I read this poem written by Shelley when I was some 15 years old. To be honest, I didn’t read it because I was a fan of Shelley’s poetry, but because I had no choice. I had to study it thoroughly because the poem happened to be a part of my course curriculum. At 15, I was a bit too young to understand the details and the wide range of thoughts portrayed in the poem.
The Basic Thought
Shelley, who wrote of loss, pain, and sorrow, beautifully captures the life cycle of a human being. Shelley, in the very first line of the poem, describes the west wind as “wild”. Something quite similar to this was sung by popular Bollywood singer Sonu Nigam in the song “Satrangi Re“. There comes a line in the song wherein he sings “Iss baar bataa muh’zor hawa thehregi kahaan” (Tell me, where will this wild wind stop). The poem tries to shed light on the fact that the west wind possesses the power to change seasons. (Seasons are quite similar to the challenging circumstances a person may come across in his/her life).
The Broader Perspective
Moving on, Shelley reiterates the fact that the west wind is powerful enough to annihilate anything and everything that comes in its way. The wind, while marching on its way ferociously, ends up blowing away the pale and dead autumn leaves. Furthermore, the unborn seeds are scattered all over the place because of the west wind’s intervention. These seeds then bloom during the spring.
To top it all, the west wind is a formidable force that has the power to change seasons. These seasons symbolize a person’s life cycle, right from his birth to growth, decline, and death. The cycle, untouched by joy and sorrow, keeps repeating itself.
Percy Shelley urges the wind to inspire him. He further states that he’s gone through a lot in life. The same is stated in the lines:
“And 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”
This stanza also sheds light on the emotional turmoil Shelley had to go throughout his life. Shelley, considered the most pessimistic of all English poets, was often seen rules and societal conventions. His revolutionary ideas were often met coldly by the world. Shelley’s love for eternal beauty and charm can also be seen in many of his poems.
Also, the death of his first wife (named Harriet) in 1816, Shelley’s heart sunk in gloom. The extent of pain he was going through is clearly evident in the lines mentioned above. After marrying Mary Wollstonecraft, he traveled through Europe. Upon the couple’s return, Mary was pregnant with Shelley’s child. The couple faced debt and the death of their daughter (born prematurely) intensified Shelley’s pain, grief, and sorrow.
The poem, decorated with countless traces of pessimism, paints a gloomy and murky picture. Winter, a season wherein life ceases to move, has been chosen to portray sadness and gloom. Despite being pessimistic, Shelley ends on a largely optimistic note. The lines that bring to light his optimistic outlook are:
“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”
The aforementioned line reiterates the fact that despite all the hardships, atrocities, failures, and death, life gives you ample opportunities to succeed. These lines also shed ample light on Shelley’s person belief that bodies are perishable, but thoughts and ideologies live forever. Lastly, he urges the west wind to scatter his thoughts over the universe, just as dead and dry leaves and unborn seeds are scattered over the face of the earth by the west wind.