The Ode's Last Stand: An Irregular Approach to Modern Verse

Nabi, Jason Halil, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Tucker, Herbert F., Department of English, University of Virginia
Nohrnberg, James, Department of English, University of Virginia
Hunter, J. Paul, Department of English, University of Virginia

With the irregular ode’s dominance of the poetic scene during the Romantic period came a kind of obscurity: even as the ode became the lyrical idiom it lost its visibility as a form. Consequently, critical consensus lays the ode to rest in the early nineteenth century, but it is just here that the ode’s history takes a turn, as I argue that poets as diverse as Shelley, Tennyson, Pound, and Auden revive the form by embracing its prosodic pluralism, stressing its historical burdens, and addressing the demand for cultural relevance. This dissertation thus resumes the history of the ode in English after the Romantic perfection of the form and traces the ode’s survival into subsequent literary eras, where its over-conspicuousness consistently finds place in a larger aesthetic cycle – namely, the antagonism between essentialist and pluralist poetics that defines the major poetic and critical divides of literary history in English.

In the first chapter, I explore Shelley’s intensive odic project, which begins with – rather than consummates in – “Ode to the West Wind,” and through which he turns away from the lyrical unity and quiescence of the odes of Wordsworth and Coleridge. That Shelley’s “other” odes have met with poetic and critical oblivion attests to the stronger allure of his predecessors’ essentialist aesthetic, to which he responds with a hyper-formal ode practice. In the second chapter, I trace Tennyson’s odic career, in which he turns a lifelong antagonism with the form to his advantage by deforming rather than abandoning its protocols. In the third chapter, I study how Pound’s use of the ode challenges the prevailing critical myths of his time, by which genre was being dissolved in the prosodic essentialism of his contemporaries. In the conclusion, I present a case study of Auden, who uses the ode precisely because it is an ideologically overburdened form, in order to explore the poetic evolutionary mechanism by which this most over-conspicuous of all forms has been turned into something unrecognizable – that is to say, virtually new. My study, by giving a historical dimension to the poetic of making it new, demonstrates that the ode’s disappearance during periods of poetic essentialism is really only a vanishing act, which ultimately is achieved through form rather than in spite of it.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
ode, irregular ode, Pindaric ode, poetry, poetics, Shelley, Tennyson, Pound, Auden, prosody, lyric
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