On Shelley and Nature

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

It is apparent in Percy Shelley’s writings that he was influenced by the nature around him immensely. In both “Ode to the West Wind” and “To a Sky-Lark” the focus is on nature and its beauty. It is this focus on the natural world that defines these two poems and many of his others. Shelley uses his admiration and curiosity of the natural world around him as a vehicle for his prose. His intricate and enthusiastic descriptions of the stars of his poems, the West Wind and Skylark, almost force the reader to long for nature and admire it as he does. He uses nature to capture the heart of the reader, perhaps stimulating a memory of nature long forgotten or a desire to be outside among Shelley’s influences. Shelley’s inspiration is clearly the world around him in both poems, but similarly, he involves his desires to be a successful poet in both.

Percy Shelley. A stud if I’ve ever seen one.

Shelley’s focuses on the natural world in “Ode to the West Wind”, particularly on the main character of the poem, the wind itself. After remarking on its many admirable qualities, he expresses his desire that it should help spread his prose; “Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth / Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!” (66-67) This quote is interesting as he seems to be playing with the reader. They are indeed reading his poem about the West Wind, so really, the wind did in fact spread his word, just not in the physical sense one might visualize from the poem.

The free-flowing wind.

In “To a Sky-Lark” Shelley again speaks of his desire to capture an aspect of his subject to use to his advantage. Like the wind, he wishes for an attribute of the Skylark, its happiness. He reasons that granted even half the gladness of a sky-lark, that; “Such harmonious madness / From my lips would flow / The world should listen then – as I am listening now.” (103-105) Shelley obviously admires the subject of his stories, but is he perhaps almost jealous of the ease in which they succeed at their purposes? The West Wind flows through with ease, and the skylark seems endlessly happy, singing its beautiful songs. Shelley also compares the song of the skylark to that of a poet; “Like a Poet hidden / In the light of thought” (36-37). Perhaps he sees some of himself in his subjects, and nature itself.

The enviable skylark.


Works Cited

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.

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4 Responses to On Shelley and Nature

  1. rwhittaker says:

    You ask the question: is Shelley jealous of the ease in which the skylark and the wind succeed at their purposes, and to answer, I believe that Shelley is in awe of the wind as well as the skylark, but that it is not the ‘ease’ of these things that he appreciates. The good old Oxford English Dictionary provides a few good definitions of the word ‘ease’ but I think that the most applicable one is as follows: absence of painful effort; freedom from the burden of toil. Although Shelley does personify the wind in Ode To The West Wind, specifically when he states that the “azure sister of the Spring shall blow her clarion o’er the dreaming earth” (9-10), I’m not sure (and please correct me if I’m wrong!) that Shelley ever insinuates that what the wind does is easy or – to use the aforementioned definition – free from the burden of toil. It is powerful, fierce, and both a “Destroyer and Preserver” (14), but I don’t think Shelley would describe is as flowing easily. I do however think that Shelley is – if not jealous of – in admiration of the power that the wind has, and the power that the skylark has in that although it can hardly be seen, “we feel that it is there” (25). This is true for the wind as well, no we can’t see it but we can feel it. I think this somewhat answers the question of how Shelley uses nature to define the poets craft, it is often more about what we feel in nature than what we actually see. Great post, I enjoyed it!
    – Reilly

  2. mattgigg says:

    I agree with ‘rwhittaker,’
    I don’t think it’s for ease that Shelly describes the wind or the skylark, but rather because both are unseen. Shelly mentions other senses and emotions that both muses effect/affect, but being unseen is, I think, the most important part. Both the wind and the skylark act as similes for the cliche idea of genius flowing from the poet: where this ‘genius’ comes from is unseen, but it’s results (the poem) affect us.

  3. daynaaasen7 says:

    One of the things that struck me the most about your analysis, and I don’t think it was even meant to be intentional, was the fact that you referred to the West Wind as a character. I’ve always thought of a character as something that was living, like the skylark. I don’t think I have ever thought about the possibility of inanimate objects being characters. But by having this thought, it made me question: what even is a character? What is the purpose of a character and why was I surprised to see something like the West Wind referred to as a character? So after sifting through many definitions of “character” in the Oxford English Dictionary, I got the general consensus that a character is a “symbol, emblem, or figure”. It saying nothing about a character needing to be a living breathing existence. Percy Shelley made the wind into a character by personifying it, and by identifying with it. The wind acted as a symbol of what Shelley wished to be. The way he wrote about the wind really did make it come alive, and it just struck me how cool it is that people have the ability to do such things through writing. I started thinking about other stories, poems, and even movies that I’ve watched in the past. I realized that things like the river in Pocahontas could totally be classified as a character, even though they aren’t alive. It also made me think of the song Colours of the Wind in comparison to “Ode to the West Wind”, which is kind of humorous. So I want to thank you for this little epiphany you’ve caused me have, as well as a reflection on my childhood!

  4. OliviaH says:

    Good job with your post! When you wrote “he uses nature to capture the heart of the reader, perhaps stimulating a memory of nature long forgotten or a desire to be outside among Shelley’s influences”, that really got me thinking. What memories of nature do I have? Do any of my memories of nature really stand out amongst others? I think it relates to the fact that you noted how Shelley used his admiration and curiosity of the natural world and this admiration led to his desire to capture an aspect of his subject to use to his advantage. I’ve never thought about it deeply, but there is probably an aspect of nature that I want to use to my advantage. Maybe sometime in my past, I have had feelings invoked from nature, I just forgot about them, but this poem brings back these memories. I am curious and do admire nature, so maybe I’ve wanted something from nature before. It’s good that you pointed this out, this reminds me that I am still curious about nature and I appreciate the feelings that I receive from it. Perhaps that’s the advantage nature is giving me; I admire nature, and in return, it allows me to experience such good feelings.

    On a side note, I have to admit that your caption for the picture of Percy Shelley made me laugh quite a bit.


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