Please explain the following lines from "Ode to the West Wind."Thou on whose stream, 'mid the steep sky's commotion, 15 Loose clouds like earth's decaying leaves are shed, Shook from the tangled...

Please explain the following lines from "Ode to the West Wind."

Thou on whose stream, 'mid the steep sky's commotion, 15

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 airy surge,

Like the bright hair uplifted from the head 20

Of some fierce Mænad, 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, 25

Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere

Black rain, and fire, and hail, will burst: O hear!

 

Asked on by jaanaa

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

You have quoted the second stanza of this poem. It can often be hard to follow the line of argument in such poems, but key to realise is that in this stanza, the wind's effect on the clouds is being described, and thus we are given a series of comparisons to explore this effect. Note the number of similes that are employed, using the word "like." For example, in lines 16-17, we are told that the clouds are shaken from heaven "like... decaying leaves... shed" from tree boughs. Likewise, the clouds are described as being "Like the bright hair uplifted from the head / Of some fierce Maenad." A Maenad was a woman in Greek mythology who performs frenzied dances in the worship of Dionysus, the god of wine. The effect of these comparisons are to convey a kind of hysteria or sense of impending doom.

In addition in this stanza, in line 28, the speaker of the poem addresses the wind directly, imploring the wind to "hear" his words. The impact of this is to create an invocation, as if the speaker were addressing a God, and therefore suggesting that humans are powerless in the face of such might and majesty.

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