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The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  3,034 ratings  ·  258 reviews
I have a dark and dreadful secret. I write poetry... I believe poetry is a primal impulse within all of us. I believe we are all capable of it and furthermore that a small, often ignored corner of us positively yearns to try it.
Stephen Fry, The Ode Less Travelled

Stephen Fry believes that if one can speak and read English, one can write poetry. Many of us have never been
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published August 17th 2006 by Gotham (first published 2005)
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Jun 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
review will not be impartial, because I love Stephen Fry. I want to marry his brain. If he published his grocery list, I would buy it. I suspect I would enjoy it as well.
Anyway, The Ode Less Travelled is a guide to writing poetry. Not necessarily good poetry, but poetry all the same. Do you know what an iambic pentameter is? Not if you were educated in a state school any time after the sixties, Ill bet. I first came across the term at university, and managed to bluff my way through all those
Paul E. Morph
Apr 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a compulsive book finisher. I almost always read a book to the end, no matter how little I'm enjoying it. There have been three exceptions to this 'rule' (character trait?) in my life and this book is one of them.

I bought it for my wife as a Christmas present back in 2005, poetry being her thang. As it was sitting around the house, I started reading it too. I didn't get far. I don't know why I didn't finish it. It may have been down to not having the time to do the exercises contained within
May 27, 2015 rated it liked it
It's not you Fry it's me.

I have always had the desire to love poetry. I've always felt like it was within my grasp but never quite there. If I'm honest after reading the reviews, I was hoping Fry was going to convince me, have some secret this book that finally made me get it.

In retrospect this was naive, I'm never going to love poetry as much as I want to. I might still try writing a little, but if I'm honest, Fry has turned me away rather than pushing me towards doing so.

The level of technical
Jul 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: English nerds
The only -- and I do mean the only -- negative thing I can say about this book is that Stephen Fry has taken the run-on sentence to pathological levels. The occasional grammatical slip-up hardly warrants notice, but I swear that throughout all 327 pages of this book, there was at least one run-on sentence per page. Someone (preferably his editor?) needs to pull him aside and introduce him to semi-colons.

Other than that editing issue, this book was buckets of fun and superbly useful for anyone
Katia N
Nov 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is the book by Stephen Fry which is intended to help the reader to start writing poems. In my case, I wanted to understand better how the poetry in English actually works. I love poetry. But I can count on the fingers of the one hand how many English poets I actually enjoy reading. So I wanted to find out a bit more about the poetic tradition in English. And, I think, this book has actually helped a bit.

It is a humorous, charming introduction into the formal prosody talking about metre,
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Jul 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, writing
Fry cleverly drags out the reading of this book by forcing the reader to take a vow to read all the poems aloud and to do all the exercises in the book. I did well until I came to the next-to-last chapter of the book, a chapter on forms. I admit it: I didn't do any of the exercises on writing pantoums and ballads and haiku. I fully intend to go back and do these at my leisure, but I felt a strong need to go ahead and finish the blooming book. It does count, right? I don't think we have any ...more
Aurélien Thomas
Apr 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry-about
Most of poetry nowadays? According to Stephen Fry: 'dreary, self-indulgent, randomly lineated drivel'... Ouch! Ouch and yet, I personally think he is quite right.

It wouldn't cross your mind to call yourself a musician while having never bothered to learn how to play any instrument, right? Well, when it comes to poetry these days he has the feeling that too many so called 'poets' just dabble without having a clue of what poetry is to start with! For that, he blames the triumphal rise of free
Jan 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Not, perhaps, quite so detailed as I would have liked. However, it is written with all the wit, clarity and charming-ness that one has come to expect of Mr Fry. And it is beautifully presented. I particularly appreciated the use of a table to show the way in which a poem worked, its rhyme scheme folding in on itself like a collapsing umbrella.
Jun 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone with a love of language
I loved this book. I think I loved it more because I listened to it rather than reading it. Fry's warm, plummy voice and his tonal variations - now chummy, now wry, now sentimental, now no-nonsense - add so much to the experience.

And the book itself is delightful. If you're a lover of words, of language (particularly, though not necessarily exclusively, of the English language), then you will at least appreciate this book, and probably love it as much as I did, even if you never end up writing a
Becky Lowndes
Jun 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I learned so much from this book, so entertainingly presented...It was one of those books, like Nine Gates by Jane Hirshfield, that I could have turned around and just started reading again, immediately -- except, in the case of Nine Gates, my friend Tony, coffee shop owner and dead-ringer for Jimmy Stewart, had already, seeing me reading it in his restaurant, asked to borrow it.

Stephen Fry is (surprisingly, to me -- for no good reason) extremely literate and well-educated. Not only can he
Keerthi Purushothaman
May 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The book on prosody I did not realise I needed. In the land of free verse, what weight does form hold?

I liked his lines on how nobody would give someone a piano and ask them to "express themselves" by hitting random keys. You may not become a pianist, but you still have to learn the scales. Poetry becomes a fascinating hobby if one sticks to the rules. I can see why Raymond Quenaeau wrote 'Exercises in Style'. A very useful teaching manual/reference book.
Talbot Hook
Feb 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
The following quotes fundamentally sum up both my disgust with modernity's flattening-out of beauty and practiced skill and our habit of simply telling people to express themselves, whatever the impetus, method, or output. As Hitchens wittily quoted: "Everyone has a book in them, but in most cases thats where it should stay."

Here is Fry's take on a similar matter. Just imagine telling your students:

"Don't worry, it doesn't have to rhyme. Don't bother with meter and verses. Just express yourself.
Vashik A
Jul 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great Poetry is so sublime that we often think that it can be written only by some kind of divine inspiration. By the help of the mysterious Muse called Urania, who, according to Milton, came to him every night and whispered to his ear the sacred lines of his epic 'Paradise Lost'.

It would be silly to deny existence of the divine - or spiritual and mysterious - element imbibed in writing poetry. But, it is easy to forget that poetry consists of metre, rhyme, styles, shapes, which every poet
I read this book thinking that if anyone could make me love poetry and want to write my own, that person was Stephen Fry. Sadly, that does not appear to have happened.

I enjoyed the level of passion with which he wrote it, but then again, I can enjoy pretty much anything that's presented by someone with a great passion for whatever it is, even if I don't share that passion myself. I tried some of the poetry exercises, and even found myself enjoying them. And after reading about all the different
Dane Cobain
May 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
This book is subtitled unlocking the poet within, but I dont know if Id agree with that. I personally found it supremely off-putting, not because of the information itself but because of the way that it was presented.

Ive always considered myself a Stephen Fry fan, and Ive already read a half dozen or so of his books. My mum always accuses him of being pompous, stuck-up and a little unlikeable, but Id never seen that before. But here, that side of his personality is out in abundance. I mean, it
Dec 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
First, I adore Stephen Fry. I cant think of anyone else who speaks so quickly, authoritatively, articulately, and hilariously on more topics than I can name. He had me from line one in the Foreword: I have a dark and dreadful secret. I write poetry.

Furthermore, he takes his poetry seriously. He explains every form Ive heard of and then some, and Ive read several books on poetic forms. He fills in a lot of history and background, giving samples from the masters. Page after page of reading
Robert Beveridge
Jul 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
Stephen Fry, The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within (Gotham, 2005)

I think every poet at some point, no matter how much they've been raised on free verse, turns his or her attention to formal verse. Thus the enduring popularity of form dictionaries (my personal favorite has always been Dacey and Jauss' Strong Measures). In The Ode Less Travelled (and points to Fry for spelling travelled right when my word processor's dictionary flags it as incorrect), Fry has little truck with free
Pete daPixie
Feb 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I just can't remember touching poetry during my incarceration at school. If I was asked I'd have probably said that a villanelle was a female pickpocket. Stephen Fry's book is a wonderful idiots guide through iambic pentameter, the trochee, spondee and all the twiddledy dees of meter and rhyme from Homer through to Zephaniah.
Mr Fry is a blast. If you are into poetry, then this book, I'm sure, will enrich your experience. If you hate poetry, then 'The Ode Less Travelled' is just what you need to
Jim Razinha
May 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I try to get outside my comfort zone sometimes and I got this a couple of years ago to do just that but didn't get too far. I was told several people...that I had to read it out loud. languished for a while. Then I found out that Stephen Fry read it himself for an audiobook. I'll listen to lecture series, but audiobooks are not my thing.

Until this one. I read along with Mr. Fry. I loved his voice and he really made his words come alive. For a book on poetry, his prose was better
Jan 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
I admit I never really cared for poetry. I still don't. But Stephen Fry is one of the greatest TV personalities out there (to those who've never heard of him, he has a HUGE amount of credits to his name in British television, and in America. Go look them up, you might be surprised). Anything by him, I was bound to enjoy. 'The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within' is his book on writing poetry - his revered hobby - and it is wonderfully engaging as well as educational, and humorous.

Andrew Roycroft
Feb 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
This is a deeply frustrating book. Frys explanation of the mechanics of poetry is extremely good, his range of illustration and quotation from practicing poets is wide and apt, and his own turn of phrase is often delicious. But I have a couple of big reservations about this book.

Firstly, the book is too strongly antagonistic towards modern poetry. Fry loves traditional form and habitually looks askance at more free styles of writing. That is fine, but it becomes a little repetitive after a
Arjun Ravichandran
Jun 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Great, meaty introduction to the technical aspects of poetry by the venerable Mr.Fry. The bases covered include rhyme schemes, meters, the various poetry forms, and a concluding rant about the state of poetry today. Even though this is an introduction, this is not a book that you can skim through. Fry introduces a host of technical terms that denote very real and important aspects of a poem, and he ends every chapter with an exercise that the reader is supposed to do. The tone is so ...more
Feb 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: creative-writing
A brilliant book. Fry's warm authorial voice (you really feel as if he's speaking directly to you) guides the reader through the sometimes labyrinthine corridors of metre, rhyme and various conventional and less conventional poetic forms, in order to help him write his own poetry.
Fry is a humble, even self-deprecating, narrator, yet he is precise and he makes penetrating remarks on the various poems he cites and on poetry in general. I thoroughly agree with the stress he puts on FORM, and the
Mar 07, 2014 rated it did not like it
This book is advertised as a sort of 'poetry for dummies' many reviewers have praised it for being easy to understand and going back to basics.

Sadly this book was a disaster for me. I tried my best to read it with an open mind but unfortunately Fry's technical detail lost me by about page 15. This is certainly not what I would describe as 'easy' to understand or to follow. Fry did his best to ease the reader into (what turned out to be) a false sense of security then hit them with a hard wave of
Antonio  Hehir
Apr 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
As a future English student, and a fan of Stephen Fry's writing I couldn't resist picking up this book and it didn't disappoint.

Stephen Fry guides us into the world of poetry and prosody with effortless charm and light hearted humour. He makes what could potentially be a dry and pretentious topic into a highly enjoyable and informative read. The definitions and descriptions of complicated greek terminology are backed up with historical examples making this book suitable for someone with little
Chloe Weir
Jan 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Poetry lovers, poets
I love Stephen Fry, and to me, he can do no wrong. However, I really think that this book is a genuinely entertaining and informative book, even without that bias.

I picked up this book because I wanted to learn about poetry. Sadly, I was finding it difficult to find a book on the SUBJECT OF poetry, without it being about WRITING poetry. This is definitely one of the latter, BUT I still found it to be an excellent introduction on how to read different forms. There may be better books on this
Nov 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A most entertaining and informative guide to harnessing the creative powers to poetic expression, using the age-old techniques of iambic pentameter, etc. He explains it all very wittily and the book should be in every lit crit class syllabus. I rewrote a load of poems myself very effectively. It helped improve my limericks too.

There was a young parson named Bings,
Who talked about God and such things;
But his secret desire
Was a boy in the choir
With a bottom like jelly on springs.
Vicki Jarrett
Nov 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is one for complete novices in terms of reading poetry, let alone writing any. It's very accessible and doesn't either patronise or go over the head of the uninitiated. Fry explains not only some of the nuts and bolts of poetry in easy to understand and fun ways but also made me realise why the way we're taught poetry at school turns most people off it for life, which is a terribly sad loss for everyone, poets and readers alike.
Apr 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Took me a long time to read this book; it's a very well written scholarly work and i thoroughly enjoyed it. Having read the book I picked up a copy of the audio book from the library and gave it a second go. Enjoyed it even more. If you are interested in poetry or would like to try and write poetry; this is definitely worth reading.
Matthew Gatheringwater
Dec 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
This book is vastly entertaining just to read, but I'd like to use it in the manner for which it was intended, as an instructional guide to exploring poetic forms by writing poetry. I'd love to find other readers who'd like to do the same, so we can compare notes (and poems) as we work our way through the book. If you're interested, contact me through GoodReads or at
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Stephen John Fry is an English comedian, writer, actor, humourist, novelist, poet, columnist, filmmaker, television personality and technophile. As one half of the Fry and Laurie double act with his comedy partner, Hugh Laurie, he has appeared in A Bit of Fry and Laurie and Jeeves and Wooster. He is also famous for his roles in Blackadder and Wilde, and as the host of QI. In addition to writing ...more

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“I have a dark and dreadful secret. I write poetry... I believe poetry is a primal impulse within all of us. I believe we are all capable of it and furthermore that a small, often ignored corner of us positively yearns to try it.” 84 likes
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