Shelley as a poet of nature

 Shelley as a poet of nature

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”.

Whereas older Romantic poets looked at nature as a realm of communion with pure existence and with a truth preceding human experience, the later Romantics looked at nature primarily as a realm of overwhelming beauty and aesthetic pleasure. While Wordsworth and Coleridge often write about nature in itself, Shelley tends to invoke nature as a sort of supreme metaphor for beauty, creativity, and expression. This means that most of Shelley’s poems about art rely on metaphors of nature as their means of expression: the West Wind in “Ode to the West Wind” becomes a symbol of the poetic faculty spreading Shelley’s words like leaves among mankind, and the skylark in “To a Skylark” becomes a symbol of the purest, most joyful, and most inspired creative impulse. The skylark is not a bird, it is a “poet hidden.”

For Shelley, nature is not just a matter of presenting landscapes, scenes and creatures; it is a source of inspiration and emotion. Iii “Ode to the West Wind”, Shelley is fascinated by the mighty force of the wind and gives graphic descriptions of the forceful aspects of (lie wind. He brings out the duality in the wind — a ‘destroyer’ and a preserver’ simultaneously. The power of the wind is a source of inspiration for the poet. It is a liberating force as well as a tool of bringing about revolutionary changes. He fervently appeals to the wind to liberate him from the present decrepit condition. He implores the wind to make him an instrument and tool of revolutionary change: “make me thy lyre” and “drive my dead thoughts over the universe”. In “To a Skylark” Shelley sees nature as something that goes beyond its outer appearance and instead sees it as a form of inspiration or emotion.

“To a Skylark” also shows an admiration of nature that goes deeper than observation. It is clear that Shelley is envious of the skylark’s happiness and lack of suffering. The Skylark is portrayed as a ‘blithe-spirit’ that knows no suffering, yet appears to know more than mankind. Shelley envies the Skylark, as it is innocent and happy in a world, which lacks both these things. By looking at this bird, the poet is inspired to look at himself- the Skylark is hidden, as he is so high up in the sky, whilst the poet is also ‘hidden’ behind his words. The skylark touches the essence of existence, it knows that ‘life’ and all its ‘pleasure’ and ‘beauty’ is achievable. The Skylark knows things that are truer and deeper than mortals could dream.
Another way Shelley stands apart from other Romantics is that he does not ascribe human attributes to nature. He does not establish any communion between nature and human beings. In “Ode to the West Wind”, Shelley personifies 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. In “To a Skylark”, despite the bird’s superiority, it is still a bird. To him, nature is a ceaseless source of inspiration and power.

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