What is the tone of "Ode to the West Wind"?

Quick answer:

The tone of "Ode to the West Wind" is at times melancholy, at times desperate, and at times celebratory.

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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 respond to him. The speaker also at times seems to adopt a celebratory tone as he describes how the damage wreaked by the wind leads in turn to renewal and new life.

The West Wind in the poem is synonymous with the season of autumn, and, as such, the speaker associates the wind with the death and decay associated with that season. He describes the "pestilence-stricken multitudes" of leaves that fall from the trees in the fall season and which are scattered by the West Wind. He says, too, that these leaves are "driven, like ghosts," and he describes the helicopter seeds that fall from the trees in the fall as each lying "cold and low, / Each like a corpse." This recurring motif of sickness and death ("pestilence-stricken," "ghosts," "corpse") creates a very macabre and melancholic tone.

At the end of each of the first three sections of the poem, the speaker desperately implores the wind to "hear, oh hear!" The exclamation mark emphasizes just how desperate the speaker is to be heard by the West Wind. He wants to be heard by the wind because he wants to learn how to be as powerful as the wind is. Indeed, the speaker asks the wind to "make me thy lyre." In other words, he wants the power of the wind to flow through him and perhaps, in turn, to inform his own poetry.

Although the speaker describes the death and destruction caused by the West Wind, he also acknowledges that this death and destruction leads to renewal and new life. The speaker acknowledges that "wither'd leaves ... quicken a new birth," and at the end of the poem he asks, "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?" The implication here is that the death and decay of the fall season is a necessary precursor to the rejuvenation and growth of spring. The speaker thus celebrates the West Wind not only as a powerful force but also as a necessary one.

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