Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ode to the West Wind by P.B. Shelley

There are many words to describe the beauty of the wild, and in 'The Ode to the West Wind' finds all of them.

Ode to the West Wind and Other Poems

It has been raining these past few days, and also we have been learning 'The Ode to the West Wind' in school. Of course, this poem is not really about the rain. It is about autumn. However, Shelley is describing a storm coming on, and because of the gorgeous way he uses imagery and because of the rain outside, I've started associating this poem very heavily with rainfall. I love the way Shelley writes. His use of words makes even someone like me (a highly non-visual reader) imagine the gorgeous scene that is in front of him. As an example, look at the lines below, which will immediately conjure up before you a beautiful scene of water, and lightning, and a merging of the spheres of the earth and the water.

Shook from the tangled boughs of heaven and ocean,
Angels of rain and lightning!

Shelley often uses very hard to understand language, but once you understand what he's trying to say in a particular line you realize how wonderful the line actually is. There is an amazing rhythm to this poem, which you can feel if you start reading out loud, until you almost feel that this poem could be made into a beautiful song. There are lines in this poem, like the ones given below this paragraph, that chill you to the bone and make you feel like the thunder and the lighting and the hail are all around. Just feel the evocative imagery Shelley uses in the following lines, especially with the words, 'black rain and fire' as symbolic of the upcoming storm.

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

In this poem, Shelley has used a lot of figures of speech. Through careful use of metaphors, similies, alliteration, personification and apostrophe, Shelley makes this poem a real treat to read. In this poem, Shelley uses a verse form called the 'terza rima' wherein there are 4 tercets (sets of three) followed by one tercet. The rhyme scheme, ABA BCB DED EFE GG is very distinctive and really adds to the aforementioned rhythm of the poem. All of these technicalities, even if you don't really notice them while you're reading this poem (as a student you don't have that particular luxury) really add to the atmosphere that Shelley has created.

But despite the fact that Shelley spends the first three stanzas explaining the effect of the west wind on the ground, the sky and the sea, this poem is not really about the west wind. It is, in fact, a lament by the author. He goes on to explain in his fourth stanza how he wishes he were a leaf, or a cloud or a wave, so that he could be free - pretty much like the west wind. He laments that he is not young anymore, and must implore the west wind in his hour of need to lift him away and save him from the thorns of life that he has fallen upon. Shelley was facing a great number of personal problems during this period, which is perhaps why he writes these lines.

A heavy weight of hours has chain'd and bow'd
One too like thee—tameless, and swift, and proud.

The fourth stanza fills you with a profound sense of sadness, as you see the struggles of the poet. You are able to imagine him as someone who has known and enjoyed freedom for the greater part of his life, and who is now broken by the sorrows and troubles that assail him. You feel very sorry for the pain of the poet. With these short lines, he is able to say an amazing lot. It is hard to be sympathetic with a purely wild human being, but easier to sympathize with a wild wind, and then to feel sympathetic for a human being as proud and as wild as this wind, and I think here Shelley does really well.

However, Shelley is after all a romantic poet, and his writings eventually have a sense of great hope to them. In the final stanza, the poet talks about how he would like his dead thoughts to awaken new buds, much like the dead seeds that the autumn wind lays in their cold graves are woken up by the spring when she blows her clarion. And in the final lines, Shelley expresses a feeling of hope that finally life will renew itself, and gives the whole poem a beautiful message which is one of the reasons that it is still remembered even today.

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Final words: This line has been running in my head since the first rain - "They say dreams disappear when faced with the bleak landscape of reality. But when it rains I cannot believe that. The rain makes me poetic." I think there's nothing better than watching the first rain falling out of the window, except perhaps a beautiful poem to read while listening to the soft pitter-patter of the falling rain. And 'The Ode to the West Wind' is perfect for that.

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