Poetry Discussions, Part 2: Odes

Note from Erin: Pat will continue to guest-blog for this series on poetry. Thank you, Pat! And again, I apologize for the poems’ inaccurate formatting. Asterisks separate stanzas. End note.

Welcome to the second of our poetry blogs. This week we are looking at odes. An ode differs from a sonnet in that while a sonnet typically expresses a deep truth, an ode seeks to express a deep emotion. And whereas sonnets all have a uniform structure and simple rhyming pattern, odes follow a specific pattern, but it can be different for each ode, and they have a complex rhyming pattern. All odes follow a rhyming pattern, though at times it may not strike you at first glance. They are, quite possibly, the most difficult type of poem to write well, and at times the most difficult to understand.

I have selected three shorter, and easier to understand, odes to share with you this week. I hope you enjoy reading them. If you would like to take part in the discussion, feel free to share the emotions you feel when reading each one. Also try to figure out both the rhyme and the meter (or beat) of each ode. Finally, take note of how each poet uses the tropes of poetry. Very few, if any, good odes use irony. On the Sea by John Keats is a metaphor that uses personification within it. Snow-Flakes by Longfellow does the same thing. Dirge by Shirley displays one of the greatest uses of metonymy and synecdoche found anywhere. And also happens to be one of Robert Frost’s favorite poems (I stuck that little tidbit in there just for you, Erin).

On the Sea
by John Keats

It keeps eternal whisperings around

Desolate shores, and with its mighty swell
Gluts twice ten thousand Caverns, till the spell

Of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound.
Often ‘tis in such gentle temper found,

That scarcely will the very smallest shell
Be moved for days from where it sometimes fell,

When last the winds of Heaven were unbound.
Oh ye! who have your eyeballs vexed and tired,

Feast them upon the wideness of the Sea;

Oh ye! whose ears are dinned with uproar rude,

Or fed too much with cloying melody –

Sit ye near some old Cavern’s Mouth and brood,

Until ye start, as if the sea-nymphs quired!

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Out of the bosom of the Air,

Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,

Over the woodlands brown and bare

Over the harvest-fields forsaken,

Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.

* * *

Even as our cloudy fancies take

Suddenly shape in some divine expression,

Even as the troubled heart doth make

In the white countenance confession,

The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels.

* * *

This is the poem of the air,

Slowly in silent syllables recorded;

This is the secret of despair,

Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,

Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.

by James Shirley

The glories of our blood and state

Are shadows, not substantial things,

There is no armour against fate,

Death lays his icy hand on Kings;

Scepter and crown,
Must tumble down,

And in the dust be equal made,
With the poor crooked scythe and spade.

* * *

Some men with swords may reap the field,

And plant fresh laurels where they kill,

But their strong nerves at last must yield,

They tame but one another still;

Early or late,
They stoop to fate,

And must give up the murmuring breath,
When they, pale captives, creep to death.

* * *

The garlands wither on your brow,

Then boast no more your mighty deeds;

Upon death’s purple altar now,

See where the victor-victim bleeds,

Your heads must come,
To the cold tomb;

Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet, and blossom in their dust.


5 thoughts on “Poetry Discussions, Part 2: Odes

  1. Thanks again. I am enjoying Poetry more now then I did in High School. It was not my teacher’s fault, but had more to do with the “mode of the receiver”. Looking forward to more good works and explanations.

  2. Snow-Flakes was the simplest for me to decipher. Clear rhyming pattern (alternating, then the last two of the stanza rhyming) and an easy-to-follow beat. And with such words as “forsaken,” “troubled,” “despair,” and “grief,” I can’t help but feel sad as I read it. But not depressingly sad, because it’s also beautiful. I love the line, “Silent, and soft, and slow.” I could instantly imagine myself standing outside in the snow. I also like, “Now whispered and revealed to wood and field,” cause I am a sucker for anything nature-related.

    Dirge has an awesome beat; it reminded me of a marching army. It has a similar rhyming pattern as Snow-Flakes, except there are two extra rhyming lines at the end of each stanza. I felt the horror of war and death while reading this. Phrases like “Death lays his icy hand” and “creep to death” and “Your heads must come to the cold tomb” gave me the willies . . . in a good way. This poem is amazing. I can see why Frost loved it, LOL.

    I’m having trouble with On the Sea. I can see the rhyming pattern, but not sure how to explain it. I can hear the beat, but not as clearly as in the other two poems. “It keeps eternal whisperings around desolate shores” gave me an eerie feeling right off the bat. But a sea that goes from mighty to gentle? Not sure what to feel about that. As usual, I’m sure I’m missing something. 😀

  3. Sorry I’m so late. VBS Week. Unfortunately, I after this morning, I’ll be gone for the weekend, so I won’t be able to take part in the discussion again until Monday.

    Longfellow has been taking a lot of shots from modern day critics. They claim that he is too shallow and caters to the ‘pop’ culture of his day. I think this poem has hidden depth. There are a couple different ways to view his metaphor. The troubled sky; the wood and field; could be the griefs we experience in this world. Then the snow that descends and covers them could be the balm that brings us healing and peace. OR, and I really like this interpretation, the the wood and field could be our sins, and the snow is the forgiveness that God gives us. When reading this poem I mostly feel grief and a strange peace.

    Shirley compares the states of kings and peasants through metonymy and synecdoche. His has a very martial feel, but filled with sadness. I love his last couple of lines.

    Keats, one of my favorite poets, compares our lives to the sea. Asking us, when our lives are hectic, to gaze upon the sea and feel peace. I absolutely love this poem.

    More coming on Monday.

    • Hope you had a great time camping!

      I find it rather amusing that poets have to reach a certain depth to get any respect. 😀 What I like about Longfellow’s poem is the number of possibilities. I enjoy it on the surface level—imagining I’m out in nature during a snowfall. And I enjoy it on a deeper level, whether he meant the healing for our grief or the forgiveness of our sins. I love it all!

      I was researching the Keats’ poem, and I found a version that ended with “choired” instead of “quired.” Which is correct? I guess it doesn’t matter, since quire is the archaic variation of choir. Though neither word is a verb! Is that poetic license at work? 😀 I also didn’t understand “the spell of Hecate” until I looked it up. If Hecate is the goddess of the moon, and her “spell” is night, then perhaps it means a transition from a violent night to daytime. Do you think he’s suggesting the volatile nature of our own lives can change as quickly as the sea? Or that human nature was rough in the dark ages and is now more peaceful in today’s society? If Keats meant the latter, I’m not sure I agree. Human nature is human nature. But I do feel peace when gazing upon the seat—that I agree with.

      If you have time, could you point out some of the examples of metonymy and synecdoche in Shirley’s poem?

  4. Love your comments on Keats’ poem. Very nice.

    Examples of metonymy in Shirley: Blood and state; scepter and crown; scythe and spade. And there are more. =)

    Synecdoche: murmuring breath; heads; dust.

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