What does the wind symbolize in "Ode to the West Wind"?

In "Ode to the West Wind," the wind symbolizes an agent of change, something that brings both destruction and, ultimately, new life.

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The wind symbolizes an agent of change in Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind." The speaker calls it a "destroyer and preserver," something that hastens death, which must occur before something can be reborn or given new life. He describes the way the wind ushers in the autumn and the winter, the season with which death is associated because all of the plant life seems to die, the trees losing their leaves and the grasses discontinuing their growth. Even many animals become less active during this season, and some even hibernate for the coldest months of the year.

However, in the end, the speaker asks, "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?" The implied answer to this rhetorical question is "no"; of course, the season of spring cannot be far behind winter. In fact, spring immediately and inevitably follows winter. Thus, by being associated with winter, and by helping to usher in a season associated with death and destruction, the West Wind becomes associated with rebirth and preservation as well, because the old and withered leaves must fall and be blown away to make room for new buds to form and grow. It is for this reason that the West Wind becomes a symbol of both destruction and preservation in the poem.

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