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Ode to the West Wind is a poem written by Percy Shelley to present her rebellious perception of the romantic period and its values, beliefs and ideologies. The ways of nature used in this poem are a reflection of the writer’s desire to move out and escape from the customary beliefs that are evident in this romantic era in England. “The breath of autumn’s being” (1, 1) is used by the writer to describe West Wind which are described as the “unseen presence which the leaves appear to be dead or are driven like ghosts from an encounter fleeing” (2-3). The autumn in the atmosphere is created by the force of the West Wind which is illustrated as its breath. This is the same force that is used to drive away the dead fallen leaves from the natural environment like fleeing ghosts representing the exit of romantic era, its values and behaviors from the society. The natural leaves in this poem are symbolic of ideological beliefs and values that were so much esteemed by the generation in which Shelley lived (Percy 2).
The driving force throughout this poetic presentation is symbolized by the West Wind which Shelley hopes that it will be the beginning of freedom for personal emotions and beliefs in the society. Shelley used words like ghosts and death to signify the feelings that should prevail towards realization of an ideal viewpoint that ought to be upheld in England at that specific time when the thematic meaning of the poem was targeted. The ideas presented during this time are considered of less importance if not useless by the poetic when the death imagery is used and presented with regard to these circumstances and situational set up. The use of strong colors that are natural like pale, black, yellow and hectic red symbolizes the writer’s strong admonition concerning her idealistic belief and value consideration of the romantic period. Other colors are used to describe the leaves when the writer continues to say, “Pestilence stricken multitudes!” (5). (Percy 5)
Autumn colors are described to be disease – like and sickly while spring colors are presented to be bright bringing with them a livelihood described by the use of words like “hues” in the poem. The liberation idealistic belief in the writer’s mind and ideological conception are demonstrated by her reference of the west wind as the “Chariotest” (5) with a hope that the romantic era in the country and its values, ideas and perceptions will over time be forgotten and a new dispensation adopted of sanity in beliefs, ideas and interactions among people. Shelley desires that this new dispensation is possible to be achieved through persuarance of her ideas and thoughts when supported by a small group of people who are like minded. The west wind so strongly described representing the driving force to eliminate the ideas, values and beliefs of the romantic era sweeps and maintains the seed of this era underneath the ground just like in the grave where the contents are kept under the ground never to resurface (Percy 5).
This concept further elaborates the idea of rebirth of new culture and people’s way of behavior symbolically represented by the spring season of the natural environment that succeeds a dry autumn ushering in a new dispensation of total contrast in the environmental characteristic and appearance which bring hope of better and new surroundings. The concept of wind used in the poem just like the one in existence during a stormy sea where it is so severe and also destructive to make its path is the symbolic notion used by the poet to demonstrate how new dispensation of ideas will destroy the romantic era and all its structures to create its own new way of doing things instilling new ideas, concepts, beliefs and methodologies in the society. In line thirteen and fourteen of the poem, Shelley uses two contradicting words that are in reference of the West Wind; “destroyer and preserver” (10). (Percy 10)
When description of spring is done with more soft colors, it demonstrates the coolness of the season more than those used in description of autumn reflecting the romantic era in England. Therefore the use of strong west wind as a destroyer to pave way for new ideas as well as preserver of well instigated and new thoughts of human minds to forget the era of romantic lifestyle to a new mode of living just like the environment changes from one season to another leaving behind all the characteristics that accompanies a certain season – autumn to spring. However, the poet recognizes the inertia associated with change especially involving people’s lifestyle and way of doing things. Just like how the responsiveness the environment reacts to change of seasons in a gradual way, Shelley believes that human thoughts, ideas and beliefs will follow the same scenario and change would not be effected fortnightly. Though sometime is required to completely transform human thoughts from their initial romantic conditioning to a more relative and reasonable behaviors, sometime will be required to propel the gradual process of changing the mind set and their rationality (Percy 15).
Shelley’s description of leaves representing people’s idealistic beliefs as epidemic attacked and sickly in color has managed to convince and conquer the multitudes that will not only propel and spread the ideas of a new environment but will also transform the way people perceive to behavioral settings in the society with rational approach to different lifestyles departing from the romantic era. The description of the winged seed as mostly referring to Shelley is her stubborn and rebellious views that she held concerning the romantic era. Just like a winged seed would not be moved easily by the prevailing wind, moods and situations, the same way Shelley’s moods, beliefs and ideological attachment to change from romantic era to a new dispensation difficult to change and influence. She is determined to achieve her ambitions and thoughts that are geared towards elimination of romantic period and erase all the ideas and beliefs that had been implanted in people’s mind concerning the best lifestyles (Romantic era) to a more humane and considerate society (Percy 25).
The epidemic and sickly color referred by the poet besides the strong west winds that destroys the falling leaves is the same way that the Romantic era thoughts, ideas and beliefs will be destroyed and eroded from people’s mind. Their emotions and personal experiences widely influenced for a change by the new ideas departing from the romantic era will follow like falling leaves from their natural attachment to the ground and their lives terminated. Thoughts, emotions and personal experiences of romantic era will follow the same procedure though in a gradual way due to emotional attachment of human behaviors towards a repeated lifestyle. However, Shelley believes that even if it takes much time to change the emotional aspects of people, it will nevertheless be possible when persistent is the order in daily routine in a similar manner that west winds operate and finally destroys the existing structure to create their own passage (Percy 20).
The contradicting words use simultaneously in line 13 and 14; destroyer and preserver describes destruction of some thoughts while preserving and nourishing the emotions, ideas and people’s experiences that will be useful to make life better in a new dispensation and lifestyle. The preserved and nourished ideas, beliefs, personal feelings, emotions and moral behaviors are the winged seeds referred in the poem. The description of autumn with its debilitated colors to a rebirth of spring with hues of rejuvenation brings emotions and feelings of freshness from romantic era to a new environment of respect and regard of moral settings in society (Percy 10).