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What's the rhyme scheme in the first section of "Ode to the West Wind"?

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user4607701 | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 22, 2013 at 6:13 AM via web

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What's the rhyme scheme in the first section of "Ode to the West Wind"?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 22, 2013 at 5:35 PM (Answer #1)

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The rhyme scheme of the first section of Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" is ABA BCB CDC DED EE. The word "hear" at the end of the last line is intended to be an approximate rhyme with "everywhere" in the preceding line of this couplet. This is shown by the rhymes in the other concluding couplets: "atmosphere" with "hear," "fear" with "hear," "bowed" with "proud," and "wind" with "behind" (another approximate rhyme or "rhyme to the eye."

Shelley's purpose in using such ragged stanzas and such an unusual rhyme scheme seems to have been to give his poem a sort of "windblown" quality appropriate to the subject. The second line of the first stanza is especially interesting in the way he reverses the last two words. Instead of saying "dead leaves" he says "leaves dead." This is not for convenience in rhyming but because it promotes the image of dead leaves being blown helter skelter by the wild West Wind. The dead leaves in the rear of the "Pestilence-stricken multitudes" are buffeted by the wild wind more than are those in front of them, so that they are tumbled over the foremost leaves and become the leaders. This suggests a panic flight by the "Pestilence-stricken multitudes." Saying "leaves dead" rather than "dead leaves" augments that notion.

Many of the concluding lines of stanzas do not end with a period or semicolon but tumble straight into the first lines of the following stanzas. For example:

Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low

Or:

Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill

"Ode to the West Wind" is probably Shelley's most famous poem, and his success in solving the technical problems he set for himself with his challenging form and rhyme scheme have much to do with its popularity. Right from the first line the reader is caught up in the flurry of the wind heralding the end of Autumn and the approach of winter. It is a stroke of genius worthy of Shakespeare to compare the dead leaves to "ghosts from an enchanter fleeing" and then, in almost the same breath, to "Pestilence-stricken multitudes." The leaves seem like fleeing ghosts because the thing they are fleeing from is invisible. They seem stricken by a pestilence because they were all recently fresh and green and now look wrinkled and decaying.

Shelley is not merely describing but invoking. The first few stanzas end with the words, “O hear!”, establishing that a request is forthcoming. And finally he ends his poem with the wish he is asking the West Wind to grant.

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 unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened Earth

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

It can be seen that the rhyme scheme in the last section is the same as in the first section, although of course the rhymed words are different. The line "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?" is one of the most famous in English poetry and is often quoted.

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