Thursday, October 27, 2022

Use of imagery in Ode to the West Wind.

Ans. Imagery constitutes the most important feature of Shelley's style. He brings in a host of dazzling images to illustrate a single point. They add to the beauty and super-excellence of his poems. As Court hope rightly says, "If greatness in poetry consisted of a succession of dazzling images and a rapid flow of verse, Shelley would be entitled to almost the first place in English literature."

Ode to the West Wind teems with dazzling images. The theme of the poem the activities of the west wind on land, sea and in air-is developed through images. And what is striking about Shelley's imagery is that material and concrete phenomena are sought to be explained by means of images drawn from abstract, imaginary, spiritual and celestial phenomena.

The first section of the Ode describes the activities of the wind on land. The activities are two-fold: it sweeps away the dead leaves of autumn and scatters the seeds that sprout up in spring. Shelley brings in a host of images to explain these activities. The west wind is compared to the breath of autumn to show that it is the most vital and necessary aspect of autumn's activity. What breath is to a living creature the west wind is to autumn. The west wind sweeps away withered leaves of trees as quickly and mysteriously as ghosts vanish from the visible presence of a magician (uttering powerful incantations). Here an actual fact is explained by an unreal image. In order to illustrate the change of colour of autumnal leaves the poet brings in the image of a dying or diseased person. The west wind drives the ripe autumnal seeds underground where they lie buried all the winter. The underground seeds are like so many dead bodies in the graves. The image of "chariot" is a significant one. A chariot carries a king with due ceremony; likewise the wind conveys the seeds amidst splendid dusty display. The spring wind will wake nature from her winter sleep and make trees and plants sprout out in leaves, just as the archangel's trumpet will wake men from the sleep of death, so that they might appear before God for their last trial. The image of the archangel blowing clarion is biblical. The vernal west wind will force the sweet-smelling buds to come out of their scales and appear on the branches to draw nourishment from the air, just as a shepherd drives his sheep out of their folds to the open fields so that they may graze on grass. The wind is compared to a shepherd, the buds to sheep, the scales enclosing the buds to sheep-folds and the air to the pasture.

Images come crowding in the second stanza, and get entwined like "the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean." Shelley brings in the images to describe not only the mighty rush of the west wind in the air but also the mass of clouds in the sky. The sky which apparently slopes up (steep) from the sea-horizon is imaged as a forest on a mountain slope. The rushing mass of wind is a stream flowing down this slope. The loose clouds driven by the wind are compared to the decayed leaves that have been shaken down on the stream. The dense piles of clouds that hide the horizon and mingle the sky and the sea are pictured as the intertwined branches of the two trees of Heaven and Ocean. Thus the sky is imaged not only as a forest agitated by the wind but also as a tree from whose boughs the leaves are shaken down. Shelley employs the mythological image of the fierce Maenad, one of the frenzied woman-worshippers of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine to describe the violent movement of the clouds over the whole expanse of the sky from the faintly discernible line of the horizon to the very zenith. The dark masses of moving clouds are imaged as the glossy hair of a Maenad streaming up from her head as she dances in religious frenzy. These disorderly, wavy, dark masses of clouds scurrying in the wind are also compared to the disheveled hair on the head of the storm-god. In the second half of the stanza the images are drawn from the world of death and destruction. The black night-sky covered with the dense masses of clouds and vapour is pictured as the cupola of the tomb which is to receive the year's dead body. Thus the second stanza presents a series of extremely complicated, interwoven images. These images which in any other poet would have been fantastic conceits become in Shelley the high water-mark of triumphant imagination.

In the third stanza the rush of imagery slows down. The two principal images used here are those of a man asleep and dreaming and of a man afraid. The calm Mediterranean in summer is imaged as a man sleeping comfortably and dreaming of the past glorious days. Again, at the approach of autumn submarine plants lose their green colour, just as a man loses his bright colour when fear grips him. In the fourth stanza Shelley uses the image of the autumnal forest with trees shorn of leaves to describe his present impotent and helpless condition. In the last stanza the autumnal forest is imaged as a lyre. The poet asks the west wind to draw out from his mind the music that has been lying latent in him, just as it draws the latent music from the forest-trees. The poet brings in the image of a dying hearth to describe his mind. He compares his mind to a hearth. His mind is glimmering with revolutionary ideas as an almost burnt-out hearth sparkles with sparks of fire. He requests the mighty west wind to cast far and wide his own ideas burning with hopes for the regeneration of humanity, just as it scatters ashes and sparks from a hearth. The poem ends with the image of the cycle of seasons of spring following on the heels of winter: This image suggests that autumnal decay and the barrenness of winter may make the world desolate indeed, but beyond lies waiting the spring of another year.

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