I'm stepping out of chronological order to bring you today's poem, which is a special birthday request from one of our subscribers.
(Poem #329) Ode to the West Wind
I O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being, Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing, Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red, Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou, Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low, Each like a corpse within its grave, until Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill (Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air) With living hues and odors plain and hill: Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere; Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh, hear! II Thou on whose stream, 'mid the steep sky's commotion, Loose clouds like earth's decaying leaves are shed, Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean, Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread On the blue surface of thine aery surge, Like the bright hair uplifted from the head Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge Of the horizon to the zenith's height, The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge Of the dying year, to which this closing night Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre, Vaulted with all thy congregated might Of vapors, from whose solid atmosphere Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: oh, hear! III Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams The blue Mediterranean, where he lay, Lulled by the coil of his crystalline streams, Beside a pumice isle in Baiae's bay, And saw in sleep old palaces and towers Quivering within the wave's intenser day, All overgrown with azure moss and flowers So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou For whose path the Atlantic's level powers Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear The sapless foliage of the ocean, know Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear, And tremble and despoil themselves: oh, hear! IV If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear; If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee; A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share The impulse of thy strength, only less free Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even I were as in my boyhood, and could be The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven, As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne'er have striven As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need. Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud! I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed! A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud. V Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is: What if my leaves are falling like its own! The tumult of thy mighty harmonies Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone, Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce, My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one! Drive my dead thoughts over the universe Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth! And, by the incantation of this verse, Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind! Be through my lips to unawakened earth The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
Poor Percy Shelley. A revolutionary who wanted to change the world through his poetry, he has been dismissed far too often as being all style and no substance, an artist whose life was more colourful than his art and (worst of all) the archetype of half a century of lush Victorian sentimentality. Never mind that he was sent down from Cambridge for advocating atheism, that he renounced his inheritance to marry a tavern-keeper's daughter, that he left England to seek artistic salvation in Italy: the popular image of Shelley is of a figure of high tragedy, Romantic with a capital R. A characterization that is as unfair to Shelley as it is to Keats or Coleridge or any of their generation: sure they had interesting lives, but they also produced lasting art. (Which is not to say I like Shelley's poetry. To be frank, I don't). 'Ode to the West Wind' is one of Shelley's most celebrated works, and justly so. In it, finally, we see Shelley fusing the airy imagery, the interplay of colour and light and shadow which are his poetic forte, with the philosophical and moral concerns that tinged his political life. A bold and sweeping poem, it almost falls to ground under the weight of its own presumption - almost, but not quite.And in that avoidance of pomposity lies its greatness. thomas. [Structure] 'Ode to the West Wind' is written in terza rima . Shelley uses a three-line unit, a tercet, rhyming aba; the 'b' rhyme is carried into the next tercet, bcb. Each stanza has four tercets of interlocking rhyme, and ends in a couplet using the middle rhyme of the last tercet; thus the rhyme scheme is aba bcb cdc ded ee. The lines themselves are in a (not very rigorous) pentameter.  The same metre that Dante uses in the Divine Comedy; perhaps this was Shelley's way of paying homage to that great humanist. (Keep in mind that the Ode was written in Italy). [The Romantic Image] The Romantics, more than most, have suffered (some would say 'benefited') from the problem of 'image'. As Adrian Mitchell puts it in 'The Oxford Hysteria of English Poetry' (the source of most, if not all, of my poetic education - you can read it at poem #211), Then suddenly --- WOOMF --- It was the Ro-man-tic Re-viv-al And it didn't matter how you wrote, All the public wanted was a hairy great image. Before they'd even print you You had to smoke opium, die of consumption, Fall in love with your sister Or drown in the Mediterranean (not at Brighton). (Coleridge smoked opium, Keats died of consumption, Byron had a scandalous affair with his half-sister, and Shelley drowned in the Mediterranean). Another, equally tongue-in-cheek view of the Romantics is Dorothy Parker's: Byron and Shelley and Keats Were a trio of lyrical treats. The forehead of Shelley was cluttered with curls, And Keats never was a descendant of earls, And Byron walked out with a number of girls, But it didn't impair the poetical feats Of Byron and Shelley, Of Byron and Shelley, Of Byron and Shelley and Keats. -- Dorothy Parker, 'A pig's eye view of literature' Ironically enough, Shelley always saw himself as a social reformer first, and a poet second; to him, poets were 'the unacknowledged legislators of the world', and his published writings all had an explicitly political agenda. More about the Romantics in general and Shelley in particular can be found in Brittanica; here are some generous extracts: [Romanticism] Romanticism, an amorphous movement that began in Germany and England at the turn of the 19th century, and somewhat later in France, Italy, and the United States, found spokesmen as diverse as Goethe and August and Friedrich von Schlegel in Germany, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in England, Madame de Staël and Victor Hugo in France, Alessandro Manzoni in Italy, and Ralph Waldo Emerson and Edgar Allan Poe in the United States. Romantics tended to regard the writing of poetry as a transcendentally important activity, closely related to the creative perception of meaning in the world. The poet was credited with the godlike power that Plato had feared in him; Transcendental philosophy was, indeed, a derivative of Plato's metaphysical Idealism. In the typical view of Percy Bysshe Shelley, poetry "strips the veil of familiarity from the world, and lays bare the naked and sleeping beauty, which is the spirit of its forms." Wordsworth's preface to Lyrical Ballads (1800), with its definition of poetry as the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings and its attack on Neoclassical diction, is regarded as the opening statement of English Romanticism. In England, however, only Coleridge in his Biographia Literaria (1817) embraced the whole complex of Romantic doctrines emanating from Germany; the British empiricist tradition was too firmly rooted to be totally washed aside by the new metaphysics. Most of those who were later called Romantics did share an emphasis on individual passion and inspiration, a taste for symbolism and historical awareness, and a conception of art works as internally whole structures in which feelings are dialectically merged with their contraries. Romantic criticism coincided with the emergence of aesthetics as a separate branch of philosophy, and both signalled a weakening in ethical demands upon literature. The lasting achievement of Romantic theory is its recognition that artistic creations are justified, not by their promotion of virtue, but by their own coherence and intensity. [The Later Romantics] ... [Shelley, Keats and Byron] shared their predecessors' passion for liberty (now set in a new perspective by the Napoleonic wars) and were in a position to learn from their experiments. Percy Bysshe Shelley in particular was deeply interested in politics, coming early under the spell of the anarchistic views of William Godwin, whose Enquiry Concerning Political Justice had appeared in 1793. Shelley's revolutionary ardour, coupled with a zeal for the liberation of mankind and a passion for poetry, caused him to claim in his critical essay A Defence of Poetry (1821, published 1840) that "the most unfailing herald, companion, and follower of the awakening of a great people to work a beneficial change in opinion or institution, is poetry," and that poets are "the unacknowledged legislators of the world." This fervour burns throughout the early Queen Mab (1813), the long Laon and Cythna (retitled The Revolt of Islam, 1818), and the lyrical drama Prometheus Unbound (1820). Shelley saw himself at once as poet and prophet, as the fine "Ode to the West Wind" (1819) makes clear. Despite his firm grasp of practical politics, however, it is a mistake to look for concreteness in his poetry, where his concern is with subtleties of perception and with the underlying forces of nature: his most characteristic image is of sky and weather, of lights and fires. His poetic stance invites the reader to respond with similar outgoing aspiration. It adheres to the Rousseauistic belief in an underlying spirit in individuals, one truer to human nature itself than the behaviour evinced and approved by society. In that sense his material is transcendental and cosmic and his expression thoroughly appropriate. Possessed of great technical brilliance, he is, at his best, a poet of excitement and power. [More on Shelley] Shelley's [early] literary career [was] politically oriented. Queen Mab, the early poems first published in 1964 as The Esdaile Notebook, Laon and Cythna, and most of his prose works were devoted to reforming society; and even Alastor, Rosalind and Helen, and the personal lyrics voiced the concerns of an idealistic reformer who is disappointed or persecuted by an unreceptive society. But in Italy, far from the daily irritations of British politics, Shelley deepened his understanding of art and literature and, unable to reshape the world to conform to his vision, he concentrated on embodying his ideals within his poems. His aim became, as he wrote in "Ode to the West Wind," to make his words "Ashes and sparks" as from "an unextinguished hearth," thereby transforming subsequent generations and, through them, the world. Later, as he became estranged from Mary Shelley, he portrayed even love in terms of aspiration, rather than fulfillment: "The desire of the moth for the star,/ Of the night for the morrow,/ The devotion to something afar/ From the sphere of our sorrow." The careful study of Shelley's publications and manuscripts has since elucidated his deep learning, clear thought, and subtle artistry. Shelley was a passionate idealist and consummate artist who, while developing rational themes within traditional poetic forms, stretched language to its limits in articulating both personal desire and social altruism. -- all the above from the EB