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"Ode to the West Wind" poem
A Revolutionary Spirit

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  1. 1. Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
  2. 2. O WILD West Wind, thou breath of Autumns being—Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing, Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red, Pestilence-stricken multitudes!—O thou Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low, Each like a corpse within its grave, until Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow Her clarion oer the dreaming earth, and fill (Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air) With living hues and odours plain and hill— Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere— Destroyer and Preserver—hear, O hear!
  3. 3. Romanticism seeks to effect in poetry a change that is summed up in:“innovation, transformantion, defamiliarisation" (Divid Duff,p. 26) Revolutionis a dominant spirit in almost all the romantic poets. Shelley’s poem “Ode tothe West Wind”(1820) expresses his zeal for a revolution that could changeman and society . It was the influence of the French Revolution the triggeredthe poetic spirit though Shelley new about the revolution through reading onlyunlike Wordsworth.He therefore selected the Wind as a symbol of the change that he wished forhis country while living in Italy. According to Shelleys note, "this poem was conceived andchiefly written in a wood that skirts the Arno, near Florence, and on aday when that tempestuous wind, whose temperature is at once mildand animating, was collecting the vapours which pour down theautumnal rains. They began, as I foresaw, at sunset with a violenttempest of hail and rain, attended by that magnificent thunder andlightning peculiar to the Cisalpine regions" (188). Florence was thehome of Dante Alighieri, creator of terza rima, the form of his DivineComedy. Zephyrus was the west wind, son of Astrœus and Aurora.
  4. 4. The Defence of Poetry" begins with the same metaphor as that in thepoem : Shelley writes that "Man is an instrument over which a series of externaland internal impressions are driven, like the alternations of an ever-changingwind over an Æolian lyre; which move it, by their motion, to ever-changingmelody” In the poem there is a request made by the poet wanting to becomethe wind’s lyre. In the same essay Shelley states that "the mind in creation is as a fadingcoal which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens totransitory brightness; this power arises from within, like the colour of a flowerwhich fades and changes as it is developed, and the conscious portions of ournatures are unprophetic either of its approach or its departure" (285) The winds tumultuous "mighty harmonies" (59) imprint their power andpatterns on the "leaves" they drive, both ones that fall from trees, and onesknown as “pages”, the leaves on which poems are written. Inspiration givesthe poet a melody, a sequence of simple notes, resembling the winds "stream"(15), but his creative mind imposes a new harmony of this melody, by addingchords and by repeating and varying the main motifs.
  5. 5. Imagination Symbolism Metaphor The human imagination actively works with this "wind" to impose "harmony" on its melody. The lyre "accomodate[s] its chords to the motions of that which strikes them, in a determined proportion of sound; even as the musician can accommodate his voice to the sound of the lyre" (§8). In this way, the poets mind and the inspiration it receives co-create the poem. The Romantic poets made frequent use of the wind as a soothing symbol. But in Shelley’s treatment it is not a “correspondent breeze”; it is rather ferocious in its energy. M.H. Abrams says “because of the ferocity the wind becomes a vast impersonal force, which the poet needs as a symbol of both destruction and creation”. Herein lies the importance of the wind as the metaphor for revolutionary social change. The poem directly conforms to Shelley’s poetic creed. Poetry, Shelley writes in “A Defence of Poetry”, “…awakens and enlarges the mind by rendering it the receptable of a thousand unapprehended combination of thought. Poetry lifts its veil from the hidden beauty of the world.”
  6. 6. Transcendence SublimeIn "Ode on the West Wind," the `melody delivered to Shelley is unconsciously expressedin the poems epic metaphor. In "The Defence of Poetry," Shelley explains that poets"language is vitally metaphorical; that is it marks the before unapprehended relations ofthings" (22). He therefore builds his poem on "unapprehended relations" between thepoetic mind and the west wind. The experience in the Arno forest awoke his mind tothese relations.• In the poem Shelley tries to gain transcendence, for he shows that his thoughts, like the"winged seeds" (7) are trapped.• The West Wind acts as a driving force for change and rejuvenation in the human andnatural world, a revolution.• Shelley can only reach his sublime by having the wind carry his "dead thoughts" (63)which through an apocalyptic destruction, will lead to a rejuvenation of the imagination,the individual and the natural world.•The poem consists of five cantos written in terza rima. Each canto consists of fourtercets (ABA, BCB, CDC, DED) and a rhyming couplet (EE). The Ode is written in iambicpentameter.
  7. 7. The opening three stanzas invoke the West Wind as a driving force over land, in the sky,and under the ocean, and beg it to "hear" the poet (14, 28, 42).In the first stanza, the power of the wind is delineated over the earth, the wind as"Destroyer and preserver" (14) drives "dead leaves" and "winged seeds" to the formersburial and the latters spring rebirth. Though the theme of death is provoked yet theword "seeds” shows that even in death, new life will grow out of the "grave." The WestWind moves with a terrific force and makes massacre of all that stand in its way. But ittakes care to preserve the seeds under the soil so as to ensure a resurrection in the worldof nature with the advent of the spring. In this way, the West Wind becomes both a“destroyer and preserver”. Heavenly images are confirmed by his use of the word"azure" which besides meaning sky blue, also is defined, in Websters Dictionary, as an"unclouded vault of heaven." The word "azure," coupled with the word "Spring," helpsshow Shelleys view of rejuvenation. The word "Spring" besides being a literarymetaphor for rebirth also means to rise up. Shelley was against capitalism and defendedthe rights of labor against their exploiters.The second and third stanzas extend the leaf image.
  8. 8. In the second stanza the power of the wind is over the sky :The skys clouds inthe second stanza are like "earths decaying leaves" (17) and "Angels of rainand lightning" (18), a phrase that fuses the guardian and the killer. The cloudsextend the image of the leaves in the first stanza.Here Shelley compares the clouds ravaged by the power of the wind to theuplifted hair of a Maenad(mythological figure) in order to convey the sensethat the West Wind operates possessed by some supernatural force.In the third stanza, the wind penetrates to the Atlantics depths (the sea) andcauses the sea flowers and "oozy woods" to "despoil themselves" (40, 42), thatis, to shed the "sapless foliage of the ocean," sea-leaves. The forests implicit inthe opening stanza, in this way, become "the tangled boughs of Heaven andOcean" in the second, and "oozy woods" in the third.
  9. 9. IdealismThe last two stanzas shift from natures forests to Shelleys.The fourth stanza, begins, by briefly recapitulating the themes of the firstthree movements. Now, the Wind is seen in the fourth stanza in relation tothe poet himself:“If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee.A wave to pant beneath thy power, and shareThe impulse of thy strength”As an idealist and as an extremely sensitive soul, Shelley was in muchdistress to see mankind exploited and being dehumanized by the corrupt,degenerate and old political powers and institutions. He identifies himselfwith the leaves of the first three stanzas: "dead leaf," "swift cloud," and"wave." If the wind can lift these things into flight, why can it not also liftShelley "as a wave, a leaf, a cloud" (43-45, 53)? The stanza is therefore atransitional one that converts the threefold command "hear" to "lift" (53).
  10. 10. The SpiritThe fifth stanza completes the metaphor by identifying Shelleys "falling"and "withered" leaves (58, 64) as his "dead thoughts" and "words" (63,67). At last Shelley -- in longing to be the West Winds lyre -- becomes onewith "the forest" (57).The last two stanzas also bring Shelleys commands to the invoked WestWind to a climax. While the fourth “lifts” the last multiplies thecommands six-fold: "Make me thy lyre" (57), "Be thou, Spirit fierce, / MySpirit" and "Be thou me" (61-62), "Drive my dead thoughts" (63), "Scatter... / Ashes and sparks" (66), and "Be ... / The trumpet of a prophecy" (68). The poem is an optimistic one that tries to overcome the limitations ofman’s knowledge and language. Poetic language holds prophetic,revolutionary promise. It is the Spirit of change and rebirth.The spirit is also metaphoric of the poet’s own Psych , the psychologicalinner dimension around which the poem rotates.Wordsworths "correspondent breeze"--inspiration from nature hasdirected Shelley to his choice where he selects the words and images thatsound the trumpet of a prophecy, not the prophecy itself. Spring is coming
  11. 11. Mythology In Greek mythology, maenads were the female followers of Dionysus. Their name literally translates as "raving ones". Often the maenads were portrayed as inspired into a state of ecstatic frenzy, through a combination of dancing . In this state, they would lose all self- control, begin shouting excitedly, engage in uncontrolled sexual behavior, and hunt down and tear to pieces animals — and, in myth at least, sometimes men and children — devouring the raw flesh. During these rites, the maenads would dress in fawn skins and carry a long stick wrapped in ivy or vine leaves and tipped by a cluster of leaves; they would weave ivy-wreaths around their heads, and often handle or wear snakes. The often symbolize madness. Psych has another name which is Spirit, she was the most beautiful lady who was married to Eros and then changed to an immortal. Her suffering and beauty symbolize the inner mind of man.