The Role of the Poet in Ode to the West Wind
The poem “Ode to the West Wind” by PB Shelley is a “highly thought provoking poem” (Rajasekharuni.) that makes the readers think about what makes life pleasant and unpleasant. The speaker in the poem tells that the answer lies “in the attitude of the liver” (Rajasekharuni). As humans, we find the cycle of seasons as natural but complain when we have to endure good and bad times. We do not see the course of the natural world in the same way as we see changes such as revolutions and war. Figuratively, the poet indicates attitudes of people who get depressed when they go through hardships, but little do they know that happiness is better enjoyed after having felt the sadness. Happiness is only a relative experience. PB Shelley treats the poem as an autobiographical note. His life was filled with difficulties but every time he fell, he sprung with rejuvenated spirits. The poem allegorizes the role of the poet as the voice of change and revolution. Shelley realizes that he cannot in actual life, rise to the height of imaginative perfection, which was his wish.
Shelley does not wish to allow the reader to forget about the atmosphere of the previous stanzas so he continues to use the images of the “the wave, a leaf, [and] a cloud” (l. 48) that existed with the “wind” to now exist with the speaker. Shelley sees himself as one with the “wind”. He knows he cannot do this because it is impossible for someone to disregard all they have learned and enter a new world of innocence. It is noticeable that stanza four sounds like a confession or prayer of the poet. It seems very impersonal as it does not address God. This version of Shelley understands his “closedness in life” (MacEachen.) and the way in which he identifies himself in line 53 shows his command. He says, “Oh, lift me up as a wave, a leaf. a cloud” (l. 53). Knowing this is something unachievable, he does not give up on it by continuing praying for it. The only way Shelley can see his wishes and prayers for a new identity can come true is by death or pain, because he understand that “death leads to rebirth” (MacEachen.). This is why he wants to “fall upon the thorns of life [and] bleed” (l. 54).
When he wrote this poem, Shelly must have had the Peterloo Massacre of August 1819 in mind. Other works of hi written at about the same time – “The Masque of Anarchy” and “Prometheus Unbound”- also discuss the topics of political change, revolution and the role of the poet. The poem “Ode to the West Wind” can be split into two sections. The first two stanzas speak about the qualities of the ‘wind’ and both end with the line “Oh hear!”. The last two stanzas elate the speaker and the ‘wind’. The change in focus of the poem, from being directed at the wind, closer to the end of the poem the focus is no longer on the ‘wind’ but rather on the speaker who now uses the word “I” (l. 43) more frequently. Prior to this part, the poem was seemingly anonymous and mainly...