Shelley’s conception of a poet and his function
Q.S. Write a note on Shelley’s conception of a poet and his function as revealed in the poems “Ode to the West Wind” and “To a Skylark”.
Ans. Both “Ode to the West Wind” and “To a Skylark”, two of Shelley’s celebrated lyric poms, are marked by intensity of personal passion, delicacy of poetic sensibility and exuberance of emotion. Though in the poems Shelley idealizes natural phenomenon, they also reveal his idea of a poet and his function. To Shelley, the poet is not a mere artist. He is a divine harp through which the Cosmic Power makes music for mankind. He is a reformer as well as a prophet spreading messages with a view to bringing about revolutionary changes in human history.
In “To a Skylark”, Shelley compares the Skylark and its song to a poet who remains unknown behind the light of his own thought but always pours out his heart of his own accord. The poet, according to Shelley, composes his poems spontaneously without being ordered by the people of the world, and the time comes when those people of the world who had paid no attention to his lofty messages, ultimately understand the thoughts of the poet and begin to sympathize with him:
“Like a Poet hidden
In the light of thought,
Singing hymns unbidden,
Till the world is wrought
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:”
In the last stanza of the poem, the poet implores to the Skylark to inspire him with its joy and happiness. He is confident that if he could get the happiness and joy of the Skylark in his heart, he would reproduce such fine poetry of deep inspiration that the world would listen to him with rapt attention: –
“Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.”
In “Ode to the West Wind”, the poet makes a fervent appeal to the wind to spread his hitherto unknown and inoperative thoughts among mankind to ‘quicken a new birth’:
“Drive my dead thoughts over the universe Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth! And, by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind! Be through my lips to unawakened earth
The trumpet of a prophecy!”
The quotations above from both “To a Skylark” and “Ode to the West Wind” reveal Shelley’s idea of a poet and his function as well as Shelley’s conception of poetry as ‘harmonious madness’. The first striking aspect of a poet is his unknown personality. A poet remains unknown or ‘hidden’. Though his songs flash out over the world, his personality remains unknown to others. He is immersed in the light of his own thought. He composes songs of his own accord with being asked by the people. His songs regale the hearts of the listeners who do not always understand the contents of his lofty thoughts.
The poet is an inspired soul. He pours out his whole heart when he composes poetry. According to Shelley, the poet also possesses a missionary zeal to reform the world. He is a reformer as well as a prophet. His poetry is a vehicle of revolutionary ideas to help regenerate and resurrect the lethargic society.
For Shelley, poetry is ‘harmonious madness’. The poet undergoes poetic rapture of frenzy which shapes itself into captivating poetry. He produces fine frenzied poetry of inspiration containing harmony aid consistency.