"Ode to the West Wind" is Shelley's romantic tribute to Dante Aligheiri, in the style of a Greek ode, written in Italy on a windy day near the Arno River, according to Shelley's own notes. He uses Dante's terza rima rhyme scheme aba-bcb-cbc, etc. in his poem praising the wind of autumn that blows the leaves and seeds, brings the storms, and announces the winter season to come. He describes the Wind's journey from the "blue Mediterranean" in summer to the ocean and the effect of the change of seasons on the wind. Shelley compares himself to a leaf blown by that wind through his life, and ends on a hopeful note, with the famous line,"If Winter comes can Spring be far behind?"
The speaker invokes the “wild West Wind” of autumn, which scatters the dead leaves and spreads seeds so that they may be nurtured by the spring, and asks that the wind, a “destroyer and preserver,” hear him. The speaker calls the wind the “dirge / Of the dying year,” and describes how it stirs up violent storms, and again implores it to hear him. The speaker says that the wind stirs the Mediterranean from “his summer dreams,” and cleaves the Atlantic into choppy chasms, making the “sapless foliage” of the ocean tremble, and asks for a third time that it hear him. The speaker says that if he were a dead leaf that the wind could bear, or a cloud it could carry, or a wave it could push, or even if he were, as a boy, “the comrade” of the wind’s “wandering over heaven,” then he would never have needed to pray to the wind and invoke its powers. He pleads with the wind to lift him “as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!”—for though he is like the wind at heart, untameable and proud—he is now chained and bowed with the weight of his hours upon the earth. The speaker asks the wind to “make me thy lyre,” to be his own Spirit, and to drive his thoughts across the universe, “like withered leaves, to quicken a new birth.” He asks the wind, by the incantation of this verse, to scatter his words among mankind, to be the “trumpet of a prophecy.” Speaking both in regard to the season and in regard to the effect upon mankind that he hopes his words to have, the speaker asks: “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”