Thursday, October 27, 2022

How does Shelley present nature in Ode to the West Wind?

Ans. Nature is a perennial source of inspiration to Shelley as it is to the other poets of the Romantic Revival. But his treatment of Nature is different from that of Wordsworth, the high-priest of Nature. While Wordsworth deals with the simpler and humbler aspects of Nature, he treats its majestic and gorgeous aspects-rocks, caves, cliffs, skies, storms, etc. As a critic says, he presents, like Turner, the pomp and splendour of the evening skies, the wind and the changeful glory of atmospheric effects, the terror of tempest, those rare and more awful manifestations of Nature when she puts on a supernatural grandeur...." He often etherealizes Nature and makes her vague and indefinite. His love of that which is indefinite and changeful makes him enjoy and describe better than any other English poet that scenery of the clouds and sky which is indefinite, elusive and hazy.

Shelley presents Nature as a continuous stream that goes on endlessly untouched by human calamities. Nature suggests to Shelley a relative immortality and as such she is to him greater than man subjected to death and decay.

Shelley makes nature the mere image of his own feelings, the creature of his mood. In other words, he identifies himself with nature. Here he is poles asunder from Wordsworth who always distinguishes himself from her.

Ode to the West Wind illustrates Shelley's treatment of Nature. It treats such mighty, changeful and indefinite aspects of nature as the west wind, the clouds and the seas. It describes the mighty activities of the west wind as it sweeps along in the upper region of the sky scattering the patches of clouds from the horizon to the zenith. The west wind ruffles the calm and transparent waters of the Mediterranean sea and lashes up the Atlantic into rolling waves. The descriptions of the underwater scenes are lazy and misty :

"And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave's intenser day"
....while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean."

Shelley seeks an identification with the west wind by making it an instrument of himself. He wishes the west wind to spread his revolutionary and reformative ideas all the world over. The west wind, by blowing away the decayed leaves of autumn, brings about the rebirth of vegetation in spring. Similarly it can scatter all over the world his hitherto ineffectual thoughts, and thereby pave the way for the new set of ideas and ideals based on liberty, equality and fraternity. The west wind scatters ashes and sparks from smouldering hearth. Let it similarly cast far and wide his revolutionary ideas now lying almost dead in him, but capable of causing a conflagration in the society, so that the old world with its evils and inhumanities will go, yielding place to a new world, free from exploitations and oppressions-the golden millennium. In short, Shelley wants the wind to help him sound the trumpet of the prophecy that he wants to destroy the present society in order to usher in the millennium.

Shelley presents the west wind as a continuous stream that goes on endlessly untouched by human calamities. It has an everlasting lease of life as compared with man subject to decay and death. The west wind remains as it was in the poet's boyhood. But the poet is not what he was before. He has lost his energy-his boyish impetuosity which made him sufficiently swift to be able to accompany the wind in its violent movements across the sky, Had he the energy of his boyhood,

".........I would ne'er have striven
As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need."

But the west wind has not changed a bit. It goes on sweeping over the earth, sky and sea as before.

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