In "Ode to the West Wind" by Percy Bysshe Shelley, how can the wind be both destroyer and preserver in line 14?

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Ode to the West Wind," Shelley compares the power of nature and the power of poetry. He considers the West Wind as heralding the autumn and approaching winter. As this time of year is associated with the cold and dying plants, the West Wind is a harbinger of death and destruction. However, in the greater scheme of things, autumn is simply one stage in a larger cycle of the seasons. Although the West Wind drives dead leaves "like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing," the West Wind also carries seeds to other places where they lie (seemingly dead) until Spring arrives and they are reborn. 

                                            O Thou,

Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,

Each like a corpse within its grave, until

Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

So, the West Wind blows the dead leaves and carries seeds to their graves in the ground. But the wind is also a preserver because those leaves and seeds will eventually be used to regenerate new life. In the last stanza, Shelley (the speaker) wishes the same fate for his poetry. If it should lie dormant (unread) like the seeds, during his life or following his death, he hopes that it will once again be reborn and read. The further hope is that his poetry will inspire a regeneration or rebirth in others or in humanity itself. Just as the wind blows the seeds to other places, he hopes his poetry will travel to other places as well: 

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth

Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!

Be through my lips to unawakened Earth! 


Read the study guide:
Ode to the West Wind

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