Ode to the West Wind : by P. B. Shelley || Analysis

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Ode to the West Wind 

I

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,

 Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes! O thou
 Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed
 
The winged 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 o'er 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!

II

Thou on whose stream, 'mid the steep sky's commotion,
 Loose clouds like earth's decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of heaven and ocean,

 Angels of rain and lightning! there are spread
On the blue surface of thine airy surge,
 Like the bright hair uplifted from the head
 
Of some fierce Mænad, even from the dim verge
 Of the horizon to the zenith's height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

 Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
 Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail, will burst: O hear!

III

Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
 The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lull'd by the coil of his crystalline streams,

 Beside a pumice isle in Baiæ's bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
 Quivering within the wave's intenser day,
 
All overgrown with azure moss, and flowers
 So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic's level powers

 Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
 The sapless foliage of the ocean, know
 
Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: O hear!

IV

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 share

 The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! if even
 I were as in my boyhood, and could be
 
The comrade of thy wanderings over heaven,
 As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seem'd a vision—I would ne'er have striven

 As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
O! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
 I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
 
A heavy weight of hours has chain'd and bow'd
One too like thee—tameless, and swift, and proud.

V

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
 What if my leaves are falling like its own?
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

 Will take from both a deep autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
 My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!
 
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe,
 Like wither'd leaves, to quicken a new birth;
And, by the incantation of this verse,

 Scatter, as from an unextinguish'd hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
 Be through my lips to unawaken'd earth
 
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Ode to the West Wind is the greatest of Shelley's lyrics. Stopford Brooke says about the poem "In it, as in the Prometheus, and still more splendidly all his powers and poetic subjects are wrought into a whole. The emotion awakened by the approaching storm sets on fire other sleeping emotions in his heart, and the whole of his being bursts into flame around the first emotion."
Ode to the West Wind

Critical Analysis

      Ode to the West Wind is the greatest of Shelley's lyrics. Stopford Brooke says about the poem "In it, as in the Prometheus, and still more splendidly all his powers and poetic subjects are wrought into a whole. The emotion awakened by the approaching storm sets on fire other sleeping emotions in his heart, and the whole of his being bursts into flame around the first emotion." He gives himself up to the swelling waves of the wind and mingles his own voice with the mighty harmonies of the west wind: He makes a magnificent union of himself with nature and then passes to equally great self-description. He thus mingles Nature and himself together.

      The poem The Ode to the West Wind works out the theme of death and rebirth in powerful symbols. The poem begins with Autumn and ends with the Spring and the wind is the spirit of destruction and regeneration, the common power that moves through both. The death and rebirth themes are announced in the opening stanza. The wind drives away the dead leaves and conducts the seeds, apparently cold and dead to their graves; but the graves are also cradles in which they are to be rebon in Spring.

      The second stanza pictures the wind in its stormy and terrible aspects. The third stanza opens with an iridescent picture of Nature and concludes with a return of the spirit of terror.

      The three stanzas are built up on the antithesis between the two powers of the wind - its terrifying powers of destruction and its gentle fostering influence. They are descriptive, the imagery is visual and the arrangement is a symmetrical one of contrasts of light and shade. The three stanzas are impersonal and objective.

      In the fourth stanza, the poet's own sense of oppression and constraint is related to wind's freedom and strength. He would like to be a dead leaf, a cloud and a wave to be swept along by the wind's power.

      The last stanza is a prayer to the creative power to use him for the regeneration of humanity. The withered leaves themselves quicken a new birth. Dead thoughts, words which seem useless and unheeded can mature a new life. If possessed by the wind, the creative power, the dead thoughts become ashes and sparks to feed a new conflagration. The poem ends with the cycle of seasons - "if Winter comes can Spring be far behind ?"

      The poem is an inspired lyric. Here we find a harmony that swells like the surge of the mighty west wind. There is a rapid succession of images that leaves dead are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing", the wind is the dirge of the dying year, the breath of Autumn's being. These images testify of Shelley's love of the world of the abstract and the intangible. Such expressions as Make me thy lyre even as the forest is" or "Be thou spirit fierce, my spirit" are charged with emotional fervour. With the instinctive truths of a fervid imagination, he creates myths and relations so fitting that he is said to have imported "Hellenic thought in English". His myth-making power is evident when he personifies the west wind as destroyer and preserver, and describes how the blue Mediterranean is lulled by the coil of its crystalline streams. In fact, emotion, expression and harmony blend marvellously into a thing of beauty in this poem.

      The architectural design of the poem makes it one of the finest lyrics of English literature. The poem is divided into five stanzas of regular pattern with an overture, refrain and climax. The first three stanzas describe the impact of the west wind on earth, sky and the sea. In the fourth stanza, the poet turns from the external world to his inner self. The poet prays for complete absorption into the west wind. The last stanza ends on'a note of hope and triumph.

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