Theme :- Inspiration in "Ode to the West Wind"
"When composition begins, inspiration is already on the decline" - P. B. Shelley
Shelley deals with the theme of inspiration in much of his work. However it is particularly apparent in Ode to the West Wind' where the wind is the source of his creativity. The cycles of death and rebirth are examined in an historical context with reference to The Bible. The word inspiration has several connotations that Shelley uses in this Ode'. Inspiration is literally taking in breath' and wind, breath, soul and inspiration are all identical or related in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. They are all closely related in Ode to a West Wind'.
Shelley's adaptation of Dante's work is evident throughout most of his writing. In Ode to the West Wind' it is quite apparent. He was writing this poem in a wood on the outskirts of Arno, near Florence, which is Dante's hometown. The use of the terza rima poem is
Shelley's most obvious adaptation of Dante and he relies upon Dantesque ideas to write his poetry. The image of the leaves being blown by the wind "like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing"(l.3) depends on the Inferno in Paradiso for the image to have an effect on the reader.
The various cycles of death and rebirth are examined with reference to the Maenads who were fabled to have destroyed Orpheus's body and spread it around the world. This is the underlying theme to the poem with Shelley alluding to the breaking of Christ's body on the cross and how that was essential for humanity to reach salvation. The onslaught of Autumn is the Destroyer' in one sense but also the Preserver' as it forms an intricate part of the cycle of life and death. Without the death of Jesus Christ the world would not have been saved and so for life to exist so too must death.
Referred to as an "unseen presence"(l.2) the wind is naked to the human eye. However the physical manifestation of the wind can be felt and it's effect on nature cannot be ignored. The personification of the wind - "thou breath of Autumn's being"(l.1) - supports its spirituality. This is further illustrated when Shelley explicitly calls the West Wind "Spirit" and a "wild Spirit". Coupled with the elusiveness of the wind to the human eye the effect is that the wind is an "uncontrollable" power that cannot be contained. In the fifth stanza Shelley refers to "the incannot ation of this verse"(l.65) - this is of pagan origins and he is invoking the wind to work through him. As a magician the wind works it's magic throughout nature and it knows no bounds as the earth, water and air all feel it's power. The imagery associated with this suggests that Shelley expected his work to also spread over the universe, like the wind, and inspire others just as the wind was an inspiration to him. The "dead thoughts" he refers to could be the words he has written down that die as soon as they are recorded. Although not the source of his inspiration others could read them and experience what he felt in that wood that skirts the Arno. In the tradition of the sublime this description acts as a denial of sense perception and it is associated with an object of pure thought - an unknown power that animates all life. The wind is, therefore, seen as a spirit because of its lack of being. This spirit can only be known by it's effects and we see those in the first stanza as "the leaves dead / Are driven
to their wintry bed"(ll. 2,3,6). The wind's role is to spread the dead leaves and this enables the seeds to spread and begin life anew. In this double role of "Destroyer and preserver"(l.14) the force and effect of the wind is experienced. As a creative force the wind inspires Shelley to write this Ode and the breath of the Autumn wind is also the breath that gives voice to words in the poem. The wind is the perfect element for...
Bibliography: Leighton, Angela Shelley and the Sublime, London, 1984
O 'Neill, Michael Shelley, London, 1993
Ridenour, George Shelley, New Jersey, 1965
Solve, Melvin Shelley: His theory of Poetry, New York, 1964
Strong, Archibald Three Studies in Shelley, London, 1921
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