Ode to the West Wind

About the poem

“Ode to the West Wind” is an ode by Percy Bysshe Shelley, written in 1819 in Florence, Italy. The poem was published in 1820, with his unperformable play ‘Prometheus’.

In what circumstances Ode to the West Wind has written?

Shelley claims that he wrote Ode to the West Wind while sitting on the woods near the Arno river on a windy day in October. He was feeling depressed about being detached from the political and social scene back in his native England.

As a political, religious and literary radical, Shelley was heavily invested in his own ability to influence society. Some poets need solitude and privacy and a retreat in the woods to do their best work, but Shelley needed stimulating arguments and social action.

“Ode to the West Wind” is one of the poems in which he considers the role and power of the poet or philosopher to spread new ideas and effect change. Its also one of Shelly’s more accessible poems. Its brevity, smooth tone and straightforward use of natural imagery presents his abstract ideas about philosophy and poetry in a compact way.

Therefore, it could be the Shelley’s own life summary or aspects.

Theme of the poem

The poem is based on theme like; Power, human limitations and the natural world.  In Ode to the West Wind, the poet adores power and grandeur of the west wind, and also hopes that revolutionary ideas could reach every corner of the universe.

Summary and Analysis

In the first part of the “Ode to the West Wind” poet invokes the “Wild West Wind” of autumn, that scatters the dead leaves and spreads seeds so that they may be nurtured by the spring and asks that wind, a destroyer and preserver, hear him. The speaker calls the wind the “dirge of the dying year, and describes how it stirs up violent storms and again implores it to hear him.

The speaker says that the wind stirs the Mediterranean from “his summer dreams” and cleaves the Atlantic into choppy chasm making the “sapless foliage” of the ocean tremble, and asks for a third time that it hear him.

In the second part of the “Ode to the West Wind” the poem deals with the “sky”, like withered leaves the loose clouds fall from the unseen forests of the heaven into the river of the west wind. Suddenly the imagery of the leaves is replaced by the human imagery. The clouds become hair of a huge giant.

The west wind then transformed into a mournful tune. And the rapidly encroaching night becomes the dome of an extensive sepulcher, canopied by the unifying power of the west wind.

In the third part of the “Ode to the West Wind” the poem presents the effects of the wind on the sea. Here, the placid Mediterranean is personified- asleep, dreaming of old palaces and towers which are not only reflections. The West Wind drives away unreal thoughts of the Mediterranean Sea. The under- water vegetation feels the arrival of the west wind that sheds the leaves.

The speaker says that if he were a dead leaf that wind could bear, or a cloud it carries, or a wave it could push, or even if he were as a boy, “the comrade” of the wind’s “wandering over heaven”, then he would never have needed to pray to the wind and invoke its powers.

He pleads with the wind to lift him “as wave, a leaf, a cloud”, for though he is like the wind at heart, untamable and proud, he is now chained and bowed with weight of his hours upon the earth.

The speaker asks the wind to “make me thy Iyre”, i.e. to be his own spirit and to drive his thoughts across the universe, “like withered” leaves to quicken a new birth”. He asks the wind by the incantation of this verse, to scatter his words among mankind to be the “trumpet of a prophecy”. Speaking both in regard to the season and in regard to the effect upon mankind that he hopes his words to have, the speaker asks, “if winter comes, can spring be far behind”. This makes the poem full of optimism and new hopes.

In the fourth part of the “Ode to the West Wind” the poem presents the details of this identification sought to be established between the poet and the west wind. He desires to become the mouth piece of the west wind as the forest is the Iyre on which it plays the rustling tune. He asks the west wind to drive his old dead which will form the manure to help the blossoming forth of new conceptions. The poet wants that the prophetic note of the west wind should spread throughout the worlds though his mouth. The optimistic prophecy, ‘if winter come, can spring be far behind’ makes the poem full of optimism and new hopes.

Therefore, Shelley invokes the wind magically describing its power and its role as both “destroyer and preserver”, and asks the wind to sweep him out of his torpor as wave, a leaf, a cloud.

In the fifth part of the “Ode to the West Wind” the poet takes the remarkable turn and transforms the wind into a metaphor for his own art, then the expressive capacity that drives ‘dead thought’ like ‘withered leaves’ over the universe, to quicken a new birth, that is to quicken the coming of the spring. Here, the spring season is a metaphor for a “spring’ of human consciousness, imagination, liberty or morality” and all the things Shelly hoped his art could help to bring about in the human mind. Shelly asks the wind to be his spirit and in the same movement, he makes it his metaphorical spirit, his poetic faculty which will play him like a musical instrument the way the wind strums the leaves of the trees.

Form of the Poem         

“Ode to the West Wind” contains five stanzas, each containing four to three lines and two- line couplet. And written in iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme in each part follows a pattern known as terza rima, and three- line rhyme scheme employed by Dante in his Divine Comedy. In the three- line terza rima stanza, the first and third- lines rhyme and the middle line doesn’t, then the end sound of that middle line is employed as the rhyme for the first and third lines in the next stanza.

The final couplet rhymes with the middle line of the last three-line stanza. Thus, each of the seven parts of “Ode to the West Wind” follows the scheme ABA BCB CDC DED and EE.

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