Ode to the West Wind

Ode the the Wild West Wind.jpg


By Percey Shelley

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being, -A
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead -B
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing, -A

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red, -B
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou, -C
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed -B

The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low, -C
Each like a corpse within its grave,until -D
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow -C

Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill -D
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air) -E
With living hues and odours plain and hill: -D

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere; -E
Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear! -E

Thou on whose stream, ‘mid the steep sky’s commotion, -A
Loose clouds like Earth’s decaying leaves are shed, -B
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean, -A

Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread -B
On the blue surface of thine airy surge, -C
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head -B

Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge -C
Of the horizon to the zenith’s height, -D
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge -C

Of the dying year, to which this closing night -D
Will be the dome of a vast sepulcher -E
Vaulted with all thy congregated might -D

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere -E
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: O hear! -E

Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams -A
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay, -B
Lulled by the coil of his crystalline streams, -A

Beside a pumice isle in Baiae’s bay, -B
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers -C
Quivering within the wave’s intenser day, -B

All overgrown with azure moss and flowers -C
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou -D
For whose path the Atlantic’s level powers -C

Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below -D
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear -E
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know -D

Thy voice, and suddenly grow grey with fear, -E
And tremble and despoil themselves: O hear! -E

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear; -A
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee; -B
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share -A

The impulse of thy strength, only less free -B
Than thou, O Uncontrollable! If even -C
I were as in my boyhood, and could be -B

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven, -C
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed -D
Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne’er have striven -C

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need. -D
Oh! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud! -E
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed! -D

A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed -E
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud. -E

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is: -A
What if my leaves are falling like its own! -B
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies -A

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone, -B
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce, -C
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one! -B

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe -C
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth! -D
And, by the incantation of this verse, -C

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth -D
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind! -E
Be through my lips to unawakened Earth -D

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

“Ode to the West Wind” consists of five parts with five stanzas in each part. The first four stanzas in each part are tercets (have three lines) while the last one is a couplet (has only two lines). From beginning to end the poem itself follows a pattern of terza rima, meaning the first and third line rhyme and the middle does not, but the middle line will rhyme with the first and third line of the following stanza. The final couplet in each part rhymes with the middle line of the previous tercet. Therefore, the overall rhyme scheme is ABA BCB CDC DED EE. This form reflects the message of the poem. The flow from one stanza to the next and the consistency of form is similar to the flow and power of the awesome wind. It also gives readers the impression of boxing the natural force into one tangible, understandable, and predictable form, fulfilling Shelley’s role of Preserver which we explore in the following essay.

Short Interpretive Essay

“Ode to the West Wind” is a classic example of how poets from this period elevated nature to a supernatural level. Shelley shows his awe towards the power of nature when he refers to the wind as “Destroyer and Preserver” (14). The wind can destroy many things in its path at great speeds. This is why it can be referred to as a destroyer. However, the wind carries seeds along the plains to promote new green life and ultimately preserve all life as a whole. Shelley showcases the far-reaching omnipotence of the wind when he transitions, “Loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves are shed” (16). This description serves as an example of how the wind can rid the earth of the old and dead aspects of life and move the clouds make room for new and brighter things. Therefore, as “Destroyer and Preserver,” capitalized for reverence, the wind serves as a god that can create or take life on a whim. Later, in typical Romantic fashion of inserting oneself into one’s writing, Shelley begins to prayerfully imagine himself as a cloud, leaf, or wave and it is shown that against all the might forces of nature possess, he is not in control of his life because the wind, or nature as a whole, will ultimately decide his fate. This type of submission to a supernatural power is unusual coming from an atheist, but surely represents the Romantic way of worshipping nature. Throughout the entire poem, Shelley recognizes that the wind is the only piece of nature that will always survive through every season and it alone will decide the fate of everything else around it. More than anything though, Shelley wishes to capture this evasive, transparent, and awesome power of nature and become the ultimate Preserver himself by ensnaring it in words and sharing it with his readers.


Percy Shelley: Poems Summary and Analysis