Let me start by saying that I love the English Romantic poets and I also really like Shelley’s works. That said, I’d be lying if I failed to confess that I find “Ode to the West Wind” to be the most pretentious poem I have ever read.
Before I slam this poem, let me state what I like about this poem. I think the concept of the poem is great. Essentially, Shelley is expressing the importance of suffering and experiencing life as a way to draw inspiration in the creation of poetry. I get that and I am in complete agreement. So the main idea is fine, it’s the language that Shelley uses that I have an issue with.
The first three sections of the poem end with the phrase “O hear!” I understand that he is using this as a refrain and a way to encourage people to listen to the poetic muse, but it just makes me cringe. It seems pompous to me, almost like he’s preaching from upon a dais to those uneducated folk who don’t quite understand the transcendent power of poetry. How different the tone would be if he had quietly encouraged readers to “Listen” instead.
The fourth section contains a line that for me is the epitome pretentious poetry: “I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!” I am so glad that this was not the first poem I read, because if it was, I don’t think I would have ever read poetry again. I would venture to assert that this line could ruin anyone’s interest in poetry.
The fifth and final section begins with the following stanza:
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own?
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
While I like this final section the best, I am also annoyed by the fact that Shelley seems to be borrowing ideas from Samuel Taylor Coleridge, specifically from the poem “The Eolian Harp.” (Click here to read my review of that poem.) Not only did Coleridge employ the metaphor first, he did it much better, in my opinion.
It’s a shame that this poem seems to be a part of every English class that covers the Romantic period, because Shelley wrote much better poems. In fact, “Ozymandias” is one of my all-time favorites. (Click here to read my review of “Ozymandias.”) Still, I guess it does kind of sum up the ideologies that influenced the writers of that period.
Click here to read “Ode to the West Wind” online.