What is the breath of autumn in “Ode to the West Wind”?

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In Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind," autumn is personified as a living being, and the eponymous "West Wind" is described, metaphorically, as the "breath" of that being. In other words, the breath of autumn is the speaker's way of describing the west wind.

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In Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind," autumn is personified as a living being, and the eponymous "West Wind" is described, metaphorically, as the "breath" of that being. In other words, the breath of autumn is the speaker's way of describing the west wind.

This wind blows the dead autumn leaves, and it also heralds "the dying year." The west wind, or the breath of autumn, is thus a signal that winter is on its way. The west wind also "waken[s] from his summer dreams / The blue Mediterranean" and moves the "loose" clouds across the sky. The fact that the west wind has control over the air and the water suggests that it is powerful. Indeed, later in the poem, the speaker, addressing the west wind, talks of "thy power" and "thy strength."

In the second half of the poem, the speaker pleas with the west wind, or the breath of autumn, to "Make me thy lyre" and "Drive my dead thoughts over the universe." The speaker here seems to be the poet, and the "dead thoughts" the poems that the poet has written. The speaker is thus inviting the west wind to use its power to spread his poetry all over the world. In the penultimate stanza of the poem, the speaker asks the west wind to "Scatter ... my words among maknind."

The breath of autumn is thus the west wind. It is powerful, and it heralds winter and death. It also, however, provides some hope to the speaker, and at the same time the poet, that his words might one day be read all over the world.

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