Ode to the West Wind occupies a foremost place among the lyrics of P.B.Shelley. The finest example of the characteristic features of Shelleyan poetry is found in it. As Herford has nicely summed up, “It combines with the highest degree of imaginative quality the two other characteristic notes of Shelley’s lyrics-personal despondency and prophetic passion.” Here Shelley is at his best as a poet of force and zeal, of ecstatic passion and imagination, of unflagging rebellion and oracular optimism. The poem epitomizes all that Shelley stood for in his life and in his poetry and remains the lyric of lyrics.
The poem begins with the West Wind rushing through the wood and bearing with it dead leaves—yellow and black and hectic red. It is not only a destroyer but a preserver, too. In the next two stanzas, Shelley celebrates the power of the wind and shows the commotion it causes in the sky and on the sea. And finally, he concludes with a prayer to the west wind for his re-animation so that he can kindle fire into the souls of men for a better state of affairs.
The forceful theme of the poem is expressed with the power of a great poetic genius. Shelley’s imagination is of the highest degree here. The poet becomes a painter. The pictures drawn are gorgeous with the swift rush of the wind and the effects produced by it on the land, in the sky, and in the sea.
Shelley’s imagination is supplemented by his emotion. The genesis of Shelley’s poetry is often felt in his unbridled emotion. Ode to the West Wind is also a product of his swift and momentary impulse that sets the poet in the fire of his heart until and unless the fire sinks and dies by the poeťs approach to the vital seriousness of human life. Shelley’s impassioned treatment of nature in the poem is marked by an exuberance of his passionate heart.
The poetic harmony, found in Shelley, is brilliantly displayed in this ode. The synthesis of the poet and the painter is deftly achieved here. The passion of the poet communicates itself to the very metre which sweeps along with the elemental rush of the wind it celebrates.
Ode to the West Wind magnificently depicts the agony of the poet’s heart. The poem illustrates the personal despondency of its author. The idealist in Shelley found himself in a strange world where he stood alone, dismissed and dispelled by a reactionary social hierarchy. Shelley found his dynamic energy and lofty idealism starved and stunted by the cast-iron discipline of a heartless cult. Ode to the West Wind expresses how the poet ached and cried in such an environment.
“I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed !”
And the poem contains his ardent prayer to the wind to energise him with a forceful impulse.
“Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud’……….etc.
But Shelley was a great optimist, dreamer of the millennium to dawn on humanity. He was a prophet. And Shelley’s prophecy is perhaps struck nowhere so wonderfully as in the concluding lines of “Ode to the West Wind”.
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
Also read: Bring out Shelley’s imagery of Nature in “Ode to the West Wind”