What is "Ode to the West Wind" about?
"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 Wind directly—and even demands that it "hear" his pleas. The wind, unlike the speaker, has unbelievable power. It rips dead leaves, hanging like "ghosts," from their branches and buries them within the "grave" of the earth. These similes reflecting death are replaced by life-giving imagery when the winds of spring (the seasons are personified) blow over the "dreaming earth" and bring new "hues and odours" from those "graves." The winds of autumn are necessary to complete the rebirth of spring; thus, the West Wind is both "destroyer and preserver."
The West Wind has the power to transcend earthly limits, reaching into the sky and influencing the paths of clouds. It has the strength to form tall waves in the midst of the Atlantic Ocean. The speaker longs to be more connected to these feelings of power and influence. He recalls his connection to nature, and thus to the wind, when he was a child; during this time, he felt that the wind was his "comrade" and that they wandered together through life.
The speaker begs the West Wind to once again lift him up and to scatter his "dead thoughts" all over the earth, much like the leaves in the fall. By doing so, the speaker believes that perhaps his own ideas will be given new life. The poem thus acknowledges the way natural forces eternally shape the earth, while humans struggle to make even a minor impact in one lifetime.