Summary of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind

Ode to the West Wind is an ode, written by Percy Bysshe Shelley.


The Wild West wind has been addressed as the breath of Autumn’s very existence. The wind cannot be seen but only felt, it blows the dead leaves, the leaves are driven the way ghosts flee from a magician. The West Wind carries, lifts the seeds and scatters them all over, and buries them in the earth till the spring when East Wind blows. These seeds then sprout, grow and bear flowers and fill the plains and hills with different colors and sweet fragrances. The West Wind is referred to as a wild spirit and is also called destroyer (of dried, diseased, and withered leaves) and a preserver (of seeds—depicting life).

The poet describes the approaching storm and the elements that West Wind will bring. There’s a disturbance in the sky, the West Wind carries the loose clouds, which like earth’s decaying leaves, are shed and shook from the entangled branches of a tree whose roots are in the ocean (clouds are formed due to evaporation of water) and branches in the sky. The clouds floating on the surface of the West Wind have been depicted as messengers of rain and lightning and as the locks of the approaching storm. The West Wind has been described as a funeral song of the dying year. The poet invokes the West Wind to listen to him. The West Wind causes rain, fire, thunder (lightning), and hail.

The West Wind awakens the blue Mediterranean from his slumber. He was sent to sleep, made calm and quiet by his crystalline streams but has been shaken from his sleep full of dreams of old palaces and towers by the swift wind. The West Wind blows over the Atlantic, at a high speed, and in fury, the high rising waves split into the deep cleft, give way to the mighty West Wind. The sea blooms and the moist woods also know the voice of the West Wind and tremble with fear and are uprooted.

The poet recalls he was once like the West Wind tameless, swift, and proud. He was as energetic and uncontrollable as the West Wind but due to unfavorable circumstances he has been chained and crushed and is no longer free and proud. Life has been full of adversities, hence he bleeds. He implores the West Wind to lift him as a wave, a leaf or a cloud as he wants to accompany it, wants to be its companion and wander over heaven. He wants to be free of life’s burdens.

The poet appeals to the West Wind to treat him as a lyre and blow (and produce music) on him as it blows through the forest. The poet compares himself to the forest as he is passing through the autumn of his life. He pleads the West Wind to drive away and scatter his dead thoughts like withered leaves and set in a new beginning. He pleads the West Wind to scatter his words that foretell that the golden period of mankind will soon begin. ‘If winter comes can spring be far behind?’ If adversities come good times cannot be far behind. There is always hope.

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