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 he interpreted poets as vessels for nature, among other things.
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).
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.
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.