One of the most distinct attributes of the Romantic
writers Percy Bysshe Shelley
and John Keats
is their gift of using both lush
and tactile words within their poetry. Both men were great lovers of nature, and an abundance of their poetry is filled with nature
and the mysterious magnificence it holds. Both writers happened to compose poems concerning autumn in the year of 1819, and although the two pieces contain similar traits of the Romantic period, they differ from each other in several ways as well. Keats' poem "To Autumn
" and Shelley's poem "Ode to the West Wind
" both contain potent and vivacious
words about the season and both include similar metaphors involving autumn. However, the feelings each writer express in their pieces vary greatly from each other, and Keats and Shelley address nature in their poems with different
intentions as well.
Shelley and Keats exhibit their genius for rich energized word use within these two poems wonderfully. Also, an interesting similarity between the two pieces are some of the metaphors the poets implement. Hair is a subject both writers explored as a metaphor for nature. Shelley, in "Ode to the West Wind," claims the wind is "like the bright hair uplifted from the head/ Of some fierce Maenad," while Keats views autumn as "sitting careless on a granary floor,/ Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind." Hair, often used in poetry metaphorically, tends to symbolize feminine beauty and strength; in this case, both poets make use of the subject of hair when describing certain aspects of nature. The speakers in these two poems also express their thoughts on the portent of the coming spring. In the final couplet of Shelley's poem, the speaker asks, "Oh wind,/ if Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?" The speaker in Keats' poem inquires, "Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?" Both poets look upon autumn as an indication of the coming season which is opposite of autumn. The subjects of seeds and budding plants are also touched upon within the two pieces. Autumn is when, as Shelley writes, "the winged seeds" are placed in their "dark wintry bed" and "lie cold and low." And Keats writes that autumn is the time when the hazel shells are "plump with a sweet kernel; to set budding more." These similarities between the two pieces are interesting, however there are many differences in the poems as well.
Keats and Shelley express different emotions about the fall season. Shelley looks at autumn as being wild and fierce while Keats has a more gentle view of the season. Shelley perceives autumn as an annual death, calling it "Thou dirge/Of the dying year," and he uses words such as "corpse" and sepulchre" in the poem. He also employs words such as "hectic" and "tameless", and looks upon the autumn horizon as being "the locks of the approaching storm." Also, he claims the autumn winds are where "black rain and fire and hail will burst." Lines such as this reveal the speaker's attitude that autumn is a ferocious and reckless season bearing morbid portence of the coming winter. On the other hand, Keats fills his poem with lighter words such as "mellow," "sweet," "patient," and "soft." The speaker of this poem looks out upon the landscape and hears the "full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn," and listens as the "gathering swallows twitter in the skies." These lines indicate a much softer and more amiable emotion felt by the speaker; sentiments quite opposite to those felt in "Ode to the West Wind."
Another great difference in these poems are the intentions of the poets themselves. Shelley, in his thirst for being known, wants to attain power like the wind has. He asks of the wind, "Be thou, Spirit fierce,/ My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!" He pleads for it to move his thoughts "over the universe/ Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth," and to "scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth/ Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind."
Shelley's more ambitious approach to the weather differs from Keats, who merely enjoys the season for what it holds and asks nothing from it. Keats thoroughly enjoys the "stubble-plains with rosy hue," and listening as "the red-breast whistles from a garden-croft." Although both writers examine the autumn season, each express different intentions in the poems they have written.
Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" and Keats' "To Autumn" have striking similarities when it comes to their rich metaphors; however, the poems differ in almost every other sense. Shelley holds a much more savage notion about the season, while Keats looks upon autumn as being soft and gentle. Shelley's ambitions are expressed in his piece, while Keats only reflects the beauty of what he sees. Both writers display their own unique talent as poets, deserving their titles as being two of the greatest Romantic writers of the period.