We sometimes see Ode to and sometimes Ode on.

Do these both mean a poem written about something?

I am a new literature student.

1 Answer 1


An ode is not just any poem, but specifically a:

lyric poem, serious in subject, elevated in style, and elaborate in its stanzaic structure.

M. H. Abrams (1957). A Glossary of Literary Terms, p. 116. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

where a lyric poem is a:

nonnarrative poem presenting a single speaker who expresses a state of mind or a process of thought and feeling.

Abrams, p. 89

The ode originated with the ancient Greeks, notably Pindar and Sappho. Lyric poems are so-called because they were originally sung and accompanied on a lyre.

In English poetry, if an ode is written as if speaking to the subject (addressing it in the second person), then it would be an “ode to”. If an ode is written about the subject (referring to it in the third person) then it would be an “ode on”.

Taking examples from the works of John Keats, ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is addressed to a nightingale:

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
        No hungry generations tread thee down;

Whereas ‘Ode on Melancholy’ is addressed to someone suffering from melancholy, not to melancholy itself, which is referred to in the third person:

Ay, in the very temple of Delight
        Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,

But this is not a hard-and-fast rule! ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is addressed to the urn but titled with “on”. Perhaps Keats chose this form of title because the urn is not the only addressee: parts of the poem are addressed instead to the figures depicted on the urn.

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