How do the natural images in "Ode to the West Wind" by Shelley endorse his political views?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Shelley embraces much in way of Romantic thought in his alignment of natural images and political agendas. In writing the closing to his "Defence of Poetry," Shelley argues that "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world."  This sentiment that the poet's voice, driven by nature and subjectivity, can become an agent of political change and advocacy.  Such an idea is evident in the employment of natural imagery in "Ode to the West Wind."

Within “images drawn from the seasonal cycle,” Shelley advocates political change and "a sense of social renewal."  One such example is in the opening of the poem:  "O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being/ Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead,/ Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing." The natural imagery is one where change is inevitable.  Consistent with Romanticism, Shelley seems to be calling upon the natural forces of change in order to facilitate a moral and political evolution.  "Leaves dead" and being "driven like ghosts" are akin to images of tyranny and forces of social and political oppression that animated Shelley's belief in freedom.  His zealous defense of individual liberty is evident in the opening lines' employment of natural imagery.

This trend of equating natural imagery with political change is evident throughout the poem.  The "swift cloud" and "the wave's intenser days" are natural images that brim with freedom and individual identity apart from a controlling entity.  In these images, Shelley is able to articulate a realm of individual freedom and autonomy that exists apart from external dominance.  Consistent with a political stand against authority and tyranny, these images are ways in which the Romantic belief in nature aligns with the advocacy of specific political values.  "The trumpet of a prophecy" is another natural image that hearkens out to a force of change that transforms the Status Quo.  Here again, is the Romantic tendency to equate the truth of nature with the universality of political values that embrace the natural setting.   The closing line of the poem also emphasize this condition of being:  "If Winter Comes, can Spring be far behind?"  In this line, Shelley makes the argument that tyranny and the political silencing of voice will always give way to the condition of freedom and individual expression.  In making this Romantic dialectic a natural one, Shelley argues that temporality will succumb to transcendental notions of identity.  The natural images end up endorsing Shelley's political stance.

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