Plog 17th August 2012

August 17th, 2012 Posted in Uncategorized

At the weekend I was asked to explain what an ode is.  Numerous examples came to mind, notably John Keats’ famous ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’, but when I attempted to see a regular pattern in the style or form of the ode, I was at a loss.    Shelley’s ode seems to be a wonderful  series of sonnets, linked together as a vocative address to our exuberant weather, whilst Keats’ odes contain jaw-dropping universal truths.  The word, ‘Ode’ in the title is the only immediately obvious similarity.

The Encyclopædia Britannica tells us that ‘the Greek word ōdē, which has been accepted in most modern European languages, meant a choric song, usually accompanied by a dance’ and is a ceremonious poem in which personal emotion and general meditation are united.  Thus an ode may contain both evocative feelings and epigrammatic or philosophical statements.

Poets.org contains up-to-date information from the Academy of American Poets: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5784, which offers supposedly self-evident excerpts from Pindaric and Horatian odes by William Wordsworth and Allen Tate respectively.   By all means take a look at the link.  I find the examples fascinating, although the explanation is hard to follow.

Here is the final stanza of one of Pindar’s odes, celebrating the victory of Aristomenes of Aegina in the boys’ wrestling contest at the Pythian Games in 446 B.C.

Creatures for a day! What is a man?
What is he not? A dream of a shadow
Is our mortal being. But when there comes to men
A gleam of splendour given of heaven,
Then rests on them a light of glory
And blessed are their days.

As Mark Strand and Eavan Boland comment in ‘The Making of a Poem’: ‘in ancient times . . . athletes were praised, statesmen applauded’.  Maybe some of you would like to immortalise the achievements of some of our competitors in the Olympic Games 2012.  Please post your odes below and we can applaud your work in our commentary.

Five centuries later, Quintus Horatius Flaccus (8 December 65 BC – 27 November 8 BC) wrote caustic iambic poetry, from which John Conington has translated the following:

To suffer hardness with good cheer,
In sternest school of warfare bred,
Our youth should learn; let steed and spear
Make him one day the Parthian’s dread;
Cold skies, keen perils, brace his life.
Methinks I see from rampired town
Some battling tyrant’s matron wife,
Some maiden, look in terror down,—
“Ah, my dear lord, untrain’d in war!
O tempt not the infuriate mood
Of that fell lion I see! from far
He plunges through a tide of blood!”
What joy, for fatherland to die!
Death’s darts e’en flying feet o’ertake,
Nor spare a recreant chivalry,
A back that cowers, or loins that quake

In it you may notice the line Wilfred Owen has alluded to in his First World War poetry.

All sorts of poets have written odes, especially during the nineteenth century Romantic movement.  As Strand and Boland point out: ‘For Poets in this century, the ode was almost a lost form.  Its straight-faced and unswerving elevation of objects and persons no longer seems so possible in an age of lost faith and broken images.’

Let us return to the Academy of American Poets for some iconoclasm. This may challenge any preconceived opinions we may believe restrict either the form or content of an ode.

Ode to Periods

the penis is something that fits into the vagina
so’s the tampax or sponge
therefore Aristotle never thought of women at all
the penis like a tree fits into mouth, hands and asshole too
it can be the subject of an academic poem
disguised as a sloop, catapult or catamaran’s mastpole
never the monthly menstruation will she
belie tradition’s bloody demagoguery enough
to appear in the rough in a poem in a monthly
I dream I had a deep cut on my finger
filled with a delicious tofu cake
and when you took off your clothes your penis
was among them hanging by a cord on a hook
I took it down hoping its disassociation from being
would not thus prevent its manly erection from existing
and therefore I tried it out and it went well
such as license as mine perhaps made it swell independent
I think the world is all fucked up in many ways (see footnotes)
and one of these is the apparent interdiction in dumb poetic tradition
of speaking of and being heard on the glories of sublime menstruation

I first got my period when I was twelve the day my father died
at least I knew what it was, some girls didn’t then
we were told you can’t go swimming but don’t you wanna have children
so much for confessionalism
I won’t call on the moon like in a real poem
or anthropology or the bible or talk about being untouchable
or power etc. I’ve nothing at all to say but to exercise
my freedom to speak about everything

now that poems’ve got everything in them
even rhetoric and dailiness plus the names of things again
including flowers like the spotted touch-me-not
so inviting to hummingbirds
and I’m writing one
I’d like to mention or say blatantly
I got my period today
probably like nobody
certainly in the nineteenth century ever did
and if you really wanna know
most of us you know
all get ours on the same day no kidding
and we talk about it frequently and peripatetically
Alice with Peggy Peggy with Marion Marion with me me with Anne
Anne with Alice Peggy with me Grace with Peggy Marion with Grace

So Friends! Hold the bloody sponge up!
For all to see!

© Bernadette Mayer

If it offends anyone, all I can say is ‘Oh Dear!’  I think I’m going to write an ‘Ode to Creditors’ . . .

Remember, the purpose of an ode is to unite personal emotion with general meditation.  If you would like to share one with this community, we shall be honoured.

Best of luck,

” infinite light waves” by Stephanie Clifton, http://www.joydreaming.com/


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    21. May 2013

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  2. Katrina
    3. July 2013

    Would you like to provide a translation?

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