Today’s thoughts: Ode to the West Wind
Percy Bysshe Shelley praises the wind for the role it plays in the cycle of life, death & rebirth, & implores it to scatter his poetry over the earth in order to aid humankind. Shelley uses stark imagery to portray vivid scenes of the natural world, & demonstrate the wind’s unrivaled power to both destroy & preserve. Though the ode has a plangent, slightly ominous tone, Shelley ends the poem with the promise of spring.
The first stanza opens with an incantation. Shelley proceeds to paint a scene of fall leaves & dried seeds being blown by the wind, made wonderfully eerie by a palette of colors: “yellow, black and pale, hectic red.” In this stanza, death is referenced multiple times; Shelley refers to the leaves as fleeing dead ghosts, before describing the seeds as corpses inside their grave. The first stanza, like the next two, ends with Shelley calling for the wind to hear him. In the second stanza, the wind is depicted whipping up a mighty storm, likened to a “dirge of the dying year”, furthering Shelley’s reference to death. Curiously intriguing is Shelley’s references to both Christianity & Greek mythology throughout this stanza; the storm clouds are described as being, “shook from the tangled bough of Heaven, Angels of rain and lightning”, & the ending line of the stanza, “Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst!” likens the approaching storm to doomsday. Yet Shelley also uses an image of a Maenad’s hair to describe the lightning. In the third stanza, Shelley writes of the Mediterranean being awoken from its blissful summer sleep by the west wind. The first half of the stanza is filled with images of the calm blue ocean & the azure moss, the sweet flowers & the sea blooms. However, this is then contrasted by the ocean’s power, which causes the serene foliage to grow “gray with fear”.
Stanzas four & five introduce the speaker’s motives for the first time. Shelley longs that he might feel the wind’s power in the way that the clouds, waves & leaves do. Conforming to the standard of the Romantic period, Shelley also references his childhood & loss of innocence by lamenting that the passing of time has hindered his ability to feel as “tameless, swift, and proud” as the wind. The last stanza implements another common Romantic symbol: the lyre. Shelley implores that the west wind take control of him in order to, “drive his dead thoughts over the universe” in order to fertilize the birth of new ideas, as dead leaves fertilize the new growth of plants. Shelley goes on to compare himself to a slowly dying hearth whose ashes & sparks are scattered among mankind. It is fitting that, after illustrating the power of the earth, the water, & the mighty west wind, Shelley ends the poem with a vivid image of fire. After all, though fire can be seen as the epitome of destruction, fire ultimately represents rebirth, like the flame of the phoenix, & a clean slate, like fertile, soot-blackened soil. Out of Shelley’s fiery metaphor comes his hopeful question, “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
Ode to the West Wind
BY PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed
The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow
Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh hear!
Thou on whose stream, mid the steep sky’s commotion,
Loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,
Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine aëry surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head
Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith’s height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge
Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might
Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: oh hear!
Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lull’d by the coil of his crystalline streams,
Beside a pumice isle in Baiae’s bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave’s intenser day,
All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic’s level powers
Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know
Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: oh hear!
If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share
The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be
The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seem’d a vision; I would ne’er have striven
As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
A heavy weight of hours has chain’d and bow’d
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like wither’d leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken’d earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
24 February 2020 – “Speaking with the Stars”: Under the feet of Orion, & to the right of Sirius in early evening now, hides Lepus the Hare. Like Canis Major, this is a constellation with a connect-the-dots that really looks like what it’s supposed to be – a crouching bunny, with his nose pointing lower right, his faint ears extending up toward Rigel (Orion’s western foot), & his body bunched to the left. His brightest 2 stars, Beta & Alpha Leporis, form the front & back of his neck.
ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
Feast Day of St. Matthias, who, according to the book of Acts, was chosen by the apostles to replace Judas Iscariot following his betrayal & his subsequent death. This calling is unique, since his appointment was not made personally by Jesus, who had already ascended into heaven, & it was also made before the descent of the Holy Spirit.
For superstitious reasons, when the Romans began to bring their calendar into line with the solar year, they chose not to place their extra month of Mercedonius after February but within it. February 24—known in the Roman calendar as “the sixth day before the Kalends of March”—was replaced by the first day of this month since it followed Terminalia, the festival of the Roman god of boundaries. After the end of Mercedonius, the rest of the days of February were observed & the New Year began with the 1st day of March. The overlaid religious festivals of February were so complicated that Julius Caesar opted not to change it at all during his 46 bc calendar reform. The extra day of his system’s leap years were located in the same place as the old month but he opted to ignore it as a date. Instead, the sixth day before the Kalends of March was simply said to last for 48 hours & all the other days continued to bear their original names. Although February 29 has been popularly understood as the leap day of leap years since the late Middle Ages, no formal replacement of February 24 as the leap day of the Julian & Gregorian calendars has occurred. The exceptions include Sweden & Finland, who enacted legislation to move the day to February 29. This custom still has some effect around the world, for example with respect to name days in Hungary.
1582 – With the papal bull Inter gravissimas, Pope Gregory XIII announces the Gregorian calendar.
1831 – The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, the first removal treaty in accordance with the Indian Removal Act, is proclaimed on the Choctaws in Mississippi.
1919 – The 1st public performance of Eurythmy in Zurich.
1920 – The Nazi Party (NSDAP) was founded by Adolf Hitler in the Hofbräuhaus beer hall in Munich, Germany
Sacred Gateway: Conscious Living, Conscious Dying, and the Journey Beyond April 16-19, 2020 in Detroit, MI.