Please explain how "Ode to the West Wind" shows Shelley's use of the intangible and ethereal as subject matter.Shelley often chose as a subject matter of his poetry the intangible and ethereal....

Please explain how "Ode to the West Wind" shows Shelley's use of the intangible and ethereal as subject matter.

Shelley often chose as a subject matter of his poetry the intangible and ethereal. Describe in at least four sentences how, in the central symbol of the poem and in many of the symbols, "Ode to the West Wind" illustrates this fact.

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stolperia's profile pic

stolperia | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Shelley is reflecting on the circle of life in "Ode to the West Wind." He is contemplating the way in which all changes are related to each other, all connected and interdependent, whether one is thinking of objects in the natural world or of the lives of humans.

He begins by considering the "winged seeds" blown by the "wild West Wind" to the landing places where

they lie cold and low, Each like a corpse within its grave, until Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow.

He goes on to speak of how the earth, the sky, the Mediterranean Sea are renewed and remade with the changes of time and the powers driven by "all thy congregated might."

He considers how much more his poetry, his "leaves," could have been shared with the larger world if he had been able to unite with the West Wind and be blown "over the universe Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!" He wishes that the wind would "scatter...my words among mankind!"

The poem ends with the hopeful affirmation that Spring and new life follows the Winter death being blown in by the West Wind of Autumn. The cycle is not something that can be held or stopped or seen, but it is very real and continues on, carrying all with it.

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andrewnightingale's profile pic

andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The word intangible denotes something that cannot be touched or grasped: a thing without any physical presence. The word can, therefore, refer to a spiritual or supernatural entity. Ethereal is often used as a synonym for intangible but can also refer to something exquisite, fragile, or airy. Its denotation is that it refers to something delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for this world.

In Ode to the West Wind, Percy Bysshe Shelley's subject is, obviously, the wind, which is, in terms of the above definition, intangible. It cannot be touched or grasped. This also makes it ethereal for wind is, by its very nature, light. In his poem Shelley addresses the wind and uses a lyrical style throughout.

Shelley uses apostrophe when addressing the wind. He speaks directly to it as if it is another person (personification) and states, in the first stanza, that it is first Autumn's "breath" (line 1) and an "unseen presence" (line 2). This affirms its status as an intangible and ethereal force. He also introduces it as a supernatural power by comparing the leaves to ghosts driven forth by the wind. This reinforces the wind's incorporeal and spiritual character.

The earth is depicted as "dreaming" (line 10). This, in itself, is an intangible quality because dreams exist only in the mind. The earth is personified, as are all the objects affected by the wind's power. Most of the images in the first stanza convey this ethereal and intangible quality, such as "feed in air" (line 11), "living hues," and "odours plain" (line 12). The wind's impalpable nature is emphasized when Shelley refers to it as a "Wild Spirit" at the end of the fifth stanza.

The rest of the ode confirms the wind's ethereal essence. The poet conveys and confirms this through the use of descriptors such as "steep sky's commotion" (line 15), "loose clouds" (line 16), "aery surge" (line 19), and "vapours" (line 27) in section two. 

These descriptions are extended in the third, fourth, and fifth sections by the use of words and phrases such as "summer dreams," "swift cloud," "wanderings over Heaven," "thy skiey speed," "a vision," and the mention of abstract qualities such as "tameless," "swift," and "proud." Shelley calls the wind a "Spirit" and asks for its spirit to become his so that he may also be "fierce"—another intangible quality which depicts passion and determination. He describes the wind as "impetuous," probably implying that it is either rash, impulsive or reckless.

In the final three stanzas, the speaker appeals to the wind (through alliteration) to spread his words across the universe so that they may awaken a new vigor and a new spirit and trumpet out a new "prophecy," which, one can assume, is the poet's wish for the regeneration of a previously "dead" earth. He feels that his words can inspire mankind to look at the world with fresh eyes and be passionate about it.