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The Romantics (II)

P.B. Shelley is a poet of the 2nd generation of the Romantic Period (he’s my favorite – of the Romantic canon).

Ode to the West Wind
by P.B. Shelley (1819)

I
Oh wild west wind, thou breath of autumn’s being;
Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes; oh thou
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the spring shall blow

Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill

Wild spirit, which art moving everywhere,
Destroyer and preserver, hear, oh hear!

II
Thou on whose stream, mid the steep sky’s commotion,
Loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of heaven and ocean,

Angels of rain and lightening; there are spread
On the blue surface of thine airy surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizin to the zenith’s height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst – oh hear!

III
Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lulled by the coil of his crystalline streams,

Beside a pumic isle in Baiae’s bay,
And saw in sleep old places and towers
Quivring within the wave’s intenser day,

All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic’s level powers

Cleaves themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know

Thy voice, and suddenly grow grey with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves – oh hear!

IV
If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, oh uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skyey speed
Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne’er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee – tameless, and swift, and proud.

V
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own?
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaved to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an uneytinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened earth

The trumpet of prophecy! Oh wind,
If winter comes, can spring be far behind?

Close Reading
Formal Reading
The poem is an apostrophe to the West Wind and written as an Ode. It has 5 parts, which are devided into 4 tercets (terca rima) followed by a concluding couplet. It has an iambic pentameter structure although there is usually one additional syllable (stressed or unstressed) to effect the pace of the poem in an unusual way. The rhyme scheme (ABA, BCB, CDC, DED, FF) is steady throughout the whole poem. Shelley uses run-on lines and a similar punctuation as in a prose text. The first three parts end with the phrase “oh hear” which indicates that they belong formally together. In the last two parts the themes change from the description of the powers of nature to an analysis of the role of the poet and his poetry.

Imagery
Shelley, in contrast to Wordsworth, is fascinated by nature as a phenomenon that is able to change and is in flux. Therefore, his subject is the wind rather than a picturesque landscape.
Shelley uses a metaphorical diction with different forms of figurative language. Similis such as “buds like flocks to feed in air” link the poem to worldy pastoral imagery and point to the divinity of nature.
Nevertheless, Shelley is also working with contradictions. The West Wind is “yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red”. This can be read as an allusion to Blake for whom contrast is a difining characteristic.
The two last stanzas refer to Shelley’s Defence of Poetry where he states that “Poets are the unacknowledged legislator of the world”. Poets create through the sources of their imagination poetry that has the ability to change and effect its readership. Like the West Wind, which will be followed by his “azure sister of the spring”, the words of the poet are able to initiate a rebirth among mankind. This is emphasized through the biblical allusion to “the trumpet of prophecy”...

One could also talk about:
syntax, tone, metonyms,...

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