Introduction to Ode to the West Wind

“Ode to the West Wind” is a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley. It was first published in 1820 as part of Shelley’s four-act lyrical drama, Prometheus Unbound, which explores the life and emotions of Prometheus, a figure from Greek mythology. The poem also expresses some of Shelley’s political beliefs, and the titular west wind is figured as an agent of change in a corrupt world. The poem’s extended metaphor likens autumn to a state of pollution and disease, which is followed by the dark chill of winter. However, at the end of winter comes spring, the season of renewal, where the seeds planted by radical thinkers and dissidents will finally bloom.

The poem is formed of five cantos, each of which is made up of four tercets and a rhyming couplet. The tightly controlled rhyme scheme of the poem follows an aba bcb cdc ded ee structure, giving the lyric a natural rhythm. This rhythm is further bolstered by the poem’s iambic pentameter, which contributes a lilting feel to the words. 

Shelley’s politics were often considered radical by his contemporaries, and “Ode to the West Wind” expresses his belief in the power of poetry to influence society. Much like the west wind can blow away the dead leaves of autumn, so, too, can poetry expose the failings of society in order to inspire people to pursue a better world. Written in the wake of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, in which royal soldiers killed working-class protesters, “Ode to the West Wind” is a call for revolution.

A Brief Biography of Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822) is one of the central figures of the Romantic era in literature. He lived a short but intellectually and artistically rich life. Born to an aristocratic family and raised in Sussex, Shelley proved to be an intelligent, curious, and imaginative boy from a young age. He excelled academically at Eton and then Oxford, where he fed his fascination with science, philosophy, and literature. At Oxford, Shelley’s natural aversion to authority came to the fore when he published and distributed a pamphlet arguing for atheism. For this, Shelley was expelled. Because of his refusal to apologize and make amends, Shelley broke ties with his father as well. In the ensuing decade, Shelley traveled widely in Britain and Europe, wrote poetry and prose at a prodigious rate, and married and started a family with Mary Shelley. At only twenty-nine, Shelley died at sea.

Shelley’s most enduring work is his poetry, which embodies the style and subject matter of the British Romantic movement. Shelley’s verse is lush and eloquent, with a fluid musicality that allowed him to develop and explore complex themes within strict poetic forms. He was adept at writing both long-form verse works, such as Prometheus Unbound (1820) and Adonais (1821), and contained lyrics, such as “Ozymandias” (1819) and “Ode to the West Wind” (1819). With his imaginative imagery, insightful conceits, and brilliant prosody, Shelley is an essential poet of Romanticism and of the English-language tradition in general.

Frequently Asked Questions about Ode to the West Wind

Ode to the West Wind

In "Ode to the West Wind," Shelley conveys the message that he would like the words he writes on leaves of paper to be scattered as far and wide as the West Wind scatters the leaves that fall from...

Latest answer posted September 5, 2019, 2:42 am (UTC)

3 educator answers

Ode to the West Wind

Though the phrase "O wild West Wind" contains only four words, it serves as an example of three figures of speech, each of which contributes to the tone of "Ode to the West Wind": apostrophe,...

Latest answer posted August 30, 2021, 12:52 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Ode to the West Wind

Some characteristics of Romantic poetry include a focus on the personal experiences of the individual, an emphasis on emotion and creativity, and a belief in the transformative power of nature....

Latest answer posted August 29, 2021, 12:39 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Ode to the West Wind

In Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ode to the West Wind,” the speaker addresses the West Wind with awe and says, Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere; Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh hear!...

Latest answer posted August 31, 2021, 8:23 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Ode to the West Wind

In Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ode to the West Wind,” the West Wind is a powerful force. Consider how the speaker compares the wind to the fierce, wild Maenad and calls it a prophecy. To the...

Latest answer posted August 30, 2021, 12:17 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Ode to the West Wind

The meter of a poem is its rhythm: the number of beats in a line and where the stress or emphasis falls on the beat. A beat is a unit that consists of two syllables. "Ode to the West Wind" is...

Latest answer posted August 30, 2021, 12:17 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Ode to the West Wind

"Ode to the West Wind" is an ode, or a kind of lyric poem that is meant to address a particular person or object, usually in an elevated way. A lyric is a relatively short poem that expresses a...

Latest answer posted August 28, 2021, 12:03 pm (UTC)

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Ode to the West Wind

In "Ode to the West Wind," the speaker directly addresses the eponymous wind. He describes in a melancholy tone the damage that the wind does, and he desperately implores the wind to hear and...

Latest answer posted August 29, 2021, 11:21 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Ode to the West Wind

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...

Latest answer posted August 28, 2021, 6:19 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Ode to the West Wind

"Ode to the West Wind" is about the power of nature to influence change, particularly in light of mankind's limited control. As the speaker begins the poem, he uses apostrophe to address the West...

Latest answer posted August 28, 2021, 12:48 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Ode to the West Wind

Leaves, particularly dead leaves, are mentioned multiple times throughout the five cantos of "Ode to the West Wind." These leaves are imbued with heavy symbolism. Throughout the poem, the speaker...

Latest answer posted August 31, 2021, 3:31 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Ode to the West Wind

Metaphors are comparisons that do not use the words like or as. Shelley's "Ode to West Wind" is dense with metaphors. A few are described below. Shelley speaks directly to the West Wind in this...

Latest answer posted August 30, 2021, 11:36 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Ode to the West Wind

In “Ode to the West Wind,” Percy Bysshe Shelley presents the power of nature, which brings both destruction and new life, at the same time as he presents the power of poetry, which does the same....

Latest answer posted August 30, 2021, 1:50 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Ode to the West Wind

In the final line of the poem, the speaker asks, "O Wind, / If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?" Generally, winter is the season of the year associated with death, while spring, which...

Latest answer posted August 28, 2021, 5:36 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Ode to the West Wind

One emotion the West Wind brings to the poet is sadness. The presence of the West Wind produces a lot of glum imagery for the poet. In the first section, Percy Bysshe Shelley depicts autumn leaves...

Latest answer posted August 29, 2021, 4:06 pm (UTC)

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Ode to the West Wind

In discussing what spring symbolizes in "Ode to the West Wind," it might help to first examine things in the poem which are associated with the West Wind. The speaker calls this force "wild" and...

Latest answer posted August 31, 2021, 5:39 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Ode to the West Wind

In “Ode to the West Wind,” Percy Bysshe Shelley has a special request for the West Wind in the poem's final section. “Make me thy lyre,” he asks, “even as the forest is.” The poet wants to sing of...

Latest answer posted August 31, 2021, 3:28 pm (UTC)

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Ode to the West Wind

As canto 3 begins, the speaker personifies the blue Mediterranean as a person sleeping and dreaming of "old palaces and towers," symbols of an aristocratic past, amid the peaceful, lapping waters...

Latest answer posted August 31, 2021, 11:31 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Ode to the West Wind

The West Wind moves about as an "unseen presence" throughout autumn, creating a powerful change that ushers in winter. The speaker observes that the West Wind is both "destroyer and preserver" to...

Latest answer posted August 29, 2021, 5:59 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Ode to the West Wind

The speaker begins, in the first three stanzas, by describing the power of the West Wind to move natural objects—such as leaves that fall from trees in autumn and waves in the Mediterranean—in...

Latest answer posted August 28, 2021, 11:47 am (UTC)

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Summary