Saturday, November 5, 2011

Occupy Shelley

So, a week ago we had a snowstorm here, which knocked out our power for more than five days. Nearly a week without electricity taught me two important lessons:

  1. Sitting around a roaring fire with family, huddled under blankets and reading books is really nice. 
  2. Sitting around a roaring fire with family, huddled under blankets and reading books would be even better if you could see your damn book. 
It also struck me just how hard the winter is going to be on the various occupiers. For a while, it was feeling to me like the fate of the whole occupy movement was dependent on the ability of New York group to withstand the weather and the Mayor. Recently, though, Oakland has been stealing the spotlight.  

Something finally occurred to me, although I think it was probably already obvious to a lot of other people: Individual protest camps don't matter. That's the beauty and power of a decentralized, leaderless protest movement. What matters are the ideas, which are already so much larger than any single protest. What started in Tunisia and Egypt spread its seeds to New York and Oakland and Damascus and Manama and London and hundreds of other cities around the globe. 

It reminded me of Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind." You probably read it in high school. The poem is about how the autumn wind and the coming of winter mean death, but those winds are also the source of life and energy. Then it takes the turn that was fairly common in the Romantic era: Shelley has a crisis about his own mortality, decides that his words (i.e., this poem -- see what he did there?) will be his immortality, and urges the West Wind to take those words and carry them into the future like seeds. 

Anyway, I think you see where I'm going with this: actual winter is like, I don't know, political winter maybe? And seeds are like poems are like ideas of economic justice. 

Or something like that. 

It actually works better if you don't spell it out.

I won't belabor the connection further here, other than to say to all the chilly occupados out there: If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? 

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 wingèd 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 odors 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 airy surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head
Of some fierce Mænad, 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 vapors, 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,
Lulled by the coil of his crystalline streams,
Beside a pumice isle in Baiæ'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 skyey speed
Scarce seemed 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 chained and bowed
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 withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an extinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unwakened earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

No comments:

Post a Comment