Ode to the West Wind "If Winter Comes, Can Spring Be Far Behind?"
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Ode to the West Wind book cover
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"If Winter Comes, Can Spring Be Far Behind?"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: This vivid lyric poem reveals Shelley's ability to paint colorful and exciting pictures of nature. He addresses the "wild West Wind," the "breath of Autumn's being," and then describes the wind-driven autumn leaves and seeds, "pestilence-stricken multitudes." "Hear, oh, hear!" the poet begs the "Wild Spirit" of the wind, the "dirge/ Of the dying year." Then the poet describes the clouds of a storm being driven forward by the West Wind. Now he reveals the reason for his admiration of the West Wind. He is in "sore need," for his wildly romantic poetic powers have weakened, and he needs some inspiration to lift him above the dull, everyday world: "I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!" he screams. He wishes he were a "dead leaf," a "swift cloud," or a wave, so that he could be lifted by the wind. He remembers his lost boyhood, when he wildly believed himself able to "outstrip [the wind's] skyey speed." Time has "chained and bowed" the poet, who was "tameless, and swift, and proud" like the wind. He begs the wind to make him its lyre, to become his spirit, and he sees a glimmer of hope:

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse.
Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?