Ode to The West Wind Summary
1. Date, Occasion, etc. :[Ode to The West Wind Summary]
The poem was written in 1819 when Shelley was barely 27 years old. It was published with Prometheus Unbound and Other Poems in 1820. Shelley’s own words regarding the poem may be quoted here. ” This poem was conceived and chiefly written in a wood that skirts the Arno, near Florence and on a day when that tempestuous wind, whose temperature is at once mild and animating was collecting vapours which pour down the autumnal rains.
They began, as I foresaw, at sunset with a violent tempest of hail and rain, attended by that magnificent thunder and lightning peculiar to the Cialpine regions. The phenomenon alluded to at the conclusion of the third stanza is well known to naturalists. The vegetation at the bottom of the sea, of rivers and of lakes, sympathises with that of the land in the change of seasons, and is consequently influenced by the winds which announce it.”[Ode to The West Wind Summary]
2. An Analytical Summary :
The poet invokes the West Wind in its two fold capacity—as a destroyer of all that is old, and as a preserver of all that makes for growth. On the surface of the earth, the wild wind blows away the dry dead leaves of autumn and drives away the seeds underground so that they may germinate in spring. (St. 1)
In the sky it drives away the loose clouds that are the harbingers of rain and lightning. The wind seems to sing, as it were, the funeral song of the year that is almost passing away. (St. 2)
On the sea the power of the West Wind is no less manifested. It stirs slightly the Mediterranean sea and forces the Atlantic ocean to part the waters so that it may reach the weeds and plants below and make them cast off the old leaves.(St. 3)
After relating the role of the wind on the earth and in the sky and on the sea, the poet remembers his own limitations and appeals the West Wind to infuse its strength into him. He regrets that he cannot share the wild energy of the West Wind and wishes to be shaken and taken by the wind, just like the leaf, the cloud, or the wave. He is no longer a boy to run a race with the wind as he did in his boyish days.
The poet has in him the impulsive urge of the the wind. But he is not free and uncontrolled in spirit like the wind and suffers acutely. He has fallen on the thorns of life. His original impetuous nature has now been subdued by the heavy weight of the oppressive rules and codes of the present society. It is for these reasons that he seeks the animation of strength from the untameable West Wind. (St. 4)
In conclusion the poet passionately invokes the West Wind to identify its spirit with his. He implores the West Wind to make him a lyre and express its mighty harmonies through his voice. He desires that the hidden music of his heart may come out in the same manner as the West Wind draws out the music of the forest by blowing through it. The poet hopes to have the spirit of the stirring voice of the West Wind to proclaim through the world, yet lost in lethargy and ignorance, the words of regeneration that the days of darkness and winter are over and the happy and sunny days of spring are not far behind. (St. 5)
3. Critical Appereciation :
a The greatest of his lyrics, Ode to the West Wind, combines in the highest degree the most significant qualities of Shelley’s poetry. The theme and the technique here go together to attain a marvel of high thoughts and grand poetry. Here the verse sweeps along with the elemental rush of the wind it celebrates. Metaphor is found to suceed to metaphor and simile to simile, with wild rapidity of the wind. But though at first reading, it is hardly possible to keep pace with the swift kaleidoscopic changes, there is none of the hazy indistinctness that is apt to mar both poetic excitement and enjoyment in the poem. The poem is an ideal combination of Shelley’s imaginative quality and his personal despondency and prophetic passion.
He faints and fails like a ‘dead leaf‘ as in The Indian Serenade ; he ‘could lie down like a tired child’ as in the Naples Stanza; he is afrad from a stranger among men as in Adanais. But these faltering accents become the trumpet tones as soon as he utters, not his own sorrows, but the woes of mankind.
Then the weary child becomes a prophet, and the dead leaf, lifted by the wind, becomes the lyre which awakens in it a tumult of mighty harmonies to quicken the sleeping world to a new birth. Byron had longed to be ‘a portion of the storm,’ but only in order to share its fierce and far ‘delight’, to be the comrade of its ruinous splendour. Shelley calls upon it as the far sweeping preserver to the seeds of the future, the herald of spring, which, when winter comes, cannot be far behind.” (adapted mostly from Prof. Herford).
This is a grand lyric form and well brings how in Shelley’s poetry there is a just balance between eloquence and restraint. Even when he is most eloquent, he does not at all lose his self-restraint. He has a thorough command over his art even when the temptation to let it go its own way is greatest. Ode to the West Wind, for instance, is distinguished by no dazzling gorgeoussness of phrases. The eptihets here are few and simple. In short, its expression is austere. In it heard is a perfect union of the most exquisite words and the most exquisite music. The result of this union is an unrivalled suggestiveness of phrase which gives every image a thousand separate faces and is absolutely limitless in its extent and effect.
The division of the poem into stanzas of fourteen lines of five iambic feet suggests the structure of a sonnet. The chief difference is that whereas the normal English (Shakespearean) sonnet divides itself into three stanzas of four lines each followed by a couplet. The 14-lines stanza of this ode rather divide themselves into four stanzas of three lines with a concluding rhyming couplet. Shelley is found to adopt here a device of the Italian metre, the terza rima in which is written Dante’s The Divine Comedy. The triplets are linked up by making the end sound of the middle line of one triplet the rhyming sound of the first and third lines of the next triplet.
4. Title of the Poem :
The Ode is titled as Ode to the West Wind. An ode is a species of lyric poetry. It is in the form of an address, with an exalted and dignified theme, rich in deep reflectiveness and genuine impulsiveness, characteristic lyrical features. Moreover, this is generally a short poetical adoration, extolling some ideal, mission, or inspiration of life in a high and sonorous music.
Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind is a well celebrated English Ode. This is an address-an address to the west wind, a natural element. The poem is a poetic adoration of the west wind in its two-fold role as a destroyer and preserver. The rebellious, creative zeal of the wind is idealized and eulogized by the poet. The ode, too, contains a theme, highly dignified and idealistic. It echoes Shelley’s robust, idealistic vision of the millennium to dawn upon humanity after the end of prolonged anguish and suffering. The poet’s optimistic ideal of the coming of a bright and happy future after the end of the dark and dismal present, is given out in his clarion call to the unawakened earth
If Winter comes, can Spring the far The poem is addressed to the west wind and has the theme of its function and role and identification with the poet’s visions and hopes. Moreover, this has the typical features of an English Ode. Hence the title Ode to the West Wind is all just and apt.
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