Shelley as a revolutionary poet
Q.8. How Does Shelley present the West Wind as a tool for change?
Consider Shelley as a revolutionary poet with reference to the poem “Ode to the West Wind”.
Ans. Shelley was an ardent philanthropist who wished to rouse a soporific world from its moral stupor. A visionary anarchist he decried the enslavement of the mind by church, law, custom and tradition. He inveighed against priests, kings, soldiers and magistrates and other wielders of institutional authority. Despite his invective against organized oppression, Shelley spurned violent modes of redress. True emancipation, he believed, ensues from the cultivation of tolerance, austerity, temperance and unfettered discussion not armed revolt.
In the preface to “Prometheus Unbound” Shelley acknowledges the fact that he has a passion for reforming the world.” His passion has got clear expression in his poem “Ode to the West Wind”. Here he portrays the autumnal west wind as a destroyer and a preserver. After analyzing the poem it becomes apparent that the West Wind is a symbolic representation of the poetic power that can reform the world. He endeavours through his poetry to effect the changes that were desperately needed by the world of his time. With the help of an archetypal symbol, the West Wind, Shelley describes the present decrepit state of the human civilization and forecasts the advent of a glorious future of mankind. The poem moves on three levels: natural, personal and universal. And everywhere the West Wind serves as the point of reference as the symbol of change. The West Wind acts as a driving force for change and rejuvenation in the human and natural world. Shelley views winter not just as last phase of vegetation but as the last phase of life in the individual, the imagination, civilization and religion.
In the final stanzas of “Ode to the West Wind”, Shelley has the wind transforming from the natural world towards human suffering. Shelley pleads with the wind: “Oh! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!”. He seeks transcendence from the wind and says: “I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed”. He again pleads with the wind: “Drive my dead thought over the universe…to quicken a new birth!” He asks the wind to “Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth! Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!! Be through my lips to unawakened Earth”. The words “unextinguished hearth” represent the poet’s undying passion for change. He says that his lips are the “trumpet of prophecy”.
The poet vehemently urges the West Wind to infuse its vigour and power into him, so that he can play the “trumpet of prophecy” and render his massage to mankind. He wants to awake mankind from their “wintry slumber”. He wants to break the shackles that bind humanity. He stands against oppression’s, persecutions of the society and the restrictions imposed upon the free thinking of man. He needs to be endowed with the energy of the West Wind in order to bring in a golden millennium, a new era where man should be “an equal amidst equals” (Queen Mab).
For Shelley, the West Wind is more than a wind. It is not only a natural phenomenon affecting changes in the natural world. It is Shelley’s symbol for regeneration, a vehicle of his revolutionary romanticism. It is an uncontrollable spirit who can rescue and elevate the poet, fallen among ‘the thorns of life’, to become the harbinger of the great agency of change. In ‘Make me thy lyre’, Shelley implores the wind, and urges it to bring forth a new spring of life in the dead winter of man’s world.