Ode to the West Wind. By Percy Bysshe Shelley. Lyric Poetry. “Ode to the West Wind” is a lyric poem that addresses the west wind as a powerful force and asks it to scatter the poet's words throughout the world.
Ode to the West Wind
By Percy Bysshe Shelley
“Ode to the West Wind” is a lyric poem that addresses the west wind as a powerful force and asks it to scatter the poet's words throughout the world.
A lyric poem presents the deep feelings and emotions of the poet rather than telling a story or presenting a witty observation.
This poem was conceived and chiefly written in a wood that skirts the Arno, near Florence, on a day when that tempestuous wind, whose temperature is at once mild and animating, was collecting the vapors which pour down the autumnal rains. They begin, as I foresaw, at sunset, with a violent tempest of hail and rain, attended by that magnificent thunder and lightning peculiar to the Cisalpine regions (Shelley 239).
A tercet is a unit of three lines that usually contain end rhyme;
a couplet is a two-line unit that usually contains end rhyme.
Shelley wrote the tercets in a verse form called terzarima, invented by Dante. In this format, line 2 of one tercet rhymes with lines 1 and 3 of the next tercet.
An ode is a lyric poem that uses lofty, dignified language to address a person or thing.
Addressing the west wind as a human, the poet describes its activities: It drives dead leaves away as if they were ghosts fleeing a wizard. The leaves are yellow and black, pale and red, as if they had died of an infectious disease. The west wind carries seeds in its chariot and deposits them in the earth, where they lie until the spring wind awakens them by blowing on a trumpet (clarion). When they form buds, the spring wind spreads them over plains and on hills. In a paradox, the poet addresses the west wind as a destroyer and a preserver, then asks it to listen to what he says.
At the beginning of autumn, the poet says, the the west wind awakened the Mediterranean Sea—lulled by the sound of the clear streams flowing into it—from summer slumber near an island formed from pumice (hardened lava). The island is in a bay at Baiae, a city in western Italy about ten miles west of Naples. While sleeping at this locale, the Mediterranean saw old palaces and towers that had collapsed into the sea during an earthquake and became overgrown with moss and flowers. To create a path for the west wind, the powers of the mighty Atlantic Ocean divide (cleave) themselves and flow through chasms. Deep beneath the ocean surface, flowers and foliage, upon hearing the west wind, quake in fear and despoil themselves.(In autumn, ocean plants decay like land plants.) Once more, the poet asks the west wind to continue to listen to what he has to say.
The poet says that if he were a dead leaf (like the ones in the first stanza) or a cloud (like the ones in the second stanza) or an ocean wave that rides the power of the Atlantic but is less free than the uncontrollable west wind—or if even he were as strong and vigorous as he was when he was a boy and could accompany the wandering wind in the heavens and could only dream of traveling faster—well, then, he would never have prayed to the west wind as he is doing now in his hour of need. .......Referring again to imagery in the first three stanzas, the poet asks the wind to lift him as it would a wave, a leaf, or a cloud; for here on earth he is experiencing troubles that prick him like thorns and cause him to bleed. He is now carrying a heavy burden that—though he is proud and tameless and swift like the west wind—has immobilized him in chains and bowed him down.
The poet asks the west wind to turn him into a lyre (a stringed instrument) in the same way that the west wind's mighty currents turn the forest into a lyre. And if the poet's leaves blow in the wind like those from the forest trees, there will be heard a deep autumnal tone that is both sweet and sad. Be "my spirit," the poet implores the wind. "Be thou me" and drive my dead thoughts (like the dead leaves) across the universe in order to prepare the way for new birth in the spring. The poet asks the wind to scatter his words around the world, as if they were ashes from a burning fire. To the unawakened earth, they will become blasts from a trumpet of prophecy. In other words, the poet wants the wind to help him disseminate his views on politics, philosophy, literature, and so on. The poet is encouraged that, although winter will soon arrive, spring and rebirth will follow it.
The god Zephyr
Recall the love story of Ceyx and Alcone (the Halcyon days of peaceful waters)
Crazed followers of Dionysus / Bacchus
Recall Orpheus and Eurydice (how he tried to bring her back from death)
God Apollo’s instrument
The poet desires the irresistible power of the wind to scatter the words he has written about his ideals and causes, one of which was opposition to Britain’s monarchical government as a form of tyranny. Believing firmly in democracy and individual rights, he supported movements to reform government. In 1819, England’s nobility feared that working-class citizens—besieged by economic problems, including high food prices—would imitate the rebels of the French Revolution and attempt to overthrow the established order. On August 16, agitators attracted tens of thousands of people to a rally in St. Peter’s Field, Manchester, to urge parliamentary reform and to protest laws designed to inflate the cost of corn and wheat. Nervous public officials mismanaged the unarmed crowd and ended up killing 11 protesters and injuring more than 500 others. In reaction to this incident, Shelley wrote The Masque of Anarchy in the fall of 1819 to urge further nonviolent action against the government. This work was not published during his lifetime. However, "Ode to the West Wind," also written in the fall of 1819, was published a year later. The poem obliquely refers to his desire to spread his reformist ideas when it says, "Scatter, as from an unextinguish'd hearth / Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!" Shelley believed that the poetry he wrote had the power bring about political reform: "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World," he wrote in another work, A Defence of Poetry.