Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Shelley as a Revolutionary Poet

“For the Romantic poet, the idea of revolution has a special interest, and a special affinity. For Romanticism seeks to effect in poetry what revolution aspires to achieve in politics: innovation, transformantion, defamiliarisation" (Divid Duff,p. 26) Revolution is a dominant spirit in almost all the romantic poets. Percy Bysshe Shelley, a Romantic poet, is also called rebel for his idea of revolution in his poetry. As The French Revolution dominated all politics in those years, unlike Wordsworth or Coleridge, Shelley never abandoned the ideals of the revolution, though he was appalled by the dictatorship of Napoleon. Shelley only experienced the revolution at second hand through the books of various writers and was influenced by Rousseau, William Godwin etc. When he looked back, all he could see was the flame of revolution still flickering in spite of the terror, was and disease. His long poem, The Revolt of Islam, written at the height of his powers, is clear on one matter above all else- that the ideas of progress, which inspired the revolution, will triumph once again.

In the "Ode to The West Wind" Shelley is seen as a rebel and he wants revolution. He desires a social change and the West Wind is to his symbol of change. This poem, written in iambic pentameter, begins with three stanzas describing the wind's effects upon earth, air and ocean. The last two stanzas are Shelley speaking directly to the wind, asking for its power, to life him like a leaf, or a cloud and make him his companion in its wanderings. He asks the wind to take his thoughts and spread them all over the world so that the youth are awoken with his ideas.

In the first stanza of this poem, Shelley says that the West Wind drives away the last sign of life in trees and also helps to rejuvenate the world by allowing the seeds to grow in the spring. In this way the West Wind acts as a destroyer and preserver. Shelley says, “Wild spirit, which art moving everywhere;/ Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh, hear!" Actually the West Wind acts as a driving force for change and rejuvenation in the human and natural world. And it is the symbol of revolution. Shelley begins his poem by addressing the Wild West Wind. He quickly introduces the theme of death and compares the dead leaves to ghosts. The imagery of "Pestilence-stricken multitudes" makes the reader aware that Shelley is addressing more than a pile of leaves. His claustrophobic mood becomes evident when he talks of the wintry bed and

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"

Although the West Wind symbolizes his own personality and in the middle of the poem he seems somehow pessimistic when he says, "Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!/ I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!", at the end of the poem he is seen very much optimistic when he say that his revolutionary ideas must bring a change and the new order will be established.

The wind blows through the jungle and produces music out to the dead leaves. Shelley requests it to create music out of his heart and to inspire him to write great poetry, which may create a revolution in the hearts of men . He wants the Wind to scatter his revolutionary message in the world, just as it scatters cries and sparks from a burning fire. His thoughts may not be as fiery as they once were, but they still have the power to inspire men. He tells the Wind to take message to sleeping world, that if winter comes, spring cannot be far behind. After bed days come good days. Here he says, " If winter comes , can spring be far behind?"

We also find Shelley’s revolutionary zeal in ode “To A Skylark”. According to Shelley, the bird, Skylark, that pours spontaneous melody from heaven and sours higher and higher can never be a bird. It is for the poet, a joyful spirit that begins its upward flight at sunrise and becomes invisible at evening like the stars of the sky that become invisible in day light. Moreover, it is compared with the beans of the moon whose presence is rather felt than seen. It's a heavenly bird and by singing it spreads its influence through the world.

In the opening stanza, the bind is seen as a "blithe spirit" that "pourest thy full heart/ In profuse strains of unpremeditated art." The words "Pourest thy full heart" mean that the bird pours out its heart in song and with "In profuse strains of unpremeditated art", Shelley refers to the spontaneous flow of music which comes from the Skylark. There is nothing artificial in its music, it overflows profusely from its heart. And Shelley says as a spirit of revolution it spreads it revolutionary message as the moon spreads its beam. He says,

"All the earth and air
With thy voice is loud,
As, when might is bare,
From one lonely cloud
The moon rains our her beams, and Heaven is overflowed."

As in the beginning of the poem, the poet says the bird is a heavenly bird and it is a joyful spirit, its life is not sorrowful like that of human being. The life of human being is full of sorrow, suffering and it is rare to find ecstasy without pain. Our happiness is often mapped by memories of part affections and sorrows, and the painful uncertainly of what is to come in the future. Man is a creature that looks "before and after". He is subject to weariness and satiety, so that he can never enjoy happiness perennially. But the Skylark knows on satiety. It is the very embodiment of perennial delight, ever fresh and full of west and unwearied in its enjoyment of happiness. Human life, on the other hand, is subject to recurrent spells of frustration and pain. As he say,

“We look before and after,
And shoe for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught:
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought."

So the poet wants to experience half the gaiety of the bird and them he would sing wit such excellent poetic ecstasy via the people of the world listen to him. He says,

"Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow
The world should listen then-as I am listening now."

In the concluding part it can be said that Shelley is a true revolutionary poet whose message bears the ideas of revolution………………


Business Promoter said...

This article is very helpful. Thanks a lot for this note about Shelley as a revolutionary poet. Students can also visit

sk said...

Good but full of misspellings! Please edit before you post.

Sofiya Mohammed Saleh said...

a samaritan indeed.