1. A passionate choric hymn of ancient Greece in honor of Dionysus.
2. A poem in a wild irregular strain.
3. A statement or writing in an exalted or enthusiastic vein.
Etymology: 1600s, from Greek dithyrambos. The exact origin of the word in Greek is not known, but is thought to be a pre-Hellenic loan-word from another language.
In the context of ancient Greece, a dithyramb is specified by particular rhythms and styles.
The modern use of the word refers more generically to enthusiastic or impassioned speech.
English professor David Kirby writes "neither lyric nor narrative, the dithyramb embraces both the emotional heat of the former and the sprawl of the latter."
from Eurpides' "Bacchae":
The land flows with milk,
the land flows with wine,
the land flows with honey from the bees.
He holds the torch high,
our leader, the Bacchic One...
As he dances, he runs,
here and there,
rousing the stragglers,
stirring them with his cries,
thick hair rippling in the breeze.
"Alexander's Feast" by John Dryden is said to be an example of a modern dithyrambic poem.
More examples behind the cut, including a link to a poem I wrote a few years ago.
from "Alexander's Feast" by John Dryden:
'Twas at the royal feast for Persia won
By Philip's warlike son—
Aloft in awful state
The godlike hero sate
On his imperial throne;
His valiant peers were placed around,
Their brows with roses and with myrtles bound
(So should desert in arms be crown'd);
The lovely Thais by his side
Sate like a blooming Eastern bride
In flower of youth and beauty's pride:—
Happy, happy, happy pair!
None but the brave
None but the brave
None but the brave deserves the fair!
While searching for another modern example, I ran across a passage described as "dithyrambic speech", from James Reaney's "The Killdeer":
Oh the river of time, the river of time,
The clouds of moments, the clouds of moments,
Clouds of escaping birds from the dark barn:
I grab here, I grab there, birds you escape me.
And here is a poem I wrote, that has some of the same feel - in an amateur state - as other dithyrambic examples.