Compare Keats’ “To Autumn” to Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind”
Since historical times, art has always been employed by various individuals as a medium for expressing the views, perceptions and cultural values. Over time, the respective platform has been useful in preserving cultural values and virtues that populations of various generations uphold. In history, artistic works are employed for underscoring the characteristic of the populations that existed at that particular point in time. In this regard, art is used as a medium for reflecting various societal attributes that characterize the society at different times. There are various literary works that have increasingly been employed for pursuing the above mentioned goals and objectives. The choice of the authors with respect to the type of literary work to employ in relaying important messages and information to the audience is influenced by the type of the message, type of audience, competence or proficiency of the authors in using the respective forms and so forth. Most importantly, the authors place particular emphasis on successful or effective representation of the information. Usually, the underlying objective is to pass on the information to the audience with utmost ease and accuracy.
Apart from songs, poems have been employed by artists to express their individual views as well as the perceptions, values and virtues of the society. In order to enhance coherence, the artists use various styles of presentations. Poetic devices in this regard play an imperative role of not only developing the plot but also relaying to the audience vital information that the author wishes to present. Stylistic devices are also instrumental in enhancing the receptiveness of the message by the audience. In other words, they generally add value to the poems and make it attractive o the audience. It is against this background that this paper compares Keats’ To Autumn to Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind in light of various poetic devices such as diction, image repletion, word repetition, meter, rhythm and other poetic effects. To enhance coherence, the paper begins by providing a distinct summary of each poem.
In his To Autumn, the persona personalizes the season of autumn and addresses it in this context. In the very first stanza, the speaker notes that the sun and autumn are best friends who work together to makes fruits grow as well as ripen crops prior to their harvest. After ripening, the respective fruits drop their seeds and set the stage for the season of spring that ensures that the crops flower (Keats 46). The process is cyclic as spring later paves way for autumn to kick start the process again. The speaker also cites that bees usually think that summer is everlasting and would allow them to continually buzz around.
In the second stanza, the speaker provides a description of the harvesting period. During this period, he notes that autumn tends to hang around the granary hat stores the harvested grains. Since most of the work has been accomplished, autumn is free to take a nap and rest in the fields, watch cider making and take walks across brooks. The speaker then notes in the next stanza that although the music sung during spring tends to be a distant memory, autumn’s music is also cool. The autumn’s music according to the author is characterized by harvested fields at the time of sunset, images and representations of clouds, bleating lambs, flying gnats around the river and whistling and twittering birds. The persona concludes that the interplay of all the preceding sounds culminate in a harmonious symphony of beauty.
In his Ode to the West Wind, Shelley uses the speaker to make appeals to the west wind and request it to infuse or give him a new spirit as well as power that would enable him to spread his ideas accordingly (Waters 65). In a bid to invoke this west wind, the persona provides a list of various things that have been pursued by the wind and which demonstrate its power. These include bringing of thunderstorms, driving away of the autumn leaves, placing of seeds into the earth, triggering cyclical death of this natural earth and stirring up oceans and seas. The speaker then wishes that this powerful west wind would affect him in a similar way that it affects clouds, waves and leaves.
Since the wind can not pursue this, he requests it to play him in a similar manner as an instrument. This according to the speaker would enable the wind to bring out his sadness using the musical lament. The speaker is optimistic that the wind would enable him to send the ideas across the globe. Even though the relative messages may not be inherently powerful, they would b vital in inspiring others. The characteristic sad music that the west wind would play would become a prophecy. According to the speaker, the west wind that characterizes autumn paves way for the cold and barren period of winter.
With regard to imagery and symbolism, both poets objectify autumn and personalize it in different ways. Keats uses autumn as his speaker and in this context, autumn can be likened to a woman because it is said to be beautiful. The lady autumn in this poem collaborates with the sun, takes lazy naps, basks in the granary’s breeze and so forth. In lines 2-3, the author cites “Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun/ With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run” (Keats 44). In this respect, autumn and the sun engage in whispers just like the gossiping teenage girls. Their goal and objective however is noble as they are solely responsible for providing bounty fruit as well as crops to be employed for sustaining populations through winter.
Shelley on the other hand personalizes the west wind that characterizes that autumn season. Likewise, the speaker considers the west wind to be very powerful. In particular, s/he believes that it has the ability to help him to effectively communicate his ideas as well as opinions to other individuals. The poem suggests that the wind blows from the west and triggers the rebirth of spring as well as offsets the wintry death.
Seemingly, Keats contrasts autumn other season competitors; summer and spring. Winter in this poem is left in the cold. Just like in Shelley’s Ode to The West Wind, winter is characterized by extreme weather conditions that are unsupportive of life and sustainability. Summer on the other hand has ideal conditions to the point that the bees do not realize when it comes to an end. Compared to winter and autumn, summer is shorter or does not last for long. Notably, this gives it a competitive advantage against autumn. Spring on the other hand is characterized by kicking songs that are equally ideal. Nonetheless, the playlist of autumn is presented to be just good. Line eleven of this poem cites that silly bees are unable to hide in the spring flowers for an extended period of time. According to Watkins, the ‘clammy cells’ is a metaphor that provides a comparison between inside parts of a flower and the damp cells employed by monks (184). In this respect, the warmth of the summer is presented to be important and so much that it penetrates the inside parts of a flower.
Unlike Keats, Shelley underscores water bodies and likens this to the west wind. In the second cantos, the west win is considered to have a stream as well as a blue surface. This directly compares it to a water body. Further, the clouds that get carried by the west wind originate from the water masses such as oceans and would rain back to the ocean in future. Line twenty nine of the third canto presents the wind waking the Mediterranean Sea from the summer dreams that it is having. In addition, the west wind proceeds to chopping up a part of the Atlantic Ocean’s surface. Although the water almost succeeds in washing away the wind, the speaker is quick to remind the audience that the west wind is stronger than passive and calm seas.
Unlike Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind, Keats’ To Autumn utilizes the pastoral concept to symbolize the simple life that characterizes the rural settings. In normal circumstances, pastorals represent natural scenery that is not only rich but also vivid. These are underscored as autumn makes her journey through the rich landscape. Notably, the landscape is characterized by wide ranging traditional images that are typical of the English countryside. This is apparent in line four to five of this poem where vines are presented as running around various eves of the thatches houses. Further, the mossy trees are presented as growing next to the cottages. This is consistent with pastoral artworks that usually represent how humans coexist in a harmonic manner with the natural environment. Line thirty to thirty three utilizes various recognizable images such as birds chirping and whistling in the garden, lambs feeding on the hillside and crickets staying on the hedge.
For instance, in lines 5-7, the author personifies the west wind and considers it a charioteer that is characterized by winged seeds. With these, the west wind carries the earth to their dormant rest during winter. Line 14 on the other hand describes the west wind as a ‘destroyer and preserver’. This according to Zhang is an illusion to Vishnu and Siva; the Hindu gods. Notably, the west wind is powerful and is likened to super natural power. It is closely related to autumn and greatly influences other seasons such as winter and spring. This approach is similar to Keats who establishes a relationship between autumn, summer and spring.
The images that both authors use have varied implications on the mood of the poem. Unlike Keats who places emphasis on weight and ripeness, Shelley’s poem greatly explores the concept of death and funerals through imagery. In To Autumn, autumn is presented as a season that supports fruition and fattening of crops. It is characterized by harvests and unlimited abundance as well as overflowing. Keats takes practical measures to illustrate the relative incredible richness and thickness that is typical of autumn. In particular, he contrasts various images of heaviness and lightness as well as those of flying and falling things. Line three for instance indicates that fruit does not merely grow on vines, but vines are loaded with the fruits and can be likened to a shelf loaded with very heavy items (Watkins 184). Line twenty of this poem describes the head of autumn as heavy or laden when she crosses the brook.
To demonstrate the loss and doom in his poem, Shelley refers severally to the image of dead leaves. These are remnants of the season that precedes autumn and which the west wind blows away. Metaphorically, this is a representation of various pages that the writer writes on as well as the poetry that is generated by the persona. After the ides are successfully put on paper, they are transferred and printed on leaves that constitute the book. These according to the author are declining at this point in time. Lines 2-5 of this poem underscore the dead leaves being blown away by west wind. The lines likened this action to ghosts running from an enchanter. The colors of the leaves are then listed as “Yellow and Black, and pale and hectic red” (Line 4). The choice of words in this regard implies death and doom as opposed to reproduction and bounty.
With respect to funerals, these are not directly presented in the poem; rather they are implied. Words such as corpses, the dying year, dirges, ashes and sepulcher are a representation of funerals. Also apparent is an illusion of Christian imagery that is presented by the last trumpet. The author indicates that when the spring blows its clarion, the bodies of the dead would resurrect. In the context of the poem, this implies that the onset of spring would culminate in the growing of the dead leaves. The west wind is further compared to a dirge as well as a dead man attending a funeral (line 23-28). Lines 65 to 67 of this poem cite an incantation that would presumably trigger the west wind to scatter the words of the poet. The words in this regard are described as sparks and ashes. This implies that while some words might have an inspirational effect, some might not and could in fact be already dead.
Both poems explore the concept of mortality and the relative transformation. Keats approaches this in an indirect manner using the symbol of autumn. It is widely agreed that autumn in most instances symbolizes old age or the period that precedes death. Keats does not refer directly to death. He uses aspects such as the bees not lasting for an extended period of time and the day dying. In the final sections of his poem, the whole landscape contributes in different ways to the mourning song. In contrast, the West Wind makes direct references to death. The author depicts the autumnal wind that is making preparations for winter. He also utilizes wide ranging images of decay as well as death. These are classic reminders of human and natural mortality. According to the speaker, the death of a single world would inevitably culminate in the rebirth of another new world during the period of spring.
With respect to the meter, Keats employs the iambic pentameter. In each line of the poem, there are five iambs that consist of an unaccented syllable that is then followed by n accented syllable. Shelley on the other hand adopts an English sonnet format that consists of five cantos. Each of these has fourteen lines and he ends each in a couplet. However, it has certain characteristics of an iambic pentameter regardless of the differences in the number of syllables that characterize each line. In this consideration, Ode to The West Wind is akin to a miniature sonnet constituting a sequence of five other sonnets.
Both poets also take measures to create rhythm in their poems. This is attained using the stylistic device of rhyme. According to McInnis, Shelley adopts the third rhyme that is also referred to as the terza rima (33). The lines of the poems are grouped in threes and the rhyme of one set of the three lines is employed as the outside rhyme for the next three lines. Thus the rhyme scheme of this poem is ‘ABA, BCB, and CDC’. As aforementioned, the poem is also divided in to chapters or cantos. This differs considerably from the structure as well as rhythm that is employed by Keats. In his To Autumn, Keats has only three stanzas, each with eleven lines. Xu and Liu cite that each stanza has a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDEDCCE (13). Notably, this scheme succeeds in dividing the stanzas in two sections; one of four lines and another of seven lines. Unlike the last seven lines that tend to be elaborate, the first four lines simply set up a distinct topic for each stanza.
Although the rhymes that are employed are different, these have been useful in developing rhythm in the poems. From a literary point of view, rhythm is important because it enables the readers or audience to understand as well as remember the poem. They encourage emphasis that plays an instrumental role in enabling them to always remember the message and employ it for various purposes. Arguably, the characteristic rhythm also reminds the audiences of the themes that characterize the poem. Themes usually constitute important messages that are at the core of the information supposed to the relayed o the audience. Without these, the poem looses meaning and is unlikely to be of any importance to the audience. This undermines the fundamental goal of most literary works pertaining to the need to inform the audience about vital information.
The two poets choose their words with utmost care and use them to relaying important messages to the audience. In other words, the diction that they employ helps them to not only present the message effectively but to also to eliminate any ambiguity or complexity that undermines the understanding by the audience. The choice of words also goes a long way in enabling the two authors to attain their goals pertaining to creation of mood in the poem. In his poem, Keats uses the words such as mellow fruitfulness to represent the autumn season the term mellow literarily refers to a cool atmosphere or weather that is devoid of cold conditions (Keats 58). In line fifteen, the term winnowing is used perfectly to imply separation of the chaff from the grain. Since the chaff tends to be lighter, it can easily be blown away by the wind. This in most instances is undertaken during the autumn or harvesting period.
Likewise, the ideal choice of words by Shelley enables him to relay to the audience complex messages in a very simple and normal manner. This enhances understanding by the audience and influences utilization of the messages or information for personal benefit. Phrases such as the decaying leaves and withered eaves refer to the limited choices that the speaker has as well as the desperate situation that he is in. They are a representation of powerlessness and ascertain the importance of the help that the west wind can extend to the speaker. According to McInnis, this also enables the author to develop the sorrowful mood and use the images for passing on important messages to the audience (33).
In sum, the two poems have various differences as well as similarities. As it has come out from the study, both poets utilize various images that have underlying meanings. Also, they use diction to attain different goals and objectives. Rhyme is also used to create rhythm and relay messages or information to the audience in an effective manner. Seemingly, the concept of mortality is at the core of the messages and information of the poets. The poets approach this in different ways. Unlike Shelley who approaches it more directly, Keats approaches this indirectly. Both use the autumn concept to underscore and explore this theme accordingly.
Keats John. Keats Poetry and Prose. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008. Print.
McInnis David. Humoral Theory as an Organizing principle in Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind. A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews, 20.2 (2007): 32-34. Print.
Waters William. Poetry’s Touch: On Lyric Address. USA: Cornell University Press, 2003. Print.
Watkins Daniel. The Dialogic Keats: Time and History in major Poems. Keats-Shelley Journal, 49 (2000): 183-185. Print.
Xu Dejin and Liu Jiang. To Autumn: A Harmonious and Romantic Chord of Eco-feminism. Foreign Languages and their Teaching, 6.1 (2007): 12-26. Print.
Zhang Donghong. Metaphors in the first Stanza of Ode to the West Wind: A Cognitive Linguistic Approach. Asian Social Science, 5.7 (2009): 5-10. Print.
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