Critical appreciation of “Ode to the West Wind”
Q.S. Write a critical appreciation of the poem “Ode to the West Wind”
Ans. “Ode to the West Wind” is one of the most famous poems by Shelley and it was published in the same book, which consists of his famous drama, Prometheus Unbound, and many magnificent lyric poems. He wrote this poem in the autumn of 1819 in Florence. The poem is considered as one of the noblest lyrics in English. It bears testimony to the poetic genius that Shelley was.
Structurally the poem is divided into five stanzas or cantos. Each stanza is in sonnet form. The ode consists of five sonnets. Every sonnet consists of four terza rima (a three-line verse) with traditional terza rima rhymes and a rhymed couplet. The first three stanzas are the address of the wind and at the same time the characterization description of the wind. All of three stanzas end with the “0 hear” prayer. In the fourth stanza, personal elements penetrate in the poem and Shelley compares himself with the wind. He makes fervent plea to the wind to lift him up as he bleeds falling on the ‘thorns of life’. The last stanza is a prayer to the forceful spirit of the wind to use him for regeneration of humanity. Shelley ends on a note of optimism — “0, Wind,/ If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
In the poem, the West Wind is presented as a powerful force. Shelley makes myths of the autumnal West Wind as a great force which possesses redeeming power. It is gigantic, wild, restless power, free and unbounded. Two contrasting aspects of the wind are underlined in the first three stanzas — its terrifying destructive power and its gentle fostering influence. It is simultaneously a destroyer and a preserver. On the earth, the wind drives away dry leaves of trees like “ghosts from an enchanter fleeing”. It also carries the winged seeds and deposits them in the “dark wintry bed”, where they remain buried throughout the winter. The same wind will also make them germinate in the spring. It also sweeps wild storm clouds along on the firmament from the bottom of the sky to the peak of the sky. The wind also makes its mighty influence felt on the sea. It stirs the Mediterranean sea to its depth. It makes a lashing progress through the waters of the Atlantic, dividing the mighty Atlantic’s ‘level powers’ into two halves, its impact reaching miles below to turn the submarine nature grey in fear. Thus, the mythical might of the wind cover the earth, the sky and the seas.
“Ode to the West Wind” is a lyric. The music swells like the surge of the West Wind. Shelley uses a number of poetic devices in order to bring his ideas home. The dramatic alliteration in the opening line, ‘Wild West Wind’, announces energy and force. The wind is personified and has been given a mythical stature. The poem is replete with images and metaphors. There is a rapid succession of images in the poem. The poet’s emotion is at the peak when he makes fervent appeal to the wind to make him its ‘lyre’. His use of emotive language is noteworthy.
The poem starts with the natural and the moves to the personal finally turning to the universal. Shelley deftly blends the natural, the personal and the universal in the same poem. It also captures the past, the present and the future. Shelley finished this great poem optimistically believing in the rise of humanity.