Shelley and Keats
Autumnal Theme in English Romantic Poetry:
Shelley^Òs "Ode to the West Wind"
and Keats^Òs "To Autumn."
A season of autumn is traditionally associated with transience
and mutability, with dying of nature and expectations of the
following winter time. For Romantic poets who are known for
their extraordinary sensitivity to natural moods the period of
fall becomes a great force for poetic creativity. Percy Bysshe
Shelley^s "Ode to the West Wind" and John Keats^s ode "To
Autumn" are two beautiful poems which were blown to its authors
by the English autumn ^ both poets are influenced by the
seasonal process in nature which ushers them into the mood of
transience ...view middle of the document...
.. within [their] grave" (WW, 676/7-8). All these images talk to
the author of the "dying year" (WW, 677/24), of transience of time and
of aging. Little by little his mind becomes full of "dead
thoughts"(WW, 678/63) which overwhelm him after he penetrates the
autumnal mood of nature ^ thus his mind generates the mood of the
season and he becomes a part of it. However, observing the autumnal
devastation Shelley knows that this season is not to rule over the
earth forever: for him it is just a period of "darkness which waits for
a redeemer" (Webb, p.178). He expects the time when "Spring shall blow"
(WW, 676/9) over England and new leaves will replace the falling ones,
and when the "winged seeds" (WW, 676/7-8) will awake from their deep
sleep to produce new life. Aware of the fact that year after year "the
old life goes and a new life returns with the seasonal cycle" (Tet,
p.214), the poet is disturbed by a feeling of heavy pressure of time on
the world. Being a part of natural mood, as well as natural mood being
a part of him, Shelley decidedly composes the lines, where he
identifies the mature season of the year with his own aging: "A heavy
weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee^"(WW,678/55-6).
According to Ronald Tetreault^s critical study The Poetry of Life:
Shelley and Literary Form "the poet^s response to the wind initially
repeats the response of nature" (Tet, p.214). So, as the autumnal
forest gets old and leafless, thus the poet feels how he grows older
and so he writes: "as the forest is^my leaves are falling like its
own" (WW, 678/57-8). Shelley believes that the "wild west wind^ breath
of Autumn^s being" (WW, 676/1) is responsible for the autumnal
desolation which influences both nature and the poet himself. In the
Ode the poet describes it as a power
"^from whose unseen presence the leaves are driven, like ghosts from an
enchanter fleeing^" (WW,676/2-3).
Ronald Tetreault sensibly claims that this wind ^ "a mysterious cause
whose existence is evident only in its effects" ^ in this poem becomes
a "symbol for the unknown power which animates the life" (Tet, p.214).
This is a kind of sublime authority which has an infinite rule over
the worldly substances: Shellean west wind is both "Destroyer and
Preserver" (WW, 676/14) which is responsible not only for the deadly
manifestations of autumn, but also for the coming of lively spring
("until thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow^" (WW, 676/7-8)).
Throughout the whole poem Shelley deliberately chooses the praises for
the powerful west wind: he calls it "wild" (WW, 676/12) or "fierce"
(WW, 678/61) spirit which is "moving everywhere" (WW, 676/12), and,
moreover, calls its power "Uncontrollable" (WW, 678/47). All these
characteristics serve the invocation of the impression that the wind
is an absolute and free power, which influences everything around. The
"loose clouds like Ear! th^s decaying leaves are shed" (WW,...