• Christine Delea

Poetry Prompt: Try an Ode

An ode is a poem that praises a person, event, or thing, and it typically addresses the subject of the poem directly (in other words, it is written in 2nd person). Odes are one of the oldest forms of lyric poetry, first written in ancient Greece with a specific structure and sung or at least accompanied by music.

Over the centuries, the music disappeared, the strict structure loosened up, and the subjects became more down-to-earth. The Modernist poets of the early-mid 20th century ignored the ode, as they did with most forms, particularly those that were popular with the Romantics.

In the late 20th century, formal poetry--especially purposefully mutated forms--became popular with poets (yea!).

If you want to check out old odes, try these poets: Sappho, Pindar, Andrew Marvell, Abraham Crowley, and John Keats.

But to read the poet who had the most influence on the contemporary love affair with the ode, read Pablo Neruda. His 1954 book, Elementary Odes, was the first of three collections of odes. "Ode to My Socks," "Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market," and "Ode to the Flowers of Datitla" inspired poets to not just be inspired by the common and everyday, but to celebrate them.

I love writing, reading, and teaching odes. Students of all ages enjoy writing them, especially new, young poets--it opens up the world of poetry in the best way.

Besides "Ode to My Socks," I have had great luck teaching Yusef Komunyakaa's "Ode to the Maggot." It is definitely my favorite ode.Below is another favorite ode, written by a former grad student of mine (and current friend). After Beth's poems, I have links to some other great odes.

After you check them all out, and then write your own ode. (Prompt #1)

Ode to the Ceiling Fan

by Jessica Beth Howard

I hear you all night,


rocking back and forth

back and forth,


When we first met I was unsure –

You gave me a sore throat a couple of times and

I feared you might p







from your perch,

slicing my limbs with your slender fronds.

Now I know better.

My brother put his hand in one day

and you stopped

with a THUD.

He smiled at me, waving his unscathed hand,

“There’s nothing to be afraid of, you see?

I like to watch you circle.

Sometimes I focus on one of your blades, and

spin in circles with you,

until you seem to sloooooooow down.

Sometimes I talk to you.

(you are the best listener I know.)

Every night,

as you lull me to sleep,

I’m thankful you’re here.

And every night

I wonder,

why are your pull switches




Yusuf Komunyakaa, "Ode to the Maggot":

Pablo Neruda, "Ode to the Book":

Rita Dove, "Ode to My Right Knee":

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