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The notion common to both Hughes’ and Shelley’s poems is that of the wind as a tremendous, uncontrollable force, and the need to reconnect humans with the natural world. There is a host of imagery in Hughes’ poem associating wind with strength and violence, for example ‘wind wielded blade-light’ gives rise to images of war and Anglo-Saxon weaponry. This is similar to Shelley’s description of the wind as a ‘chariot’, a link to imagery of powerful rulers or gods. Both poems are strongly linked to human senses and employ the wind as a regenerative tool; in Shelley’s poem the west wind is personified through driving the dead leaves ‘like ghosts from an enchanter fleeting’.
‘Ode to the West Wind’ is a lyric poem that combines the connotations of lyric and ode; a presentation of intense emotive qualities and the use of elevated language to address a subject. In the first section of the ode, the poet outlines the relative ‘powers’ of the west wind, addressing the wind’s authority over the sky, land and sea in the first three stanzas, and establishing the wind as both “Destroyer and Preserver”. Whilst the wind preserves the regularity of the seasonal cycle, convoluted logic is presented through creating a parallel between life and death, shown by the way in which the wind scatters dead leaves across the floor of the forest, leaving them to eventually take root and bring new life. In a similar style, the opening line of Hughes’ poem is highly sensory, exposing time, surroundings and distance to the reader in the phrase ‘far out at sea all night’. This use of metaphor implies total isolation; ‘out at sea’ portrays an image of the house surviving constant battering from the inexhaustible wind as a boat might from waves, whilst the portrayal of time in ‘all night’ implies that the power of the wind so intense that it feels prolonged over a long time scale. Futility is paired with isolation; the alliteration of ‘blinding’ and ‘black’ generate strong emphasis on the individual words and heighten sensory awareness in the reader whilst remaining in keeping with the poem’s thematic material. This is shown in the image of the house ‘floundering’ hopelessly.
The idea of life cycles extends to humanity as a whole, as indicated in Shelley’s poem by the different colours of the leaves, ‘Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red’. The line ‘each like a corpse within its grave’ supports ideas of multiculturalism, as the varying colours of the leaves could be read as symbols of the widespread deaths of humanity across a wide range of ethnicities. The falling leaves are personified to become the ‘multitudes’ of people across the globe who suffer illness, and emphasize the role all humanity takes in the cycle of life and death. It is also significant to note that the rhyme scheme here is highly regular and exemplifies the need for continual movement. This is shown by Shelley’s decision to place a grave accent over the letter E in ‘wingèd’, resulting in the word being pronounced with two syllables, the first stressed and the second unstressed, in order to remain in keeping with the pre-established iambic pentameter metric scheme. This implies that regularity in daily life is the only way humans could survive unruly and external forces, such as the west wind. Furthermore, in the second stanza, another cycle is established as the wind assists the clouds in shedding: ‘…loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves are shed.’ The rain contributes to the regenerative cycle of nature as the dead foliage just as the trees brought new life in the forest by dropping dead foliage.
Hughes’ second stanza takes on the role of a witness to the magnitude of legacy that the wind will ultimately leave, shown in ‘…the hills had new places.’ The potency of the wind is immediately extended with the introduction of a character in the third stanza, with the person being forced to ‘scale’ rather than walk due to the power of the wind, implying a highly personal experience of pain induced by the wind itself. Similarly, Shelley establishes leaves as symbolic of the words he wrote, requesting that the wind should scatter his ‘words among mankind’. Aside from the obvious dual connection between leaves found both on trees and in books, Shelley wrote in his book, A Defence of Poetry, that the mind is ‘a fading coal…like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness’ . This relates directly to the request for the wind to scatter words across humanity, with the idea of a ‘fading coal’ echoing the need to re-ignite the embers that are Shelley’s words. In conclusion, the final measure of the power of both Shelley’s and Hughes’ ‘wind’, is the extent to which it had changed the environment that previously thrived on regularity and permanence.
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