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Ode to the West Wind

Page history last edited by Sarah Peterson 15 years, 9 months ago



Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)


Ode to the West Wind

O [2]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          5
  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[3]  
  Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill   10
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)  
  With living[4] hues and odours plain and hill;  
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;  
Destroyer and preserver; hear, O hear![5]  

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   20
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,   25
  Vaulted with all thy congregated might  
Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere  
Black rain, and fire, and hail, will burst: O hear![6]  

Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
  The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,   30
Lull'd by the coil of his crystàlline 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   35
  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   40
Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,  
And tremble and despoil themselves: O hear[7]!  

If I[8] 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   45
  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   50
Scarce seem'd a vision—I would ne'er have striven  
  As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.  
O! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud![9]  
  I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!  
A heavy weight of hours has chain'd and bow'd   55
One too like thee—tameless, and swift, and proud.[10]  

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
  What if my leaves are falling like its own?  
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies[11]  
  Will take from both a deep autumnal tone,   60
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,  
  My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!  
Drive my[12] dead thoughts over the universe, [13]  
  Like wither'd leaves, to quicken a new birth;  
And, by the incantation of this verse,   65
  Scatter, as from an unextinguish'd hearth  
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!  
  Be through my lips to unawaken'd earth[14]  
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,  
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?[15]   70


  1. The structure and rhyme in this poem reminds me of the way wind blows. The rhyme has a up and down feel, almost as if the words are blowing back and forth, just like the wind does. The first and third line of each stanza rhyme with the middle line rhyming with the first and third lines of the next stanza. This pattern perpetuates the rhythmic-ness of the poem and parallels the up and down flow of the wind. The couplet at the end of each section interrupts this pattern, but the wind is not always constantly blowing. The wind dies down or stops in a similar way that the couplet stops/ends each section. Shelley is not only discussing the wind, but also mirroring the wind's characteristics through the structure of the rhyme.
  2. Throughout the poem, there are several examples of apostrophes regarding the wind. An example can be found in the first line where the speaker calls out "O WILD West Wind." Such apostrophes further appear in lines 5, 14, 28 etc. These apostrophes help the speaker personiify the wind. Also note that the "West Wind" is capitalized, signifying its relevance as a proper noun.
  3. The comparison of Autumn leaves to "ghosts", "Pestilence-stricken multitudes", and "corpse[s]", portrays the Fall as dark and almost evil. The tone shifts with the introduction of the Spring as something majestic and beautiful.
  4. The use of the word "living" to describe the color of the scenery is interestingly contrasted with previous images of death, such as "death" (line 2) , "ghosts" (line 2), and "corpse" (line 8). This contrast emphasizes the differences between Autumn and Spring and evokes a more a more alive image associated with Spring, and creates a darker tone when referring to Autumn.
  5. The first part introduces the seasons, autumn and spring, as its parallel relations to death and life. Autumn is described as “yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red” (4) and compared to a something that “chariotest to […] dark wintry bed” (6). Both descriptions represent it as a death and the pathway to it. However, when spring comes, “she” comes with her “clarion o’er the dreaming earth” (10) to wake us from idle death.
  6. Each section within Shelley's poem, can stand strongly on its own--all taking the form of a sonnet. Although Shelley uses both the English and Italian styles, he ends each section with a couplet, characteristic of the English style only. If one took each stanza within a section to be a string, the couplet could act as the knot that ties all 4 strings together. Hence, the couplet knots together all of the ideas previously stated in the section. In the second section, this particular couplet rhymes, as do the others in the poem. This section is incredibly "dark" in comparison to the others, as Shelley chooses to incorporate words such as rain, lightening, decaying, fierce, fire and hail, which all have negative connotations. This couplet in the second section indicates what would happen if all that is written in the four previous stanzas were to occur. For example, if "the lock of the approaching storm," appears then "black rain, and fire and hail, will burse: O hear."
  7. This section is devoted to the power the wind holds over nature. It shapes the smallest leaf to the most powerful ocean. Shelley brings the power and wonder of the wind to a climax, and demands the reader's attention to this greatness with "O Hear!". This is an interesting device, because let in the poem we learn, as Shelley slowly and methodically exposes to us, that he would like to possess the power and the influence of the wind. He feels he could shape things as the wind if only given the opportunity. So his cry, "O Hear!", is not a only a cry for the reader to respect his magnificent power of the wind, but a call to the reader to respect Shelley as a poet.
  8. The "I" in the beginning of the fourth section signals a clear turn in the poem. The previous three sections speak of the wind and it's qualities and refer to the wind as "thou." The fourth section marks a turn in that the speaker now emerges as a character in the poem and we begin to learn of him.
  9. The speaker addresses "West Wind" in his "prayer" with a similar fashion adopted by characters in sacred books like Bible to address a divine figure. The diction as well as the structural divisions and content of this poem parallel the written religious prayers. The "Wild West Wind" is directly addressed with phrases that describe its power and greatness much like a divine figure would be and the desire of the heart is pleaded ("lift me as a wave") with it by calling its attention ("O hear!"), which are typical of prayers. Doing so elevates the language/mood of this poem with a spiritual quality and adds a tone of seriousness/gravity to this poem
  10. This section follows the form of an English sonnet, which organizes the thoughts generally into a reflection using images and metaphors which comes to some conclusion in the couplet. Shelley combines images from previous sections--the leaf, the wave, and the cloud--to reflect on his own state. He longs to be tossed about by the wild wind, but in the conclusion he claims that he has similar qualities of pride, swiftness, and tamelessness. Although the reflection upon the nature of the leaf, cloud, and wave, which are each expounded in their respective stanzas, follows the typical reflective form of a sonnet, a break occurs when the speaker emotionally searches for his place among the movement of the west wind. He appears unsure of his own characteristics but acknowledges an underlying affinity with the wind itself, more than any of the elements it moves, in the couplet.
  11. The last section of the poem seems to convey a sense of development for the wind. In section 1, the wind simply moved the dead leaves like they were ghosts. By the last section, the wind is creating a sense of harmony and tone amongst the leaves.
  12. The use of the possessive pronoun 'my' many times in canto five continues the reflective aspect seen in the last two cantos. However, in canto four, the repeated usage of the pronoun 'I' made it sound very insecure and doubtful, where the use of 'my' in canto five makes the speaker sound self-possessed and extremely confident. It portrays something very forceful and demanding, where the previous canto was more of a hopeful, dreaming attitude. This shows the change in the poet's attitude change toward the wind, as it was charming and pleasant before, but has now changed to an 'incantation' (line 65).
  13. Here the speaker makes a comparison between the occurrences in his life to that of autumn. He states that his "thoughts" are also dead "like the wither'd leaves" of autumn. Earlier he mentions that the west is both "the destroyer" and the "preserver." In this case, the reader sees the "preserving"/life-giving nautre of the west wind, In nature the wind scatters the leaves and the falling seeds, which eventually helps give way to new life (leaves serving the purpose of fertilizing the soil and keeping it warm and seeds being the actual birth of new life). This is very symbolic of what he's asking for from the west wind, the speaker wants the wind to spread his dying and decaying life story to the world through this poem, so that when others read it, in a sense his life becomes reborn from the perspective of planting new awareness.
  14. The wind and the poets words are blended together through the visualization of ash being scattered throughout the earth. Ash becomes a part of the earth and there is a unification. The words flow and are dissipated among conscious minds. The ash and the earth can be analogous to the words of the poem and the people who read them. This scattering effect and unification are the underlying factors that rectify this comparison
  15. "Ode to the West Wind" contains five sections, each having four three line stanzas and a couplet. Its form is titled "terza rima," So, the stanzas are written in ABA BCB CDC DED EE form. Terza Rima is a form typically associated with Italian poetry, and less so with English poetry.

Comments (1)

nomeaku@... said

at 12:39 am on Oct 24, 2008

Poets from the past saw poetry that was specifically concerned with nature as a source of genuine and honest emotion. However another side of the spectrum would involve viewing nature as simply a thng of beauty. Through the creation ofthis poem, the author was able to find common ground betwen these supposedly opposing sentiments by utilizing metaphors and figurative language.

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