Considering the days of Percy Shelley’s youth, one can hardly expect Shelley to have a passive attitude towards his own craft. According to the Norton’s biography of the poet, Percy Shelley entered adolescence and adulthood with a rather pessimistic attitude towards the inhumanity that has been inflicted upon fellow men and he “dedicated his life to a war against injustice and oppression” (748-49). Therefore, it only makes sense that he viewed his poems, and those of his contemporaries, as philosophical dialogues, as manifestations of passion, and as political statements. In his poems, “Ode to the West Wind” and “To a Sky-Lark,” Shelley uses imagery and allegory from the natural world in order to define the poet’s craft.
In “To a Sky-Lark,” Shelley, in order to define the bird, says the lark is “Like a Poet hidden / In the light of thought” (36-37) which, in turn is “Like a high-born maiden In a palace tower” (41-42). Interchangeably, the poet must be comparable to the lark. The poet’s beauty is hidden, but like the lark and the maiden, the poet and his craft become more beautiful because it is hidden.
The poet “[sings] hymns unbidden, Till the world is wrought To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not” (38-40). Shelley uses this comparison with the lark to show that no one will ever ask a poet to “sing” and hardly ever will they receive thanks, but when a poet does practice his craft, it becomes a window or creates a perspective that will open the eyes of humanity.
In “Ode to the West Wind,” describes the strong autumn breeze taking away the dead material of winter to make way for spring. In the notes, the editors make mention that this description is significant because Shelley had considered liberty having left Europe for North America. By including this wind from the west, Shelley hopes “the wind my carry liberty back again” (791). This contextualizes the poem as highly political, but also is symbolic to the individual (the poet) also. In the poem, Shelley creates an external and natural depiction of clearing out the old, dead, and dusty. He matches this imagery with an “inner change, a burst of creative power that is paralleled to the inspiration of prophets” (791). This “inner change” is Shelley’s description of the poetic process. Shelley considers a poet to be an instrument that is merely played. “Make me thy lyre” (57) the poet begs of the west wind. Just as an instrument cannot be played without the musician, a poet cannot write without a cause, without inspiration.
It is the poet’s duty to inspire. Whether he is inspiring hopes or fears, it is his role to receive inspiration in his turn and to interpret it. A poets craft is always in motion, always changing, like the wind, or a bird, or the changing of the seasons. “The trumpet of prophecy! O, Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” (69-70)
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.
Shelley, Percy B. “To a Sky-Lark.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature.Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. 834-36. Print.