What a Poetic Thought! Poets are Vessels!

Discussion Question: How does Shelley use nature to define the poet’s craft?

At the end of his piece A Defence of Poetry, Percy Shelley wrote “poet’s are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration” (869). Assuming that nature is one of the possible “unapprehended” inspirations, Shelley believed that poets are the expositors or “legislators of the World” and of esoteric principles (869). Therefore, we could argue that Blog Entryhe interpreted poets as vessels for nature, among other things.

Interesting term for a man who was atheist.

In his poem Ode to the West Wind, Shelley seems to allegorise the role of the poet as a vessel. Shelley used wind as a multiple layered piece of inspiration. The first three parts explore nature in autumn and the changes it permits. This is done through the use of multiple natural phenomenons being described, but most importantly through the use of the West Wind.  By the fourth canto, Shelley’s use of first person entertains the possibility of a shift in the poem’s focus to the speaker rather than the Wind.

In the fifth and last canto, it is clear that Shelley focuses on the role of the poet.

The speaker starts the canto asking to be made into the wind’s “lyre”, or into an instrument that responds to the “tameless” wind (793). Then the speaker asks for the wind’s “spirit” to become his, or to embody the wind. He hopes for the wind to remove all distracting thoughts from his mind and to allow him to be a vessel for the wind, as his “lips” could preform the wind’s “harmonies” among the “unawakened Earth” (793).

“Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere; / Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!” (791)

Shelley does define the poet’s craft through the use of nature in Ode to the West Wind. The poet’s craft and role erupts from the hierophant ability to expose, embody, and entertain nature. The poet is pleading to take in the inspiration around him, to be lifted as “a wave, a leaf, a cloud”  by the West Wind (793). The poet can become like instruments, like a lyre or a trumpet, for nature. A poet’s craft involves interpreting and creating a voice for the inspirations – in this case nature – it is intertwined with. From his words, Shelley also develops that a poet and their craft can awaken the Earth with their visions and “prophecy” from nature (793). A poet can use inspiration from nature, as Shelley did with the West Wind, and turn it into a revelation as a hierophant would. Through this interpretation and voice the craft of a poet gives substance and apprehension of their inspiration.

Shelley seems to be happy within nature in this moment from the film Gothic (1986). (Click image for link to imdb)

Percy Shelley was a vessel and captured nature in his works. He is an example of what The Ode to the West Wind and A Defence of Poetry explain and interpret – a poet who was a vessel and hierophant for nature.


Here’s some cool links if you’re into fun stuff related to Shelley:

  • If you have a tumblr. and like Percy Shelley you could follow Bysshe for quotations or fun gifs like the one above.
  • If you want to see a video about the Keats-Shelley House and a little history you can click here.
  • If you’d like to listen to an audio recording of Ode to the West Wind you can click here.


“Hierophant.” Def. 2. Oxford English Dictionary. 2012. OED Online. Web. 28 Jan. 2013.

Percy Shelley in Gothic (1986). Digital image. N.p., 2012. Web. 28 Jan. 2013.

Shelley, Percy B. “A Defence of Poetry.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature.Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. 869. Print.

Shelley, Percy B. “Ode to the West Wind.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature.Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. 791-93. Print.

Wind and Nature. Digital image. N.p., 2012. Web. 28 Jan. 2013.

About Theresa Kenney

A busy-bee student type at the University of Calgary in the midst of an undergraduate combined degree in Political Science and English.
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3 Responses to What a Poetic Thought! Poets are Vessels!

  1. Athena G. Csuti says:

    I thought it was interesting how you included a definition of heirophant and then point out that it is odd for an Atheist to be identified with it. While he was an Atheist (not believing in religion or a deity) I don’t think he was a nihilist. It seems as though it is almost a requirement of a poet, or an artist of any kind, to feel a connection to something both within themselves and beyond themselves, almost like a spirituality that now described as creativity and inspiration (once believed to be a visit by a muse). I think this is partly why the idea of a mad artist still persists even though there isn’t an indisputable correlation between mental illness and creativity.

    This is just my perspective based on my own experiences. I hope I worded it in a way that makes sense. I just wanted to point out that despite being an Atheist, I think it makes perfect sense for him to link poets to something almost supernatural or superstitious. It’s still a common idea today due to the creative process.

  2. jenniferbist says:

    I really liked the videos you placed into your blog, and I also wanted to agree with the comment above me about the definition you provided of “heirophant”, and how Shelley takes it that the poet is like a ‘vessel’ for nature. He speaks of it a lot, asking the things in nature to hear him, give him knowledge and inspiration to see the world; it sort of reminded me a lot of Wordsworth in his poems too.
    I also wanted to comment on the short documentary you provided on youtube about the home Shelley and Keats lived in. I didn’t know much about this topic, so it was very interesting to watch and showed me a very different view of the artists and the way they lived life that I had not previously known of. I found it interesting when the video noted that the Romantics (like Shelley and others) would have traveled to Rome out of some sort of ‘escapism’ rather than the previous generations of trying finishing their education. The poems we looked at in class, To a Sky-Lark and Ode to the West Wind, also sort of present a sort of ‘escaping’ idea and wanting nature, the wind and the birds, to elevate your mind instead of perhaps more ‘formal’ ‘old’ backgrounds of learning. The Romantics sort of remind me of some sort of ‘teenage rebellion’ against the parents, the educational system, and basically all of society in general as they go about their pursuits and love. Asking nature to be a vessel for you, or to invoke creativeness, it is like a spirituality of sorts, but not in a religious sense, which is what I also liked about the poems and the ‘freedom’ they inspire. The poet is like a ‘hidden’ thing, confined, that is only trying to escape much like the Romantics.

  3. rwhittaker says:

    I thought is was interesting that you noted that “the poet’s craft and role erupts from the hierophant ability to expose, embody, and entertain nature”, as Shelley’s notion of embodying nature – specifically in Ode to the West Wind – is evident. I think this expression of nature is most obvious when Shelley asks the wind to be his spirit. He states: “Be thou, Spirit fierce, My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!” You note that Shelley is a vessel that captured nature in his works, is this what he is doing in these aforementioned lines? Attempting to be a vessel for the wind? Or is he simply using the wind as his inspiration? I really enjoyed reading your post, and also enjoyed looking through the tumblr page you provided! You might like to look at this twitter page: https://twitter.com/CorCordium_PBS it is all lines from Shelley’s poetry – in 140 characters or less.

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