Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I

O 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 winged 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 odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh hear!

II

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 aëry surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Maenad, 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 vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: oh hear!

III

Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lull’d by the coil of his crystalline streams,

Beside a pumice isle in Baiae’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!

IV

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 skiey speed
Scarce seem’d 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 chain’d and bow’d
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.

V

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 wither’d leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken’d earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Summary

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 earth till the spring when East Wind blows. These seeds then sprout, grow and bear flowers and fill the plains and hills with different colours and sweet fragrance.

The West Wind is referred 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 its elements that West Wind will bring. There’s 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 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 unfavourable circumstances he has been chained and crushed, 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 the West Wind to treat him as 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 a hope.

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