Student Question

What does the last line of "Ode to the West Wind" - "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?" - mean?

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The last line of "Ode to the West Wind," "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?" means that after the darkest and bleakest times (winter), renewal and rebirth (spring) are inevitable. Shelley uses the west wind as a metaphor for both destruction and creation, suggesting that every end brings a new beginning, offering hope and continuity in the cycle of life.

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In this poem, Shelley talks about the west wind as both a creator and a destroyer.  He says that as it destroys things (through storms) it is also recreating new landscapes and new life.  He hopes that his poetry will be able to do the same for the human world.  It is in that context that we can understand the last line.

What Shelley is saying in this line is something like the proverb that it is always darkest before the dawn.  He is saying that when winter comes (in the darkest and bleakest time of the year) we should not be discouraged.  This is because spring, the time of rebirth, will be coming soon.  The same processes that destroy (the west wind, the passage of time) will also cause renewal.

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What does the last line of "Ode to the West Wind" mean?  It's "if winter comes can spring be far behind"?

Simply put, in the timeline of life, winter comes before spring.  As soon as winter is finished, that means that spring is coming next, not far behind.  For the entire poem, Shelley has been talking about the west wind, and all that it does.  He describes in detail the times that the west wind blows, its effect on the earth and on people, and his feelings towards it.  Often, the descriptions are tumultuos and ominous; for example, the west wind is a bringer of "rain and lightning," "black...hail", "storms", "fear", "tremble", and "chasms" in the sea.  So, the west wind, for much of the poem, is described as a fearful thing, bringing storms, hail and destruction.  But, in the very last stanza, he ends on a hopeful note.  He says that despite all of this, the west wind brings in the winter.  And, what is at the end of winter?  Spring.  So, even though the wind brings cold, stormy winter in, there is spring at the end of it to look forward to.  And in this sense, Shelley calls the wind a prophet, giving "prophecy" (a prophet often is able to tell the future); the prophecy that the west wind "trumpets" to the world is that spring will be coming soon.

I hope that those explanations help a bit; good luck!

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