April 8, 2020

Prompt: Odes to Common Things

Neruda

Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda decided in his late forties that he would commit himself to write an ode a week. Eventually, he produced 225 odes.

Neruda conceived his odes as an homage to common things that he encountered frequently and might have otherwise overlooked. He wrote about an artichoke, clouds, the moon and onions.

In his "Ode To The Onion," he writes of this "luminous flask" that:

...in the secrecy of the dark earth
your belly grew round with dew.
Under the earth
the miracle
happened
and when your clumsy
green stem appeared,
and your leaves were born
like swords
in the garden...
You make us cry without hurting us...
and the fragrance of the earth lives
in your crystalline nature.

We referenced Neruda's "Ode to Broken Things" in an earlier prompt that featured Yusef Komunyakaa's poem "The God Of Broken Things." But Neruda almost exclusively chose as his topics real things. One of the broken things in that poem is a clock.

And that clock
whose sound
was
the voice of our lives,
the secret
thread of our weeks,
which released
one by one, so many hours
for honey and silence
for so many births and jobs,
that clock also
fell
and its delicate blue guts
vibrated
among the broken glass
its wide heart
unsprung.

Are Neruda's odes classic odes? A classic ode is structured in three major parts: the strophe, the antistrophe, and the epode. Greek odes were originally poetic pieces performed as a song or with musical accompaniment on aulos and the lyre.

To be a professor of poetry, I'll say that there are a number of odes forms including the Pindaric, Horatian, English and irregular - but I don't want you bogged down this month in forms that are overly restrictive. Still, many of you probably have discovered the way forms and structures can help a poem move forward.

Pindaric odes consist of three distinct stanzas (strophe, antistrophe, epode with the first two having the same meter and length, while the epode has a different meter and length) and it was very much meant to be used with music.

Horatian odes (from Horace's poetry) have rhyme and a specific stanza structure.

Irregular odes use rhyme but not a formal rhyme scheme and not the three-part form of the Pindaric ode, nor the two- or four-line stanza of the Horatian ode. It offers the most freedom. William Wordsworth and John Keats are two poets who extensively wrote irregular odes.  Wordsworth's "Ode on Intimations of Immortality" and Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn" or "Ode to a Nightingale."

All of those seem very formal to us today. So, I return to Pablo Neruda and his collected All the Odes to common things, such as his "Ode to My Socks."

...They were
so handsome
for the first time
my feet seemed to me
unacceptable
like two decrepit
firemen, firemen
unworthy
of that woven
fire,
of those glowing
socks...



Keats' odes to that urn or bird are also "common" objects that he saw in the course of his days. Don't make the mistake of assuming that because many contemporary odes are less classical in their form that they are less serious. Neruda's odes have been described as "the personal diary of a man in search of meaning who sings to life itself, to our connections to one another." Wordsworth's "Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood" is an ode to the Platonic doctrine of "recollection" and John Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn" describes the timelessness of art, and Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" addresses the strength of nature. 

Neruda even tells us why those socks are worth observing.

The moral
of my ode is this:
beauty is twice
beauty
and what is good is doubly
good
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool
in winter. 


submit
 Deadline: Thursday, April 30, 2020

This month we ask you to write an ode to a common thing. It may be strictly done in one of the classic forms or a variation on a form. The ode form is about celebration and reverence and, though we may not accompany ours with music, they still describe or report using celebratory language and grand metaphors.






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