Critical Appreciation of Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind. / Bring out the revolutionary zeal of Shelley in the poem Ode to the West Wind. / Critically analyse Shelley’s use of imagery in the poem Ode to the West Wind.
Ode to the West Wind, the single most renowned and anthologized of Shelley’s poem, presents him as the visionary idealist and romantic revolutionary who makes a fervent plea to the greatest of natural forces – the west wind – to disseminate his message of reform and change among mankind. As is evident from his poem such as “Queen Mab”, “Alastor”, and “The Revolt of Islam”, Shelley was a fervent critic of all restricting and corrupting institutions, civil, religious and marital. But his romanticism lies not merely in his rebellious and visionary zeal, but also in his mythopoeic imagination and in his use of nature imagery. The mythopoeic praise of a natural force, the west wind, begins in the first stanza. Shelley describes how the west wind drives away the dead leaves of trees like an enchanter driving away the undesired ghost. Yet, the west wind is not merely a destroyer but also a preserver. Not only does it drive the dead leaves but also the seeds which too seem to be endowed with life. They lie dormant within the soil, like corpses within their graves, for the entire winter it is only after that the ensuing spring, which they will spring to life, a new and revitalized life.
If the mythopoeic nature imagery in the first stanza is about the art with graves, plain and hill, the second is said in the air, in the steeped sky. Air and water, which jointly produced clouds thus resemble trees whose boughs entangled by the storm, shake off their leaves. Nature here is anthromorphic again, as the clouds resemble the ‘uplifted’ hair of a fierce Maenad, the inebriated female devotee of Bacchus, the god of wine. Here, too, Nature is destroyer as well as a creator, for the fierce commotion in the clouds lives to life – sustaining rain. While the second stanza is said in the air, the third is set in the sea of under it. The setting is both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, and both the surface and the vegetation underneath. It is the first stanza, the Wild West wind had awakened the earth from its winter dreams, and in the third the autumn wind has awakened the Mediterranean Sea. Not only the waves, but even the foliage underneath would be thrown into destruction by the wind.