What qualities of the West Wind are glorified in Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind"?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shelley glorifies the West Wind as a "wild spirit" and he praises the Wind for being tameless, proud, and swift. He remembers the Wind as a pleasant force during his summer days on the shores of the Mediterranean, but also celebrates its fierce autumnal power. Most importantly, he glories in the Wind as a forceful agent of change. 

Much of the imagery of the poem revolves around the Wind's ability to scatter objects of nature. The poet wants to share the Wind's fierce spirit. As a radical, Shelley gloried in the wind's ability to blow away dead ideas, represented by the leaves that have died and fallen. But the Wind doesn't just blow away dead ideas; it also circulates fresh ideas by also blowing them all over.

Thus, Shelley celebrates the wind as prophetic: as the Wind sweeps away what is "decaying," it also sweeps in change. 

Shelly glories in the similarities between the Wind's power to blow natural elements across the earth and the poet's prophetic capabilities. If the Wind controls the leaves, the poet also writes on his own "leaves" of paper. Shelley longs for the wind's power to circulate his ideas. As he writes:

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the last line of the first canto, the speaker calls the wind a "destroyer and preserver," observing that it transports leaves and "winged seeds" to the places they'll lie dormant until the autumn wind's spring sister reinvigorates them.

In the second canto, the speaker observes that the wind is capable of carrying clouds, rain, lightning, and hail, other awe-inspiring forces of nature. Shelley utilizes a simile that likens the wind to the hair of a Maenad.

The third canto describes the wind's power to turn placid seas into fearsome forces that even strike fear into the sea's underworld flora as Shelley employs a pathetic fallacy.

In the fourth canto, the speaker confesses his desire to be one with the wind, imploring it to "lift [me] as a wave, a leaf, a cloud" and deliver the speaker from a life that "has chain'd and bow'd" him.  The speaker identifies with the wind's "tameless, and swift, and proud" nature.

Read the study guide:
Ode to the West Wind

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