In the poem "Ode to the West Wind," the poet has personified the west wind. Whom do you think the poet has personified the west wind as?

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According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, personification is "a figure of speech in which human characteristics are attributed to an abstract quality, animal, or inanimate object." In the famous poem "Ode to the West Wind," Percy Bysshe Shelley personifies the west wind as a wild spirit with human-like qualities that functions as both a "destroyer and preserver."

Shelley first describes this wild spirit as an "enchanter" that drives multicolored autumn leaves before it. The autumn leaves have died and fallen off the trees, and so the poet likens them to "pestilence-stricken multitudes." A pestilence is a plague or serious illness that kills people, so this image is obviously of the wind as destroyer. In contrast, the poet then says that the wind at the same time also hides the "winged seeds" in their "dark wintry bed" until spring comes and the seeds sprout. This image shows the wind as preserver.

The poet describes how the wind sweeps the clouds along, bringing rain and lightning, and also how the wind creates a pattern in the clouds that looks like the hair "of some fierce Maenad." The Maenads were women who were devotees of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. They would go into mad, ecstatic dances while they were worshipping. The poet suggests that the wild wind sculpts cloud patterns in the sky that suggest this wild abandon.

The poet says that the wild spirit of the wind is also a singer of dirges, which are songs sung at funerals. In this case, the wind sings the death of the old year as it descends into winter.

The late-season wild spirit of the west wind wakens the Mediterranean Sea, which sleeps during the summer, and causes the Atlantic Ocean to create chasms between tossing waves.

Finally, the poet calls upon the west wind, as if it were sentient, to become the wild spirit of inspiration for him. The poet wishes to be like a leaf or cloud or wave so that the wind can touch and move him. He wants to scatter his words among mankind and be as "the trumpet of a prophecy." However, like the wild spirit of the wind, the poet longs to be not destroyer only but also preserver, as evidenced by the last line when he states that the winter blowing of the west wind means that spring will eventually follow.

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Shelley personifies wind throughout this poem in many ways, giving attributes of numerous important characters and figures. What is interesting is that the personification shifts throughout the poem to accurately capture the different aspects of the West Wind, which acts to reflect the shifting nature of wind even more.

Initially, Shelley describes the wind almost as a God, with creative power and encapsulating the aspects of mercy and vitriol, as well as having power over life and death. It shifts later on to take on a more pessimistic typification, reflecting the nature of Death in the wind and how it acts to judge and destroy.

Finally, in the last stanza, it shifts once more, describing the wind almost as a nymph or poet, carrying a tune and making melodies. This is a playful and wise characterization of the wind, putting it in a more beneficial light than it had been previously.

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The west wind, which the speaker associates with the coming autumn season, is described in terms of renewal and rebirth. The speaker implores the wind, calling it a "Spirit fierce" and begging it to drive away his dead thoughts and clear his mind of the clutter—like fallen leaves in the autumn—so that new ideas and inspiration can take root in his brain. He personifies the wind as a type of spirit, something with a near-divine power to clear out the old and wipe his slate clean, so to speak, making room for new thoughts, like the new life that grows in the spring season. The speaker also calls the west wind "Wild Spirit," emphasizing its ability to be unpredictable and seem, perhaps, even fickle in its power: it destroys to preserve. He gives it intention and purpose, and in this way, he personifies it.

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In "Ode to the West Wind," Shelley does indeed use personification to describe the west wind; however, what Shelley personifies the wind as shifts throughout the poem.  At the start of the poem, Shelley definitely personifies the west wind as a Godlike figure, who embodies both anger and mercy, death and life.  The wind is like an invisible force that causes and controls everything within the poem.  In addition, Shelley calls the wind "Destroyer and Preserver," an epithet that has religious resonance.  The wind also seems to be personified as Death, relating to the religious motif, in that it turns the leaves into "ghosts" that are "pestilence-stricken."  Diction like "decaying" and "sepulchre" also allude to the wind as the spirit of death.  However, even in the face of the decay that the west wind brings, the poet asks the wind to "lift" him, again returning to the positive aspects of the wind as a Godlike figure.

In the final stanza, however, Shelley describes the west wind as having a "lyre," indicating that he is now personifying the wind as a poet.  A popular trope in Romantic poetry is the aeolean harp, which the wind "plays" and which becomes a symbol for the poet himself.  Furthering this notion in the poem, Shelley asks, "Be thou, Spirit fierce, / My spirit," indicating that he feels a connection to the wind as they are both poets.

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