Discuss P.B. Shelley as a poet of revolution on the record of “Ode to the West Wind’’
Shelley as a revolutionary poet.
Answer: Shelley had certain inherent tendencies which ultimately made him a rebel and reformer, a prophet and an idealist. From his very early life he marked an antagonism between himself and the established order of society. Since his Eton days he had been a lover of liberty, equality and brotherhood. His soul revolted against all forms of tyranny and oppression. His love of liberty and hatred of oppression turned him into a rebel against all the established institutions which suppressed mankind in any part of the world.
‘Ode to the West Wind’ is a nature poem, written on the basis of the ideals of the French Revolution. In this Ode Shelley uses a natural symbol as a vehicle for his revolutionary ideal. This highly intellectual poem based on the phenomena of nature, shows that political, social and moral regeneration is possible both in the atmosphere of nature and in the society of men. Shelley’s own personality has been merged and fused with the West Wind which isa terrible force of nature. He attributes to it what goes on within his consciousness? Thus the West Wind, an ever restless and moving spirit like Shelley himself, is symbolic of his faith in the future emancipation of mankind, of regeneration after destruction.
Shelley believes that both nature and the society of men are suffering from deadly diseases like tyranny, oppression and corruption, and these corroding diseases can be cured by a miraculous change, this change can be brought about by power and the West Wind has this power, because it is a destructive as well as a creative agent of nature. So he passionately appeals to the West Wind to listen to his prayer:
“Wild Spirit which art moving everywhere,
Destroyer and Preserver, hear,ohear!”
The West Wind, sometimes, remains as a dormant force in nature but when it becomes furious it can bring about a total change on the surface of the earth. The West wind comes inevitably in the cycle of seasons—autumn, winter, spring and summer, and when it comes, it drives the dead and decayed leaves lying on the ground in the same way as a magician drives away ghosts by his magical power It scatters the seeds far and near and covers them with dust so that they are buried, underground. They remain there like dead bodies in their graves, till the advent of the spring when they sprout into plants which bear flowers giving sweet smell and attractive colors. In this process the West Wind plays the dual role of a destroyer and preserver, because it stores up the seeds for their future blossoming in the coming spring.
Shelley’s West Wind is a spirit of the ‘autumn’s being’ which has a great influence on land (solid state of matter), in the air (gaseous) and on and under the sea (liquid substance). Mound this central image, the poet weaves a cycle of death and rebirth, destruction and creation, which may occur in the plant world, in human society and in the sky (air). The poem contains five stanzas. The first three stanzas clearly show the regenerative impact of the West Wind on the “natural world”. In the first stanza the effect of the west wind on the surface of the earth is beautifully revealed. The West Wind drives the “yellow, black, pale and hectic red” and “the pestilence stricken” leaves (symbolizing the diseased mankind). It also preserves the seeds for future vegetation. Similarly in the second and third stanzas Shelley has depicted the impact of the West Wind in the air and on and under the sea respectively.
In the air the West Wind carries on surface loose clouds which seem to have fallen from the sky just as withered leaves fall from the branches of trees in Autumn. The clouds scattered by the West Wind are bringersof rain and lightning. The locks of the approaching storm are spread on the aery surface of the West Wind. The West Wind is “the dirge of the dying year”. A huge tomb will be built over the dead body of the year. The darkness of the night which is spreading over the earth will serve as the dome of that tomb. The collective strength of the clouds will be the vault or arched roof of that tomb. From the solid seeming vapors of clouds in the sky will fall rain, lightning and hailstones. The action of the West Wind on and under water has been shown with the image of the blue Mediterranean in sleep being awakened by the West Wind and the image of the Atlantic under the influence of the wind.
Shelley imagines natural objects not as natural things but as human beings with their own independent lives and personalities. His storm links volcanic imagery of social revolution with the Biblical imagery of Resurrection. The seeds will rise from their graves when the spring wind blows its trumpet, just as after “black-rain, and fire and hail”, mankind will be reborn at the trumpet call of poetry. . To develop the theme of regeneration, Shelley has introduced in the ode the cycle of seasons—autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer. The first stanza is devoted to autumn, winter and spring, While the second and the third state the activities of the wind in the summer. The change in the cycle of seasons in the natural world is mixed up with the idea of destruction and creation, death and rebirth, decadence and progress.
In the fourth stanza of the ode the world of nature is transferred to the world of humanity’. Shelley now invokes the tremendous power of the West Wind in his own life. He calls upon the wind to regenerate him from his state disappointment and despair. The agonized soul of the poet appeals to the wind to free him from the bondage of the world, from the shackle of convention:
“Oh! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life— bleed-“
The theme of regeneration enters into a new phase in the last stanza, which attains a universal dimension. Shelley wants to regenerate or to reform the whole humanity of the world. In this task of reformation he invokes the revolutionary spirit of the West Wind. He Wants the West Wind to blow over him, just as it blows over the forest, to fill him with indomitable power and courage, needed to change the unawakened world. He wants the wind to scatter his verses all over the world like “ashes and sparks” from an unextinguished hearth,” so that the fire of revolution can destroy theold system of corruption, oppression and exploitations in different parts of the world. And thus a new prosperous society will be built on the ruins of the old. Just as the dead leaves form soil, out of which new vegetation grows, Shelley’s thoughts which were considered dead by many will prove fruitful ground for new ideas to spring from, thus he will be able to bring perfect happiness for mankind. Shelley’s firm assertion of the hope of regeneration is expressed clearly in the concluding lines of the Ode:
If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”
To conclude, Shelley stands as a dreamer of a millennium. He believes in the reformation of human society and he finds the west wind as a spirit to enliven his broken mind. Through the ‘Ode to the West Wind’, Shelley just upholds a prophecy of a new world. It is difficult to say how he can bring about a total change of a corrupt world but it is beyond doubt, that the theme of hope and regeneration finds a beautiful expression in this poem. In fact, the West Wind serves for Shelley as a fit symbol of change, a power that can destroy as well as preserve and create again. It destroys the old, and the useless, and preserves the new and the growing.