Ode to the West Wind
Introduction to the poem
“Ode to the West Wind” was written in 1819. The poem consists of five stanzas of 14 lines each. The poem is in organic whole. The thought develops logically and systematically. The imagery of the poem is powerful. The poet often uses kinetic images to express the power of the wind. Colours play an important part in expressing the emotional state of the poet. The poem is the greatest lyrical utterance of Shelley. There is no song more passionate and more penetrative than this lyric. It is the lyric of lyrics. Metaphor succeeds to metaphor and simile to simile with wild rapidity. The poem is an epitome of Shelley’s lyric art.
Explanations / Analysis of Ode to the West Wind
O Wild West Wind ……………..pestilence-stricken multitudes.
Ref. to the Context- These lines have been taken from Shelley’s poem “Ode to the West Wind” In these lines the poet pictures the effect of the west wind on the surface of the earth. Here he speaks only of the destructive effect of the wind.
Explanation- Calling the wind as the very breath of Autumn and as a wild force, the poet says that the dead leaves fly away from the wind out of its terror even though it is all unseen. In their flight they appear as ghosts who run away from a magician. And as they fly away they change their colours which shows that they are panic-stricken. They are sometimes yellow, sometimes black; then they turn pale or deep-red in their countenance. Again, the poet imagines that in their panicky flight they look like people who run away in panic when the league strikes their dwellings. Thus the simple natural phenomenon of autumnal falling of dry leaves is treated by the creative imagination as the powerful and terrible effect of the west wind working as divine force.
O, though, who chariotest………….hear, oh, hear.
Ref. to the Context- In this second part of the first stanza of his poem, “Ode to the West Wind,” Shelley pictures the creative effect of the west wind on the earth’s surface. The wind can rise the seeds of future vegetation on its wings and deposits them in crevices of the earth.
Explanation- O wind, you carry away the hairy seeds in your divine chariot and place them in their dark beds underground in the chinks and crevices of the earth. They lie there all through winter and look like corpuses lying in their grave. But they are not dead; they are only enjoying a winter-long sleep. When the gentle sister of the West Wind, which blows in the spring, comes on and blows her bugle over this sleeping and dreaming earth, they wake up from their long wintry dream. They shoot into plants and the hills and valleys are filled with pleasant colors and sweet smell of the flowers of those plants. The buds that appear on the branches of plants and trees are likened by the poet to clocks of sheep which are driven out of their fools to graze in open field. The buds imprisoned in their stalks are, likewise, driven out by the wind so that they may breathe in fresh air. The poet appeals to the wild spirit of the West Wind, which is all pervading and which is a symbol of both destruction and preservation. He calls upon the wind to cease for a while and listen to his prayer, but the wind ignores his appeal and goes on blowing fiercely.
Thou on whose stream………….rain and lightning.
Ref. to the Context- This passage occurs in Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” Here the poet pictures the effect of the West Wind in the atmosphere.
Explanation- O West Wind, on your powerful current in the middle of the agitated sky, loose clouds are floating. They look exactly like the decaying leaves that are falling from the branches of trees. This very suggestion of similarity between the “loos clouds” and “earth’s decaying leaves” forces the poet to produce the “trees”, from his imagination, from which the loose clouds are being shed like leaves. The pieces of floating clouds are, to the poet, the leaves and they are being shaken loose from their inter winning branches. The poet calls these clouds the messengers of the goodly rain and also of the destructive lightning. Thus the dual nature or function of the West Wind-that of destroyer and of preserver is continued in these lines.
There are spread………..the approaching storm.
Ref. to the Context— These lines have been taken from Shelley’s poem “Ode to the West Wind.” In these lines we find a very clear picture of the approaching storm piloted by the West Wind.
Explanation- The greater part of the sky is clear as yet. That is why the surface of the airy waves of the west wind is described as ‘blue’. Against the background of the blue sky, the lines of the grayish duststorm are clearly visible. They are stretching from the dim-line of the horizon to the zenith, that is, the topmost point of the heaven. These long lines of duststorm appear as the bright hair flowing above the head of a maenad who is engrossed in her fierce dance in worship of her Lord, Bacchus. This is a very impressive picture of the approach of the great storm.
N.B.― Meanad- These were, in Greek mythology, the female worshippers of the god of wine, Bacchus, who danced a fierce dance to please their Lord.
Thou dirge of the dying year……oh, hear!
Ref. to the Context— These lines occur in the poem. “Ode to the West Wind” composed by Shelley. In these lines we have a picture of the dark and terrible aspect of the work of the West Wind.
Explanation- The great uproar caused by the wind serves as the death song for the dying year. The night that is coming on fast will serve as the dome to be raised over the grave for the year when it is actually dead. The thick dark clouds driven by the powerful wind will become the vault of that dome. From these clouds terrible and destructive torrential rain will burst very soon. Along with the rain they will also send forth hail and lightning with terrible thunder. All this destruction will take place under your command. O West Wind! Please stay a while and listen to my prayer.
Thou who didst waken…………faints picturing them.
Ref. to the Context- These lines have been taken from Shelley’s poem “Ode to the West Wind.” These beautiful lines give an illustration of Shelley’s powerful myth-making capacity as a poet. He paints a wonderful picture of the sleeping and dreaming Mediterranean Ocean.
Explanation- O West Wind, you wake up the sleeping Mediterranean from his beautiful summer-dreams as he lies fast asleep by the side of an island formed of lava in the bay of Baiae. He is softly lulled to sleep by the beautiful crystal-clear gult streams coiling around him. In his sleep he dreams of his glorious past when a number of great civilizations flourished on his shores. Most of those ancient civilizations have become things of the past, hardly leaving traces of their existence. But in his dream the Mediterranean sees old palaces and towers, which are now submerged but which must have existed above water some thousands of years ago. They look very charming in their present submerged state because in the brilliant sunlight reflected through dancing wavelets these palaces and towers seem to be trembling. They are thickly overgrown with green mosses and sweet smelling flowers are blooming on them. Their smell is so intoxicating in its effect that the poet begins to faint as soon as he tries to pain a picture of these flowers.
Thou for whose path………despoil themselves; oh, hear.
Ref. to the Context- These lines have been taken from Shelley’s poem “Ode to the West Wind.” In these lines the poet pictures the effect of the West Wind on the Atlantic Ocean.
Explanation- West Wind, you are so powerful that the great Atlantic opens out its bosom in order to give you free passage. The smooth and powerful surface of the Ocean is furrowed into deep valleys of water when the West Wind raises tall waves by blowing on it with great force. Even the flowering plants and trees growing on its deep bottom hear the terrible voice of the wind blowing far above them. These trees have dry leaves which are always dripping. They are terrified by the voice of the roaring wind and in their terror they turn pale and shed their leaves. O Wild Wind, I pray you. Please stay a minute and listen to my prayer.
If I were to dead leaf……….O uncontrollable!
Ref. to the Context- After the long praise of the West Wind in the first three stanzas of the poem, th poet Shelley now turns upon his personal condition in life. The fourth stanza, of which the present lines are opening lines, is an expression of the poet’s personal pessimism.
Explanation- Shelley is very unhappy at the fact that the West Wind continues to blow according to its own sweet will, paying no heed at all to the prayer he has been making for so long. He complains that the wind is ignoring him simply because he is a human being and he too has been appealing to the wind only because he has turned now into a weakling under the pressure of circumstance. The poet feels that if he had been a dead and dry leaf, he too would have been carried away by the wind in its broad sweep. He too would have floated on the swift currents of the wind it had had been a piece of cloud. Or, if he had been a wave of the sea or the ocean, he would have heaved and struggled under its powerful pressure and thus felt and shared its great force directly. It is true that he would not have been as free as the powerful and indomitable west wind. Being a wave he would be compelled to follow the will of the west wind. But what of that! He only wishes to share the great revolutionary force of the West Wind. And that would have been easier if he had not been a human being.
If even I were…………..in my sore need.
Ref. to the Context- These lines occur in Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind.” In these lines the poet says that he would not have cared to pay to the wind to give him strength if had retained the energy of his boyhood days.
Explanation- The poet’s heart was filled with greatest optimism then. He dreamed of overtaking the wind in its fierce race over the skies and he often thought, when a boy, that it could be achieved in real life. As a boy, he was charged with faith and energy. If he were even now as he was in his boyhood, the poet says, he could be a companion to the wind in its wanderings in the vast sky. It he had still retained his old power and strength, he would not have struggled with his prayer to the West Wind, as he has been doing for a pretty long time now. But he is in great need of help from the wind, as a source of power and energy, because he has fallen on bad days in his life.
Oh, lift me as a wave…………swift, and proud.
Ref. to the Context- These are the last lines of the fourth stanza of Shelley’s poem “Ode to the West Wind”. Here the poet prays to the wind to impart her own energy to him and thus come to his aid in the sad plight in which he finds himself at the present moment of his life. The wild and proud man has suffered badly at the chastising hand of the tyrant. Time, and appears here weeping like a sick child.
Explanation- After describing the havoc wrought by the wind on the earth, on the sea and in the sky, the poet now turns to address a personal prayer to the wind. In his early youth, when he was quite carefree, he was confident of surpassing the wind in its swiftness. But the troubles and oppressions of his later years have crushed him down to the earth. Life has become a kind of milestone round his neck, or, as he puts it, has worked with him like a heavy chain constantly weighing him down with its weight. Life has become denuded of its flowers and he is thrown upon its thorns. The joys of life have faded and only troubles him, thus making him its instrument of change. He also wants the wind to carry his radical thoughts all over the world, just as it carries away and scatters the dead leaves which become a source of nourishment for the new life in nature. He confesses that his thoughts are almost dead because they are not able at present to generate a wave of new thinking in the world. But he is confident that they carry the germ of new and revolutionizing thought and that sooner or later they will be accepted as such.
And by the incantation…………can Spring be for behind?
Ref. to the Context— These are the last lines of Shelley’s poem “Ode to the West Wind” in these lines the poet prays to the West Wind to spread his revolutionary thoughts all-over the earth so that a new society may be born out of the old and rotten social order.
Explanation- Shelley wants the West Wind to use this poem as a magic formula and to scatter his thoughts among mankind. Just as it scatters ashes and sparks from a fireplace which is still smoldering, and those sparks are sometimes responsible for huge fires, so also his dead thoughts may work as an inspiration for new thinking among future generations. In this way the world, which is in a sleeping state at present, may be aroused and made conscious of its own decadence. The poet prays to the Wind to blow through him, and through his lips let there come a prophecy like a trumpetcall. The poet thus indirectly tells the world that the time of golden future is not far away. Just as Spring must follow Winter in the cycle of seasons, so also the bright future age of mankind is sure to come after the present one of decay and degeneration.
English Literature— Important links
- Sonnet 29- When, in disgrace with fortune (William Shakespeare)
- SONNET 138- When my love swears (Analysis and Explanation)
- “The Canonization” by John Donne- Summary & Line by line Explanation
- “Paradise Lost” (Lines 242-272) John Milton | Summary & Analysis
- Absalom and Achitophel (John Dryden)- Introduction & Summary
- “Essay on Man” by Alexander Pope, Epistles II (Complete Explanation)
- “Tintern Abbey” by Wordsworth- Introduction and summary
- The World is Too Much With Us- Summary & Stanza-wise Explanation
- Critical appreciation of ‘The Canonisation’ (Poem by John Donne)
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