Pindar the greatest lyric poet of ancient Greece (6th to 5th century B.C.) was the father of the Pindaric or Choric Ode. Pindaric Odes were written generally in honour of the gods or to sing the triumphs or victories of rulers or athletes. Hence they are also known as “triumphal” odes.
A Pindaric Ode has a fixed stanza-structure or pattern. The number of stanzas may vary, but they are invariably arranged in groups of three, each group being called a triad. The first stanza in each triad is called a ‘strophe’ – it was chanted by the dancing chorus as it proceeded in one direction. The second stanza in each triad is called an ‘antistrophe’– it was chanted by the chorus as it returned. The third stanza in each triad is called an ‘epode’, and it was sung when the chorus was stationary. Just as the total number of stanzas in a Pindaric Ode may vary (Pindar’s odes range from one triad to thirteen in length) so also there could be variations in the metrical length of individual lines. Thus the Pindaric Ode has a fixed stanza- pattern but enjoys great rhythmical and metrical freedom.
The poet Cowley (1618-67) was the first poet of England to imitate consciously the Pindaric odes. However, he did not understand the regular structure of the Pindaric and introduced a verse form with long irregular stanzas without any fixed system of metre or rhyme. The true Pindaric in triadic form was written with success by John Dryden (Ode to St. Cecilia and Alexander’s Feast) and then by Thomas Gray (The Bard and the Progress of Poesy). After Gray, Pindaric of the triadic form fell out of use till it was revived again by Matthew Arnold and A.C.Swinburne.
Though the true Pindaric did not take root in the English soil, the ode in long irregular stanzas, first used by Cowley, has grown and flourished and has become one of the recognised and popular verse-forms of England. The title Pindaric is no longer used for it. But some of the greatest odes in the English language are of this irregular kind. To name only a few: Tennyson’s Ode on the death of Duke Wellington; Shelley’s Ode to Liberty; and Wordsworth’s Ode on the Intimations of Immortality. In other words, the term Ode is now loosely used for any lyric which is sufficiently elaborate and dignified. No fixed pattern of stanza or metre is now considered necessary.