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The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  2,527 Ratings  ·  208 Reviews
The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within is a book by author, actor, comedian and director Stephen Fry about writing poetry. Fry covers metre, rhyme, many common and arcane poetic forms, and offers poetry exercises, contrasting modern and classic poets.
Paperback, 357 pages
Published August 16th 2007 by Avery (first published 2005)
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May 27, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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, I’ll bet. I first came across the term at university, and managed to bluff my way through all those
Jul 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 wh
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Jul 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
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 requi ...more
Oct 06, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The first few chapters are great. The author is just as entertaining, witty, and charming as you would imagine. The use of the iambic pentameter is set out clearly and concisely. This section got me writing, and made me realize I had overlooked the brilliance of Wilfred Owen.

The rest I could have done without.

If you like this - now, go and read an anthology of 100 best poems preferably including something rousing by Kipling.

If you are made of firmer stuff, try the poetry foundation online. They
Jan 27, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Keerthi Purushothaman
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.
Becky Lowndes
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 expla
Lisa Bower
If you write poetry for pleasure this book is easy to read and will suffice. Do not take it as gospel as the theory is patchy and in some cases incorrect. Not a good book for students. (Except for the odd humorous quote.) There are better books out there!
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
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
Dec 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
First, I adore Stephen Fry. I can’t 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 I’ve heard of and then some, and I’ve 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 sc
Travis Cottreau
Aug 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A clear, concise, entertaining, witty and often brilliant overview of poetic form, meter, history and so much more. The only thing he doesn't get into very much is content, although there is a small section for it. It's more about learning what the tools are and how you might use them. A poet who knows more of the tools is more likely to be a good poet than one who does not.

I found the description of meter to be the most interesting, since I've never really delved into it that much. I'm still ha
Robert Beveridge
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 v
Pete daPixie
Feb 01, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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.

It w
Dec 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
Whatever the reason, I picked up almost zero poetry in my formal education. A grade school lesson defining haiku and diamante, some time on Shakespeare and Jack Donne (and naturally I recited "A valediction, forbidding mourning" as a goodbye to maybe more than one high school or college-era girlfriend), but otherwise nothing. Coming from that angle, and as someone who generally admires and appreciates Stephen Fry as a public personality, this was a joyous way to fill in the gap. It's not really ...more
Feb 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 fa
Arjun Ravichandran
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 conversation ...more
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 subj
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 t
Mar 07, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jenny Schwartz
Apr 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, non-fiction
No matter how brilliant Stephen Fry is as an actor and social commentator, when he is offered a knighthood, it will be for his contribution to the craft of poetry.

In The Ode Less Travelled he gently, wittily, inexorably insists on poets learning and mastering the "rules" of their craft. Fortunately, he's a good guide. I've had the book for ages and still haven't reached the end. With this book, the journey is the goal.

Thank you, Sir Fry.
Nov 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
I've been dipping in and out of this, rather than reading it straight through once. It isn't a textbook, if that's what you're looking for, but it is a very helpful guide. Stephen Fry's tone is light, funny, but his explanations and examples are good, and his attitude toward poetry -- that anyone can do it -- is refreshing. He's got a good overview of a lot of forms.
Matthew Gatheringwater
Dec 09, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
This is all the technicalities about writing poetry. Very interesting, how to do it "correctly," but it's much more fun to write it the way you feel it rather than tapping your fingers and wavering your voice to make sure you have enough of the correct beats! Very enjoyable for the knowledge itself.
Apr 26, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Tim Murray
This would be an excellent book if you were serious about writing poetry. I'm not. I just would like to appreciate it more and for me this book was very dull and pedantic.

I can sum up the appreciation part of it in two excellent pieces of advice from the book:
1- read the poem slowly
2- read it out loud
Jan 04, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Enough already! The first few chapters about iambs were interesting, and a good review. But as he got deeper into the different exceptions and exceptions to the rules I realized that I don't need to know quite so much about the ode.
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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 fo ...more
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“The English language is like London: proudly barbaric yet deeply civilised, too, common yet royal, vulgar yet processional, sacred yet profane. Each sentence we produce, whether we know it or not, is a mongrel mouthful of Chaucerian, Shakespearean, Miltonic, Johnsonian, Dickensian and American. Military, naval, legal, corporate, criminal, jazz, rap and ghetto discourses are mingled at every turn. The French language, like Paris, has attempted, through its Academy, to retain its purity, to fight the advancing tides of Franglais and international prefabrication. English, by comparison, is a shameless whore.” 293 likes
“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.” 82 likes
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