Shelley as the West Wind “Destroyer and Preserver”
Q.S.Bring out the duality of the Wind’s power in Shelley’s / poem “Ode to the West Wind”.
Shelley calls the West Wind “Destroyer and Preserver.” How does his Ode bring out this twofold nature of the wind?
How does Shelley build up the image of the West Wind as a “destroyer and preserver” in “Ode to the West Wind”?
Ans. Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” is a wonderful lyric in the tradition of romantic poetry. In the poem, Shelley considers himself as a poet prophet campaigning for reform and revolution using the ‘Wild West Wind’ to destroy everything that is old and defunct and plant new and progressive, liberal and democratic ideals in its stead. He underlines the forceful aspects of the autumnal wind and calls it both a ‘preserver’ and a ‘destroyer’. The wind destroys with a view to creating space for new creations. This duality of the wind is at the core of Shelley’s poem.
The poet describes the mighty powers of the West Wind both as a destroyer and preserver. As a destroyer the wind drives away the pale dry leaves of trees and preserves the seeds in the moist earth for germination in the coming spring-time. Metaphorically in the poem, the ‘dead leaves’ stand for old ideas and ‘winged-seeds’ symbolize new ideas that can bring about desired change in the world. The West Wind is thus both ‘destroyer’ and ‘preserver.’
As the West Wind is a very powerful force, it causes great commotions on the earth, in the sky and over the ocean. In the sky, the wind breaks the clouds up “like earth’s decaying leaves” that are shaken “from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean”. Shelley compares rain and lightning to angels, and says the wind spreads them both through the sky “like the bright hair uplifted from the head”. The wind spreads the clouds in a way that the entire sky from the dim horizon up to the highest zenith becomes overcast with them. It creates great commotion in the sky. In the third stanza, Shelley presents the operation of the autumnal wind on the seas. The Wind arouses the Mediterranean from its slumber in which the sea dreams about the old palaces and towers submerged in its own blue deep. The Wild Wind then makes a lashing progress through the water 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 destructive forceful aspect of the wind is underlined in the first three stanzas of the poem.
But in the mighty power of the wind Shelley sees a great liberating force. This is why he makes an earnest plea to the West Wind to infuse him with its raw power and liberate him from the bout of depression which has temporarily overwhelmed him. Like the West Wind, Shelley once was ‘uncontrollable’ and “tameless, and swift, and proud”. But now, he is depressed and weighed down by the cares and anxieties of life. He passionately appeals to the wind to lift him up just like the way it lifts up the leaves on the earth and the clouds on the sky and the waves on the sea. Shelley looks upon the wind as a great force that can liberate him from the “thorns of life” on which he has fallen.
In the concluding 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?” Thus, throughout the poem, the duality of the wind’s power is emphasized. It is treated as a mighty force that destroys the old and creates space for the germination of new.