains for nature, for example, or pictures of your loved one).
What’s the purpose of Word & Image Mapping?
The simple process perfectly primes your mind and heart to write an ode. Your words and images are visual symbols that trigger the passionate emotions needed to write in this poetic form.
4) Emotional Flooding
Emotional flooding is focusing on your subject or topic until your entire body is awash with emotion.
You can use your words or images to concentrate on your topic of nature, lovers, friends, family or urns.
As you concentrate, recall memories of the subject. Use your imagination to visualize yourself at the place or with the person. Allow all the strong emotions – pleasant or unpleasant (depending on what kind of ode you are writing) – to fill your entire being.
Like Word & Image Mapping, the step of emotional flooding positions you to launch into your ode.
Word & Image Mapping, however, can be done days or hours before you actually write your ode. Emotional flooding is most effective immediately before you start to write.
5) Writing Sprints (How To Write an Ode)
I’ve written at length about writing sprints in another article.
In this post, I’ll summarize.
Writing sprints are timed writing sessions. You set a timer on your phone or with another device like a clock or egg timer. You can set any time you want, but for writing your ode, I would suggest giving yourself at least 20 to 30 minutes.
The trick is that the timer offers you a sense of urgency so that you don’t overthink the writing process. You just get worlds on paper or on the screen. You can even use voice-to-text apps on your device to record words even faster.
The process is super simple and just as effective:
- Set your timer
- Start writing
- Don’t stop writing until the timer alarm rings (chirps, buzzes, does backflips)
This is the easy way to get your short 4-line ode written quickly. What takes hours for others will only take you 30 minutes max.
6) Polish & Shine
If you guessed that the polish and shine step was all about editing and enhancing your ode, you are exactly correct.
There are lots of ways you can improve your poem now that it is written.
The most powerful ways to enhance your ode include:
• Proofreading for spelling and grammatical mistakes
• Combine and cut words, phrases, and sentences
• Inject imagery
• Read or sing it out loud (this usually helps you correct awkward phrasing)
We’ll cover the editing strategy quickly. You can use free online software like grammarly to help you edit your ode. Definitely read it over a few times to fix any obvious errors like missing words, misspellings, and what I like to call “random acts of punctuation.”
You can combine longer phrases into short words or shorter phrases to save space. This also usually strengthens your language.
If you are looking for a better, punchier word, look no further than the…
Ode Thesaurus & Dictionary
Two tools I highly recommend for writing your ode are thesaurus.com and the Rhyming Dictionary.
Both resources are free and online. Both are easily accessible and especially useful for writing your perfect ode.
At thesaurus.com, you can find tons of synonyms for any word. At Rhymer.com, you can find 6 different rhyming schemes – end rhymes, last syllable rhymes, double rhymes, triple rhymes, beginning rhymes, and first-syllable rhymes.
One of the hallmark characteristics of odes is the use of figurative language. That is: abstract language, metaphors, similes, and other symbolic or comparative language.
In case you missed that day in English class, here’s a rundown of some of the most common types of figurative language you can use to infuse your ode with earth-shattering imagery:
- Metaphor – Statement that two separate things are the same (She is Superwoman, or He is a snake).
- Simile – Compare two separate concepts using the words “like” and “as” (I slept like a log, or She’s as tall as a skyscraper).
- Personification – Gives human traits to inhuman objects (The leaves danced in the wind).
- Allusion – When one piece of writing (like an ode) references another text (like the Bible)
- Idioms – Common phrases in a group or culture that are not literal(Let’s hit the road).
- Hyperbole – Extreme exaggeration (One kiss of her lips is like a million firework finales of shooting rainbows and shimmering silver unicorns)
- Onomatopoeia – Words that describe sounds and that often sound like the experiences they describe (Bam, Pow, Tick-Tock).
To be safe, go ahead and run your ode through a poetry plagiarism checker.
7) Share Your Ode
The last and final step is to share your ode. You have put a lot of time and effort into this lyrical poem.
Now it’s time to share your gift with the world (or at least the special people in your life).
Perhaps your ode is to a special someone, so you want to share it privately with them. You can handwrite your ode on a letter, type it, create a graphic with free online software, or even make a video of yourself reciting or singing your ode.
For more public sharing, you can post your ode to social media, even creating a video of yourself reading or performing your ode.
For reference, here’s an infographic for the 7 steps of how to write an ode:
Sometimes reading the best classical poems inspires us. This is in no way a comprehensive list. You can simply Google the names of the Odes below (and many others) to read samples or the full poems. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of these odes is that most of these examples are written to ideas or emotions. Odes truly are a versatile form.
- Ode to Joy: One of the most famous odes that (ironically) rarely includes actual words is the Ode to Joy written by Friedrich Schiller. Many people use the instrumental version, although the full version contains the lyrics.
- Ode to Solitude: This ode was written by Alexander Pope before he turned 12 years old. It was published in 1709.
- Ode to Duty: This ode was written by William Wordsworth and published in 1807.
- Ode to the Confederate Dead: Written by Allen Tate and published in 1928.
- The Bard. A Pindaric Ode: Written by Thomas Gray and published in 1757.
Just for Fun
I used a free online poem generator to write a poem about you, dear reader, for finishing this long article with me.
This is my “thank you” gift!
(Disclaimer: I only added three basic words and the generator magicked out the rest, so I stake no claim to the prose or underlying structure, which I believe is borrowed from a Mr. Robert Frost).
The Kind And Determined PatiencePoemgenerator.com
A Poem to You, Dear Reader
Whose patience is that? I think I know.
Its owner is quite happy though.
Full of joy like a vivid rainbow,
I watch her laugh. I cry hello.
She gives her patience a shake,
And laughs until her belly aches.
The only other sound’s the break,
Of distant waves and birds awake.
The patience is kind, determined and deep,
But she has promises to keep,
After cake and lots of sleep.
Sweet dreams come to her cheap.
She rises from her gentle bed,
With thoughts of kittens in her head,
She eats her jam with lots of bread.
Ready for the day ahead.
Final Thoughts: How To Write an Ode
By following the simple steps in this article blueprint, you are now a bona fide Ode writer extraordinaire!
Now that you know how to write odes, here’s what to read next:
- How To Be a Writer for SNL (The Ultimate Guide)
- How To Be a Fortune Cookie Writer
- The Best Thesaurus for Writers