Use of Symbols in Shelley’s “Ode to West Wind “ and ' “Ode to Skylark”

The use of symbols is a remarkable aspect of Shelly’s poetry. The symbol Shelley uses in his poems has become the universal symbols. His symbols are very conspicuous and rich in metaphorical implication.

In “Ode to West Wind “ the west wind is symbolized as destroyer as well as a preserver. It is seen as a great power of nature that destroys in order to create, that kills the unhealthy and the decaying to make way for the new and the fresh. Shelley believes that without destruction, life can not continue. This symbolization of the wind as both "preserver" and "destroyer" furthers this hypothesis

He envisions the West Wind as a devastating force that has the strength to destroy the evils of the existing society and preserves the good thing of it. He sees it as a symbol of destruction and preservation, decay and regeneration death and resurrection. He invokes the West Wind to free his “dead thoughts” in order to prophecy a Renaissance among humanity “to quicken a new birth”.
In the beginning of the poem we find the destructive loon of the West wind.

In the first stanza of the poem the poet addresses the west wind as "Wild" and the "Breath of Autumn's Being." It is a powerful force which drives the dead leaves which are yellow, black, pale and hectic red, to distant places like ghosts from an enchanter. The west wind carries winged seeds to their dark wintry beds underground.

“Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead

Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,”

As a preserver west wind scatters the seeds and covers them with dust. Along with the dead leaves the West Wind scatters the seeds and covers them with dust. When the spring comes, the scattered seeds beget new plants. The new plants with their luxuriant foliage and flowers of bring colors and odors fill the landscape. Thus the nature gets a new life and a new look. So, symbolically the west wind is a destroyer of old modes of life and old customs and preserver of new ways of thoughts and new patterns of life.

He uses four kinds of colors namely “yellow”, ‘black’, “pale”, and “hectic red” in order to characterize the “leaves dead.” The colors are the colors of diseases. “The leaves dead” also symbolize all the aged practices, customs, traditions, institutions, rites and rituals.

The West wind also expresses the very spirit of Shelly. He envisions that the invisible West Wind scatters the clouds in the sky. These clouds are the signals of the coming rain. Rain carries away all the evils from the nature and brings a new look change. Shelley hopes that his “rain” of thoughts would cause regeneration among mankind sweeping away all the unjust. Thus, Shelley’s great passion for the regeneration of mankind and rebirth of a new world finds a fitting expression in the symbolization of the West Wind.

Shelly also symbolize the closing night as the dome of a vast tomb, in which the closing year will be buried. The accumulated water vapors also make the roof over the dying year and the atmosphere seems to be solid because of thick layers of dense clouds. The point is that Wind operates with the same and single point agenda: it destroys the dead and preserves the living.

Shelley also symbolize the Mediterranean as a person who is sleeping and dreaming of destruction of the palaces. During summer the Mediterranean and the Roman palaces and, the towers which remain submerged, are all quiet as if they seem to be sleeping because no storms appear to ruffle the surface of the sea in that season. But the wind agitates the sea and the palaces seem to quiver on account of the tremendous motion of the waves.

Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,

And tremble and despoil themselves: oh, hear!

Shelly expresses the hope that his dead thoughts will quicken a new birth and bring about a new condition of human life. Thus the poem ends with a note of hope and optimism: -

O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

This “winter” symbolizes all the corruption, tyranny, superstition, social customs and social institutions of Shelley’s time. On the other hand “spring” stands for new life, free from all obstacles. Winter signifies death while spring brings us consciousness of regeneration of new life. Shelley believes that suffering will come to an end and joy and happiness will prevail as winter is followed by spring.

In the poem “Ode to Skylark” Shelley symbolizes the Skylark-“blithe spirit” as if it had the power to response. He offers a warm welcome to the Skylark.

The Skylark is unseen but still it is compared to a poet composing, a maiden in love, a glowworm throwing out its beams of light, a rose in bloom diffusing its scent, and the sound of rain on twinkling grass. Shelley finds the Skylark as the embodiment of all these qualities which can never be found in a single human being.

Shelley also symbolizes the human song as “an empty vaunt” comparing it with Skylark’s joyful songs. Humans also sing songs in praise of love or wine. They sing songs in order to celebrate a wedding or a victory but compared with the Skylark’s singing, all human songs would seem to be meaningless. We feel that there is some hidden want in human performance. Thus Shelley makes the bird Skylark a symbol of pure, unalloyed ad unrestricted happiness.

So, in conclusion we can say that Shelley uses the West Wind to symbolize the power of nature and of the imagination inspired by nature and makes the bird Skylark a symbol of happiness.