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An ode is a lyric poem supposed to express the feelings of the poet in the pressure of high excitement, and taking an irregular form from the emotional fervency that seeks spontaneous rhythm for its varied utterance.
The Greeks called every lyrical poem adapted to singing (and hence opposed to the elegiac poem) an ode. The Dorians are said to have been the inventors of the choral ode to be sung by a group of persons.
A Spartan, Alcman, is credited with having first divided the chorus into two parts, the strophe (turn), and antistrophe (counterturn). These two names had their origin in the fact that as the one group of the performers answered the other they turned to the right and then to the left.
Later on from Sicily came a third addition, the epode, which was sung by the united chorus at the end of the movements to the right and left. The principal ancient writers who employed this form of verse were Pindar, Anacreon, Sappho, Alcaeus among the Greeks, and Catullus and Horace among the Romans.
As employed by English writers the ode takes either the Pindaric form of strophe, antistrophe, and epode irregularly arranged and contrasted; or, as in its later development, the form of a regular series of regular stanzas. The former style is found in Dryden's Ode for Saint Cecilia's Day, while the latter is seen in Shelley's Ode to a Skylark. The masters of English poetry who have carried the ode to its highest achievements are Milton, Dryden, Collins, Gray, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats, and Shelley.