Romantic poetry is characterized by its sensuous imagery. Discuss Shelley’s appeal to the senses in "Ode to the West Wind."

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In “Ode to the West Wind,” Percy Bysshe Shelley appeals to the senses in images related to the wind’s movement, the seasons and natural phenomena, and mortality. Shelley uses apostrophe, or direct address, to the wind, rather than speaking about it. He combines this with personification, as the speaker entreats the wind to behave in specific ways. For example, he equates the wind's blowing with breath. As the West Wind brings in the cold weather, much of the imagery relates to the transition between autumn and winter. The speaker also holds onto the hope of spring’s arrival and reminisces about the pleasantness of summer.

Shelley’s images are primarily visual, as he describes the autumnal colors of the “Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red” leaves. Other colors are associated with weather and natural phenomena, such as “Black rain” of wintry storms and the “blue Mediterranean” associated with summer.

The poet also incorporates the sense of touch, in references to tactile sensations and motion. The wind’s breath sends seeds to earth, "where they lie cold and low," and the speaker describes bleeding after falling "upon the thorns of life!" Auditory imagery plays a role as well, such as in the description of the spring wind blowing "Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth." The wind's aural quality bears an emotional tone, as hearing the wind’s “voice” causes “fear”:

The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear

The sapless foliage of the ocean, know

Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear….

The wind’s aural power is further associated with music, as the speaker demands, “Make me thy lyre.”

Mortality, both in natural phenomena and humans, is evoked through numerous images. The speaker connects the idea of dormancy with death and budding and blooming with birth and renewal. Related images include the “dying year” and a “dead leaf.” In the poem's final section, the imagery of life and death is combined with the leaf motif as the speaker beseeches the wind,

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe

Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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