Percy Bysshe Shelley – Ode to the West Wind

The violent wind evoked so powerfully by Shelley’s Ode is, as in many Romantic poems, representative of a tumultuous inner state of anguish. The racing rhythm and churning word inversions dramatize what can also be seen as emblematic of a violent and unpredictable Age, wreaking havoc but with the prophetic promise of peace to come as the seasons change. Juxtaposed with this destructive wind force is a vision of wind as the deity of poetic inspiration, a ‘spirit’. The ‘Wild’ freedom of the wind is also a symbol of lost youth. The poem’s sonnet-length stanzas suggest a dialectic structure, which we find in the uneasy recognition that violent tumult, while feared and fought, is also the source of poetic inspiration and freedom. Continue reading



I’ve just been writing an essay on Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind which I’ll put up tomorrow. I’ve realised that my writing style has a tendency to imbibe and imitate whatever critic I’m reading at the time. This week it was Harold Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence, which probably accounts for sentences such as ‘For the West Wind is the deity which, paradoxically, heralds in its own destruction… the frantic dancing priestess whose funeral dirge is linked through dance to the Hindu God of destruction Shiva’. Which is pure Bloom, flamboyant and ridiculously esoteric. It’s a brilliant writing style to read and clearly its infectious, and doesn’t bother me all that much. After all if I already had my own mature, developed writing style I wouldn’t be subjecting myself to this furious essay writing crusade.

What is of slightly more concern is when the ideas – which in Bloom’s case I disagree with more or less without exception – begin to exert their influence (and only now am I slightly anxious about using that term) over the argument. I’m sometimes blinded by the newest idea I’ve assimilated, and just like a bright light it’s stuck itself on my retina for a moment, so that I begin to see things in the text that aren’t really there.

Consequently, whether Shelley really means to see poetry as ‘born out of struggle and destruction… only able to provide release by destroying its own inspiration’, perhaps will only become clear when I reread this essay in a few weeks time. If I’m then under the influence of some other critical bias, then perhaps a whole sequence of these misreadings will potentially circle upon the real meaning. In this way I can hope to trully overcome this ‘anxiety of influence’ that I actually don’t even believe in.