But it's not that modern poets do not take on big topics for their odes. "Praise Song for the Day" by Elizabeth Alexander was her poem read at Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration.
You can find many sample odes online as models.
The ode form goes back to Ancient Greeks. "Ode" comes from the Greek aeidein, meaning to sing or chant. Odes were originally accompanied by music and dance, and later reserved by the Romantic poets to convey their strongest sentiments. This type of lyrical verse is classically structured in three major parts: the strophe, the antistrophe, and the epode. Originally, it was an elaborately structured poem that was written to praise or glorify an event or individual, or to describe nature intellectually as well as emotionally.
There are a number of ode forms including the Pindaric, Horatian,Irregular and English. The formal opening (strophe) is a complex metrical structure, and it is followed by an antistrophe, which mirrors the opening, and an epode, the final closing section of a different length and composed with a different metrical structure.
The William Wordsworth poem "Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood" is a very good example of an English language Pindaric ode. The earliest odes in the English language, using the word in its strict form, were written by Edmund Spenser.
But don't be frightened by the ode.
Laura Shovan, poets and teacher, does workshops for students in upper elementary through high school and uses odes as a prompt. Voices Fly is an anthology of student poetry (poems and prompts from the Maryland State Arts Council Artist-in-Residence program), and one chapter is her lesson on simple odes. She focuses on the use of simile, hyperbole and sensory detail and the concept of tone as it works in a simple ode. She has students read and discuss Gary Soto’s “Ode to Pablo’s Tennis Shoes.”
I like to pick up something random in the classroom. It might be a blackboard eraser, a paperclip, or a tissue. Together, the class brainstorms all of the things we can do with that object. We exaggerate -- a good time to introduce hyperbole -- in order to highlight the object’s value. With the eraser, all of our mistakes can disappear. The paperclip is like a secretary for our school work, keeping it organized and making us efficient. The tissue comforts us when we are sick, dries our tears when we are sad.
The key in an ode, as the children quickly pick up, is that we are making a persuasive argument. The words, similes and descriptions we use – the tone of the poem – needs to convince the reader that these sneakers are the best sneakers in the universe. Through tone, simple odes remind readers to stop and pay attention to everyday objects that deserve praise.
That prompt would work fine for this month. But, a more typical classroom example might be to use an ode by John Keats.
Keats, who died at the age of twenty-five, only published 54 poems, but took on the challenges of poetic forms from the sonnet, to the Spenserian romance, to the Miltonic epic, while adding his own poetics to each.
Keats' English odes are often listed as odes of perfect definition - "Ode to Psyche," "Ode to a Nightingale," "Ode on a Grecian Urn," "Ode on Melancholy," and "To Autumn."
Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is a poem I remember from high school. It was in the anthology and my teacher loved it. I don't know if I got much meaning from it then, but some of the lines definitely stayed in my head. The other poem I recall by him from my younger days is "To Autumn" (You might want to listen to "To Autumn" being read.)
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
It is possible that more has been written on "Ode on a Grecian Urn," per line, than any other Romantic lyric, and it is perhaps the best-known and most-often-read poem in nineteenth-century literature.
Ode on a Grecian Urn