In most required literature courses,
students will read at least one novel and
some examples of lyric poetry, often drawn from the Romantic
period, which raised the lyric to
unprecedented prominence. Although there are many different species
of lyric, most of them apply and/or renovate some set of
conventions, whether derived from classical models or from the
lyric types generated in earlier periods of European and English
poetry. Selected for examination here is the ode, because British
Romantic poets perfected a special form of it--"the personal ode of
description and passionate meditation," as M. H. Abrams described
it--sometimes called the "Romantic meditative ode."
The Romantic Poets and the Ode
Origin and Development of the Ode
As the ode developed in England, poets modified the Pindaric form to suit their own purposes and also turned to Roman models. In 1656, Abraham Cowley introduced the "irregular ode," which imitated the Pindaric style and retained the serious subject matter, but opted for greater freedom. It abandoned the recurrent strophic triad and instead permitted each stanza to be individually shaped, resulting in stanzas of varying line lengths, number of lines, and rhyme scheme. This "irregular" stanzaic structure, which created different patterns to accord with changes of mood or subject, became a common English tradition. Poets also turned to an ode form modeled after the Roman poet, Horace. The Horatian ode employed uniform stanzas, each with the same metrical pattern, and tended generally to be more personal, more meditative, and more restrained. Keats' "Ode to Autumn" and Wordsworth's "Ode to Duty" are Horatian odes.
The Romantic meditative ode was developed from these varying traditions. It tended to combine the stanzaic complexity of the irregular ode with the personal meditation of the Horatian ode, usually dropping the emotional restraint of the Horatian tradition. However, the typical structure of the new form can best be described, not by traditional stanzaic patterns, but by its development of subject matter. There are usually three elements:
Adapted from A Guide to the Study of Literature: A Companion Text for Core Studies 6, Landmarks of Literature, ©Brooklyn College.