How does the West Wind act as both a destroyer and a preserver?

Quick answer:

The West Wind is a destroyer in that it wipes away old ways of life, but it is a preserver in that it preserves the beauty of nature. For example, it destroys the fall leaves, but in doing so, it preserves the promise of spring. The West Wind may be seen as representative of the revolutionary spirit that Shelley thought necessary for the transformation of English society.

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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!

When the speaker calls the wind both a destroyer and a preserver, he emphasizes what an amazing, powerful force it is. He calls it a “destroyer” because he recognizes that it has the power to wipe out many things, like how it wipes away the fall leaves and brings with it the cold, bleak winter. Yet at the same time, the speaker also knows the wind is a sign of the changing of the seasons. While it brings winter, it also serves as a reminder that spring will always come again. The speaker wants to harness the wind’s strength so that his words have that kind of power, too.

It is interesting to view this description of the wind in the poem’s historical context. The West Wind is symbolic of the revolutionary forces in America that recently brought about revolution. Shelley was feeling discouraged because he believed that kind of revolutionary spirit was necessary in England. The wind that he celebrates in this poem is like the wind of revolution, one that destroys old oppressive political systems to preserve the dignity and rights of citizens.

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