Shelley as a poet of nature his poem “Ode to the West Wind”.
Q.S. Critically comment on Shelley’s treatment of nature in his poem “Ode to the West Wind”.
Consider Shelley as a poet of nature with reference to his poem “Ode to the West Wind”.
Ans. Nature or love for nature is one of the dominant themes in the romantic poetry. The Romantic poets differed significantly from one another in their treatment of nature. Despite their profound love of nature, they looked at her from their own viewpoints. Like other Romantic poets, Shelley is also an ardent lover and worshipper of nature. Almost all his poems abound in nature imagery and some of his poems are poems purely of nature, such as “Ode to the West Wind”, “The Cloud”, and “To a Skylark”. In “Ode to the West Wind”, Shelley takes a powerful force from nature, the West Wind and renders it a mythical stature. Despite his subjective treatment of the natural object, Shelley does not attribute any human characteristics on it. To him, nature is a ceaseless source of inspiration and power.
Shelley’s love for nature has got clear manifestation in the poem “Ode to the West Wind”. His fascination for the mighty power of the West Wind is evident throughout the poem. He gives graphic descriptions of the forceful aspects of the wind. He brings out the duality in the wind — a ‘destroyer’ and a ‘preserver’ simultaneously. By means of images taken from nature, Shelley graphically describes the changes that the West Wind brings on the earth, in the sky and over the ocean. On the earth, it destroys the old leaves but carries and scatters ‘winged-seeds’ to the wintry beds where they wait for their germination in the spring. In the sky, it drives the clouds and causes storm and rain which sings together the dirge of the dying year. It also puts the waves of the sea in agitation. It arouses from its sleep the prodigious Mediterranean. It cleaves its way through the level Atlantic so that the vegetation at its bottom is disturbed. The sea flowers grow pale with fear and drop their petals. The descriptions allude to Shelley’s fascination for forceful aspects of nature.
To Shelley, forces of nature possess redeeming quality. They have the power to bring about revolutionary changes. He looks upon the West Wind as a great phenomenon of nature endowed with great power to rid human beings of their pain and agonies. This is why he turns to the West Wind and makes a fervent appeal to liberate him from the present decrepit condition:
“Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.”
Shelley desires to share the strength and impulse of the West Wind. He has lost his youthful energy and has fallen upon the ‘thorns of life’. He is crushed by the circumstances of life. He voices his faith that the wind can restore his lost energy and impart its strength to him. In the last stanza, Shelley directly and explicitly asks the West Wind to make him an instrument and tool of revolutionary change:
“make me thy lyre” and “drive my dead thoughts over the universe”. The poem ends optimistically — “0, Wind/ If Winter comes can Spring be far behind?”
Shelley personifies the West Wind and gives it an independent life. He also personifies the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, giving each a separate existence. These forces of nature are so vitally imagined that they become presence. This giving of individual life to different forces of nature is Shelley’s myth-making quality. He gives conscious life to the West Wind, Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean, but he does not attribute any other human qualities to them. He does not look upon nature or natural phenomenon as disguised beings. Nature does not teach him any moral lesson. To Shelley, the West Wind is still a wind, and the cloud a cloud, however intense a reality they might be for him. In his poetry, they keep their own character and do not take on human attributes. Shelley stands quite aloof in his subjective treatment of nature.