Ode to the West Wind Summary, Themes, and Analysis: Percy Bysshe Shelley

Read our complete notes below on the poem Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Our notes cover Ode to the West Wind summary, themes, and analysis.

Ode to the West Wind Introduction:

This ode is composed by Percy Bysshe Shelly in 1819 and it was published in 1820 by Charles as part of the collection, Prometheus Unbound.

Shelly is considered as a revolutionary poet which can be clearly seen in his poem  “Ode to the West Wind”. Shelly, throughout the poem, appeals to the west wind to destroy everything that is old and defunct and plant new, democratic and liberal norms and ideals in the English society.

This poem is written to make the people of the society realize that they are shackled in the chains of materialistic pursuits and how they can bring freedom and calmness in their lives.

It also refers to the monarchic system of romantic era when people were  slaves of monarchs and did not raise their voice to end the monarchy. It tries to awake the  people from slumber and to fight for freedom and peace.

Some also believe that it was written in response to the loss of his son, William.

Ode to the West Wind Summary:

In this poem, the speaker appeals to the west wind to make him as powerful as itself so that he can spread his ideas and thoughts across the globe. In order to show the power of wind he uses many examples of things that are affected by wind; it drives away the dead leaves, places new seeds in the earth, brings thunderstorms with it and can make mighty waves in the oceans.

Afterwards, the speaker wishes that the west wind could help him spread his ideas in the world the way it drives the dead leaves, clouds and waves. He also asks wind to make him its musical instrument (harp) and play the tune of his ideas of bringing change so that the world could hear them.

Moreover; the west wind of Autumn brings winter with it which is the sign of death. But after every winter there is spring (Ray of hope) which brings good times with it.

Ode to the West Wind Themes:

Mortality:

In this poem, the west wind is considered as the wind of autumn that brings the season of winter with itself. As winter is the sign of death, the speaker tries to portray the image that west wind will become the reason of the death of old conventions and defunct norms from the English society.

Additionally, speaker says that after every winter there is spring. Similarly, after the death of old ideas, the spring will arrive and the flowers of freedom, peace and change will bloom.

Speaker refers to the monarchic system of his society where people were becoming materialistic and immoral.

 Revolution:

Shelly is a revolutionary poet of Romantic era, so this theme is obvious in his poetry. He believes that his ideas can bring a huge change in the society and he can bring revolution by spreading his word throughout the world.

In this poem, he addresses to the west wind to help him spread his revolutionary ideas throughout the world so that people can break the chains of slavery and set themselves free. He wishes that west wind could treat him the way it drives the leaves, clouds and waves so that he share his thoughts wherever the wind takes him. He also asks wind to make him its harp and play the music on him, the music of his ideas, that everyone will listen to and act upon.

The Power Of Human Mind and Ideas:

Shelly believes that the thoughts and ideas can change the world. He considers poets as the influencers who can influence people with their great views.

We can clearly understand how the speaker appeals the west wind to spread his word across the world so that it brings a change in the old conventional society of his time. It shows his belief that human mind has the power to make positive changes in the world; one’s way of thinking can mold the society and can bring a change. Especially poets because they influence people through their powerful poetry.

Ode to the West Wind Analysis:

The poem can be divided into two:

The first three parts are about the qualities of wind and each ends with the invocation “Oh hear!”.

The last two parts give a relation between the wind and the speaker.

This poem consists of five sections written in terza rima. Each section consists of four tersest ( ABA, BCB, CDC, DED and followed by rhyming couplet EE). The ode is written in iambic pentameter.

CANTO 1:

The first stanza begins with the alliteration “wild west ”. The poet describes this wind as a breathe of autumn. West wind drives away the dead or fallen leaves which is compared to a magician who drives away the evil spirits. Here sweeping of leaves by wind is refer to the elimination of defunct ideas present in society.

At the same time wind carries the fallen seeds to deposit them in a different place where they will bloom in spring season after being safely preserved during cold season. From this the speaker wants to nurture the inside abilities of people which have been faded away by calamities of life. As well as, poet wants to awake the English people from slumber.

West wind here is described both as ‘destroyer and preserver’ because at one point it destroys everything and affects nature. However, it also helps to create a new life as it helps to blow away the seeds and land them on safe place.

From this we can say that seeds are the poet’s piece of art which he hopes to land on the people’s mind and will help to nurture new growth. Old ideas are like dead leaves which are futile and should be changed. Poet wants to finish monarchical system and instead of it, he wants to bow the sapling of democratic ideas.

CANTO 2:

Shelley vividly describes the stormy clouds which are formed at the horizon (“tangled boughs of heaven and ocean”). The poet says the west wind drives clouds along just as it does dead leaves after it shakes the clouds free of sky and the ocean.

Storms are compared to angels that bring the rain with them. They announce their arrival by fiery flashes of dazzling lightning which reach up into the sky from the ocean at the horizon. Flashes of light are compared to the bright hair of maenad (Greek myth frenzied spirit which attends on the Greek God Dionysus). Brilliant colors and violent winds emphasize the passionate and intense nature of poet.

Spirits and ghosts in this poem are the supernatural elements that repeatedly appear which might suggests the possibility of a world, beyond the world in which we live.

The poet compares the west wind to a funeral  song sung at the death of a year and says the night will become a dome erected over the year’s tomb with all the winds gathered might. From that dome will come black rain, fire, and hail. Again, the poet asks the west wind to continue to listen to what he has to say.

Nature provides inspiration to the poet. Shelley as well recognizes that nature’s power is not wholly positive. Nature destroys as often as it creates or inspires. Probably, poet here wants to highlight the industrialization.

CANTO 3:

Shelley describes the action of the west wind on the Mediterranean Sea and on the Atlantic ocean. The west wind announces to the Mediterranean Sea that summer is over and autumn has arrived. The clear view on a bright summer day of the under water palaces and towers in Baiae’s Bay off the coast of Naples near the island made up of volcanic rock is disturbed by the west wind which blows across it. Similarly, the west wind creates deep valleys as it blows across the level of Atlantic ocean  and reminds the underwater vegetation deep below that is autumn and that they too must disintegrate like the vegetation on the earth above.

CANTO 4:

Here we can see the earnest plea made by the speaker to the west wind to infuse him with its raw power and liberate him from the depression which has overwhelmed him (most probably caused by the death of his son William in 1819).

Poet tells the west wind that when he was a boy he was also as amok or uncontrollable as the west wind is now and he would have easily matched the west wind in its speed. However, now he is depressed and weighed down by the calamities of life and pray to the west wind to liberate him. He beseeches to the west wind that just like how it lifts up the leaves on the earth, the clouds on the sky and the waves on the sea it should free him also from the troubles that prick him like thorns and cause him to bleed. He is now carrying a heavy burden (though he is proud and swift like the west wind) that has shackled him and bowed him down.

CANTO 5:

Speaker directly and explicitly asks west wind to make him an instrument and tool of political and moral change. Poet says if his piece of art blows in the wind like the leaves from the forest trees, there will be heard a deep autumnal tone (time of change) that is both sweet and sad.

Poet asks the wind to be his spirit and drive his ideas across the world in order to prepare a way for new birth in spring. Scatter his words around the world, as if they are ashes from burning fire. To the awakened earth, they will become blasts from trumpet of prophecy. In other words, the poet wants the wind to help him disseminate his views on politics, philosophy, literature and other fields. The last line expresses optimism that if it seems like his poems will die and be ignored (winter) there will still be spring where his poems will help create a new (intellectual) life among people( call for revolution).

Shelley often represents a poet as a Christ. Martyred by society and conventional values. The Christ figure is resurrected by the power of nature and spreads his prophetic views on the earth. In his view, poet has ability to change the world for the better. Poet, in Shelley’s work, has doomed to suffer because their visionary power isolates them from other men, because they are misunderstood by critics, because they are persecuted by a tyrannical government.