The symbolic significance in Shelley’s poem
Bring out the symbolic significance of the West Wind in Shelley’s poem “Ode to the West Wind”?
On the surface, the West Wind in Shelley’s ode is the autumnal wind called Affricus. But Shelley has made it a potent symbol, a vehicle of his revolutionary romanticism. The wind is deified as a double agency of destruction and preservation, of new life alter decay and death, of a spring at the end of the winter.
It is the onset of the autumnal West Wind and its violent impact on the land, in the sky, and on the seas which the poet uses as his descriptive frame. In a series of vivid images, Shelley describes the various activities of the West Wind. It is a ‘destroyer and preserver’ at the same time. It scatters the dry leaves of the tress as it sweeps through the forest in Autumn. It also carries the winged-seeds, as if on a chariot, and deposits them in the cold underground soul, where they remain buried throughout the Winter and germinate in the Spring. In the sky, the Wind causes great commotion. It carries the loose masses of clouds making the entire space from the dim horizon up to the highest point in the sky overcast with these black clouds. These clouds bring thunder, rain and lightning in their wake. The mighty influence of the West Wind is also felt on the sea. It arouses the sleeping Mediterranean from its slumber. As the wind blows with its vigorous force, the ruined tower and palaces under the water app ear clearly visible through the shining water of the sea. As it blows violently over the surface of the Atlantic, deep hollows are produced in the waves. Even the underwater vegetation — the sea-weeds tremble with fear of the West Wind and shed their leaves and flowers. Through optical images the poet establishes the West Wind as a great force.
But the visual images of the wind’s operation and the poet’s contemplation’s more and more emphasize the spiritual character of the wind, the wind as symbolic of universal commotion effecting a change from degeneration to regeneration. On the land, the wind scavenges the earth’s floors to drive away all the dead leaves, and simultaneously, carrying the seeds of new life to their ‘dark wintry beds’ only to germinate at the call of the vernal wind. In the sky, the wind blows all over to produce a Bacchanalia inviting thunder showers to mark the end of autumn. The wind passes over the ‘mighty Atlantic’ to usher in a seasonal change at its bottom. The mighty force of the West Wind, through its various activities on land, in the sky and on the sea, brings changes. It is a great instrument for change. It is a vehicle of change that brings changes in the natural world.
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.