Shelley’s use of imagery the poem “Ode to the West Wind”.
Q.4. Comment on Shelley’s use of images/ imagery in his poem “Ode to the West Wind”.
Write a note on Shelley’s use of imagery with special
reference to “Ode to the West Wind.”
Ans. Shelley was a great imagist and the images he picked were not of ordinary types. His images are mostly kinaesthetic in nature. Most of his images are like close fitting garments of thoughts — brief, apt and illuminating. In his celebrated poem “Ode to the West Wind”, Shelley deftly uses images with a view to bringing his ideas home. The poem is given a subtle unified texture by the overlapping of images, the echo of words, rhyme sounds and alliterative patterns, and the frequent similes. Images drawn from nature abound in the poem. The changing aspects of the West Wind are illustrated through a series of images.
The most dominant image of the poem is the West Wind itself. Throughout the poem, the West Wind remains an immense power that destroys the useless and nourishes the useful. Images of leaves, recurrently used in all five parts of the poem, imparts and organic unity to the poem. In the opening stanza, the wind drives away all the dead leaves — “Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,/ Pestilence-stricken multitudes”. In the second stanza, the clouds are “earth’s decaying leaves”. In the fourth stanza, the image of ‘leaf’ reappears — “If I were a dead leaf thou mightiest bear” and “Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!” It again appears in the final stanza — “Drive my dead thoughts over the universe/ Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!”
In the poem, the images are constituted mainly by the use of figure of speech. Thus, the images of leaves symbolically represent something beyond their usual meaning. The destruction of the ‘pestilence-stricken’ leaves stands for the annihilation of the out-of-date social systems. The dry old leaves stand for old and useless thoughts that barricade the inauguration of new and revolutionary ideas. The wind symbolically representing a powerful force destroys the old, useless thoughts and preserves the new ideas represented by ‘winged seeds’. The image of the ‘winged-seeds’ implies the expectant social order beneficial to the mankind.
The second stanza, with the onset of the winter storms, produces images of violence, destruction and possession. The wind disrupts the usual order in a ‘commotion’ with ‘tangle boughs of Heaven and Ocean’ and the demonic figure of the Maenad is threatening. The dirge and vast sepulcher of this stanza are replaced in the third stanza by the images of clear water, light, balmy winds and a state of trance.
Other powerful images in the poem are image of thorns — “I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!” representing the hardships in life. The image of ghosts and enchanter appear early in the poem. The wind is compared with an enchanter and the decayed leaves with ghosts that run away from an enchanter out of fear. Colour images also appear in the poem in lines like “Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red” and “With living hues and odours plain and hill”.
Shelley drew his images mainly from nature. He always had a keen eye for the moving objects in nature. His images are mainly kinaesthetic in nature. The images, in conjunction with the figures of speech, mould the meaning of the poem.