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Jkjk Essay, Research Paper
the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration, the mirrors of
the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present . . .
In “Ode to the West Wind,” Shelley implores the West Wind, a powerful force of nature that Shelley identifies with his rapidly-changing reality, to “lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!” He also expresses his almost-melancholy wish that he could be as
I were in my boyhood, and could be
The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven (Ode 815)
“Ode to the West Wind” invokes the attendant spirit from which Genius comes to grant Creativity also. “If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear,” he pleads, “If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee” (Ode 815). In the fifth section, he begs the West Wind (which he identifies with himself early in the section) to
Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth,
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind! (Ode 815)
Again, Shelley is asking the force that provides inspiration to act through him.
“Ode to the West Wind” also expresses the hungering for Imagination. Not only does Shelley want the force to make him the “trumpet of a prophecy” (Ode 815), but he also is trying to forge a oneness with the West Wind in the middle of the fifth section (”Be thou, Spirit fierce, / My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!”). A common Romantic notion was the idea that Imagination was the side of the mind that allowed a person to forge a link with someone or something.
Another of the central ideas of the Romantic literary figures was the inherent value of the “primitive and untrammeled” (Revolution 657). Shelley fills the third section of “Ode to the West Wind” with images of innocence and serenity. Descriptions of “azure moss and flowers,” “sea-blooms,” and “oozy woods” dominate this part of the poem.
The fifth section also expresses Shelley’s belief that the quest for beauty is important. At the beginning of the fifth section, Shelley conjures the wind to “make me thy lyre” (Ode 815). The lyre is one of few instruments which existed in the seventeenth century which had taken the same form since ancient Greece. It is a symbol of art and beauty; it is also a frequent symbol for the artist being played by inspiration (Ode 815).
What is perhaps most important is that “Ode to the West Wind” expresses the aspect of the Romantic movement which emphasized the search for individual definitions of morality rather than blindly accepting religious dogmas. As William Blake had his “Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” which emphasized the belief that traditional ideas of good and evil needed reconsidering, so Shelley believed that in some (but hardly all) cases, good could come from evil (”Percy” 811-12). Shelley does not support this idea in any particular place in the poem, but rather by the way the poem develops throughout.
For instance, Shelley supports this idea in the way he orders the sections. The first two sections contain images of violence, death, and the coming Winter: the West Wind itself; the “leaves dead”; the colors yellow, black, pale, and “hectic red”; the “corpse within a grave”; the “angels of rain and lightning”; the M?nad, and the “approaching storm.” In short, these first two sections describe images of evil: the West Wind brings death, cold, and hardship. The third section describes images of peace and serenity: the “blue Mediterranean,” “summer dreams,” “sleep,” “old palaces and towers,” the “azure moss and flowers,” and the “oozy woods.” These images and serenity are disturbed only by the coming of the West Wind, which threatens to disturb the balance of the peaceful life.
In the fourth and fifth sections, Shelley begins to identify himself with the Windand beseeches the Wind to work through him for the good of humanity; he wants the wind to
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth! (Ode 815)
Shelley is saying here that although the Wind can be a force for evil, he wants the Wind to work through him because good can come from evil; here, a “new birth” of Imagination, Genius, and Creativity can come from death, darkness, and hardship.
Shelley is essentially a visionary of this change; he invokes the powerful West Wind, a force he identifies with evil, his ever-changing world, and his own subconscious, to work through him to bring about the change that he so badly desires for the world, and believes could be possible. Shelley’s poem is his attempt to let the West Wind work through him.
19th Century Romanticism in Europe-
Romanticism began in the early 19th century and radically
changed the way people perceived themselves and the state of nature
around them. Unlike Classicism, which stood for order and established
the foundation for architecture, literature, painting and music,
Romanticism allowed people to get away from the constricted, rational
views of life and concentrate on an emotional and sentimental side of
humanity. This not only influenced political doctrines and ideology,
but was also a sharp contrast from ideas and harmony featured during
the Enlightenment. The Romantic era grew alongside the Enlightenment,
but concentrated on human diversity and looking at life in a new way.
It was the combination of modern Science and Classicism that gave
birth to Romanticism and introduced a new outlook on life that
embraced emotion before rationality.
Romanticism was a reactionary period of history when its seeds
became planted in poetry, artwork and literature. The Romantics turned
to the poet before the scientist to harbor their convictions (they
found that the orderly, mechanistic universe that the Science thrived
under was too narrow-minded, systematic and downright heartless in
terms of feeling or emotional thought) and it was men such as Johann
Wolfgang von Goethe in Germany who wrote “The Sorrows of Young
Werther” which epitomized what Romanticism stood for. His character
expressed feelings from the heart and gave way to a new trend of
expressing emotions through individuality as opposed to collectivism.
In England, there was a resurgence into Shakespearean drama since many
Romantics believed that Shakespeare had not been fully appreciated
during the 18th century. His style of drama and expression had been
downplayed and ignored by the Enlightenment’s narrow classical view of
drama. Friedrich von Schlegel and Samuel Taylorleridge (from Germany
and England respectively) were two critics of literature who believed
that because of the Enlightenment’s suppression of individual emotion
as being free and imaginative, Shakespeare who have never written his
material in the 19th century as opposed to the 18th century. The
perception that the Enlightenment was destroying the natural human
soul and substituting it with the mechanical, artificial heart was
becoming prevalent across Europe.
The Lyrical Ballads, published in 1798, was a series of poems
that examined the beauty of nature and explored the actions of people
in natural settings. Written by William Woodsworth, this form of
poetry was free, expressive and without constraint as evident by this
“If this belief from heaven be sent, If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament, What man has made of man?”
Such passages from his work indicates that poetry and literature was
also used as a form of rebellion or distaste for political
institutions or social conditions during the 19th century. However,
since most poets thrived on the emotional and irrational abstract that
they were writing about, there was no specific category that this mode
of thinking could fall into. This was a strength since the freedom to
explore nature was infinite and without any restriction based on
rules, law or doctrine. This invariably led to a re-introduction into
religion and mysticism; people wanted to explore the unknown. The
Genius of Christianity, written by Rene de Chateaubriand, offered a
contrast to Science. He found Christianity to be “the most poetic,
most human, the most conducive to freedom, to arts and literature…”
of all the religions and deduced that Science was lacking this element
which could benefit mankind.
The middle ages were regarded as a creative period when humans
lived close to the soil and were unblemished with the effects of
industrialization or urbanization. Romanticism began to show the
people that the Enlightenment had overstayed its welcome by leading
the people to a future that offered a vision of mankind as being part
of a group rather than an individual. G. W. F. Hegel, a German
philosopher, rejected the rational philosophy of the 18th century
because he believed in “Idealism”. This involved looking at life in
terms of the importance of ideas, not thought the narrow tunnel of
materialism and wealth. By advocating Idealism, Hegel concluded that
mankind could be led by his spirit, his soul, rather than the
establishment or the status quo. Although Romanticism was perhaps
conservative in nature, every participant of this swift and silent
movement could relish in his own free and glorious vision of nature.
Romanticism was not a political movement or a reformist package
offered by a group of dissidents; Romanticism was a time when mankind
could restructure his outlook on life so that he was able to reach new
heights of intellectual and political awareness. In the process of
doing so, he found answers to practical problems by simply using his
heart and searching his soul.
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