Percy Bysshe Shelley, one of the romantic poets of 19th-century English literature, rebelled against English politics and conservative values. He was considered with his friend Lord Byron a social outcast for his life style. He found no essential distinction between poetry and politics. His revolutionary optimism and radical ideas figured in his work. Shelley, like any poet of his days, also was no exception in employing mythological themes, and figuring from Greek poetry that amalgamated a tone of dignity for his visions. He was educated at Eton and then sent to Oxford.
The poem Ode to the West Wind comprises five stanzas. The first stanza is about the west wind and its power executed on land. The breezes of autumn blows away the dead leaves and seeds to the forest. The seeds again give birth to new trees. Similarly, the dead leaves are helpful to fertilise the soil. The powerful west wind works as a destroyer as well as a preserver. The poet explains how the west wind has the power like a magician pushes spirits aside. Here the poet also presents an idea of the cycle of human life. Life is there when there is birth and it ends with death — the ultimate truth. The wind also works as a chariot because it carries seeds to the forest.
The second stanza is about the west wind’s power on the sky. The wind causes rain. The significant role of rain is to help create a new generation. Leaves are grown and nature is in the process of regeneration. The contribution of west wind in creating new lives is very much significant. This stanza also describes loose clouds as harbingers of rain. When the year approaches a close, the poet depicts the mournful sound of the wind as a song of grief.
The third stanza appears different. The west wind now spreads its supremacy on sea. The Mediterranean Sea is in a state of calm, quiet and peace. The Bay of Baiae allows the Mediterranean Sea to sleep. Generally, the sea is a symbol of isolation with tranquility. One can find it calm and quiet. But the wind can disturb and devastate plants on earth and create panic among underwater plants.
When we go through the fourth stanza, we realize the poet’s desire. He wants a change in his life. He is in search of a new life. He realizes that he has come through sorrow, pain and various limitations. He intends to be lifted by the west wind as a dead leaf. H was uncontrollable as a youth. But unfortunately old age does not give him much enthusiasm to fight against the powerful wind. He remembers his past and recollects memories of his tameless life. Here he brings in a comparison between his youth and old age.
The last stanza is an inspiration to his old age. He beseeches the west wind to bring new power and energy to his life. He wants movement both in his physical life as well as his poetic life. Change, according to him, should be a motivating factor in one’s life. It can enrich and enhance every sphere of life, may it be personal, natural, artistic, or political.
He accepts his sorrows and sufferings. In his chaotic and panicky life, he searches for a new life - full of mirth, glee and sweetness. He is part and parcel of a natural cycle, and will accept a chance to begin again as both a man and a poet. He is hopeful of getting a new inspiration, a new thought and a new work. Finally, Shelley asks and beseeches the wind to assist him in the declaration of a new age:
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind.
I. Write down all the words and phrases that come to mind as you look at the following paintings.
1. Storm clouds
6. Seek Shelter
7. Bend rather than break
II Answer the following questions.
What season of the year is presented in the poem? Answer: Autumn is presented in the poem.
What will happen to the dormant seeds once the west wind’s sister blows her clarion? Answer: The west wind’s sister carries away the seeds when it blows her clarion and the seeds generate new plants.
In line 23, what will happen as all the clouds are gathered by the wind? Answer: When all the clouds are gathered, the storm approaches.
Throughout stanza II, the poet describes the approaching storm and the elements that the west wind will bring. Describe the storm in your own words. Answer: The storm will bring darkness. There will be black rain and fire.
The blue Mediterranean lies calm all summer. What comes to waken it? Answer: The wind comes to waken the blue Mediterranean sea.
In lines 53-54, the poet has ‘(fallen) upon the thorns of life...’ He wishes he could be free of life’s burdens. Quote how he phrases his desire to escape the ‘thorns of life’ in these lines. Answer: The poet has phrased his desire as:
Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
In line 55-56, the poet says he used to have strength like the west wind has, but now how does he describe himself? Answer: The poet has experienced sorrow, pain, and limitations being an idealistic young man. He wants to be spiritually uplifted. At the same time, he also goes back to his younger days when he was ‘tameless, and swift, and proud’ like the wind, that means totally uncontrollable.
The last line of the poem is often quoted. What do you understand the line to mean — other than that one season follows another? Answer: It means that the only permanent thing in this universe is change. So everyone should be ready for a change that might flavour one’s life.
IV. (a) (b) Given below are some characteristics of an ode. How does Ode to the West Wind’ reveal these characteristics?
An ode is an elaborately structured lyric poem praising and glorifying an individual, commemorating an event, or describing nature intellectually rather than emotionally. Odes originally were songs performed to the accompaniment of a musical instrument.
Consult an encyclopaedia or surf the net and complete the table given below.
Some famous odes
1. Thomas Gray
Ode on the Spring, Ode to Adversity
2. John Keats
Ode to a Nightingale, Ode to Autumn
3. William Wordsworth
Ode to Duty, Ode Composed in January 1816
4. Percy Bysshe Shelley
Ode to Liberty, Ode to Naples
Personification is giving human characteristics to an inanimate object or animal. Poets commonly use this technique to create images in their writing and to give their writing a greater sensory appeal.
In this poem the poet has personified the west wind. Who do you think he has personified the west wind as?
Answer: The poet has personified the West Wind as Autumn.
Symbolism is yet another poetic device which is used to represent or recall something else possessing similar qualities especially an object representing an abstract thought or quality.
In ‘Ode to the West Wind’ the west wind is symbolic of both death and rebirth. Find instances from the poem to bring out this symbolism.
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing
The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserves; hear, oh, hear!
VII. Read the following extracts and answer the questions that follow:
Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
(a) What is the mood of the poet?
(b) What is his appeal to the west wind?
(c) What does the poet mean by the ‘the thorns of life’?
(a) The poet is in sorrow and wants to rejuvenate himself.
(b) The poet appeals to the west wind to lift him as a wave and help him bring a new life.
(c) Here the poet expresses that his life is mingled with sorrow, pain and limitation and he wants to come out of it.
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
(a) What do spring and winter stand for?
Answer: Here winter stands for misery and spring stands for happiness.
(b) Which of the following emotions of the poet is expressed in these lines?
(i) optimism (ii) pessimism (iii) realism
Answer: The poet has expressed both optimism and pessimism.
(c) Who will blow the trumpet of prophecy?
Answer: The west wind will blow the trumpet of prophecy.
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