Ode to the West Wind Summary

Ode to the West Wind Summary (Comprehensive Analysis)

This article, ‘Ode to the west wind summary’ will explain the poem in a better manner. It will help you in analyzing the poem and summarize it efficiently. Written by Percy Bysshe Shelley, the poem was written in the season of Autumn.

ode to the west wind summary

Ode to the West Wind Summary

In this poem, Ode to the West Wind, Percy Shelley creates a speaker that seems to worship the wind. He always refers to the wind as “Wind” using the capital letter, suggesting that he sees it as his god.

The best way to go about offering an analysis of ‘Ode to the West Wind’ is to go through the poem first and provide a part-by-part summary, pointing out some of the most important features of Shelley’s poem. So, here goes the poem first:

Ode to the Wind

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh hear!

Thou on whose stream, mid the steep sky’s commotion,
Loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,

Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine aëry surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith’s height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: oh hear!

Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lull’d by the coil of his crystalline streams,

Beside a pumice isle in Baiae’s bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave’s intenser day,

All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic‘s level powers

Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know

Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: oh hear!

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seem’d a vision; I would ne’er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chain’d and bow’d
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like wither’d leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguish‘d hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken’d earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?


Ode to the West Wind Summary

Ode to the West Wind’ was written in 1819 during a turbulent time in English history: the Peterloo Massacre on 16 August 1819, which Shelley also wrote about in his poem ‘The Mask of Anarchy’, deeply affected the poet.

The autumnal west wind sweeps along the leaves and “wingèd seeds.” The seeds will remain dormant until spring. The wind is thus a destroyer and a preserver. The west wind also sweeps along storm clouds.

It is the death song of the year. With the night that closes the year will come rain, lightning, and hail; there will be storms in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.

Canto 1

In the opening stanza of Ode to the West Wind, the speaker appeals to the wild West Wind. The use of capital letters for “West” and “Wind” immediately suggests that he is speaking to the Wind as though it were a person.

This stanza of Ode to the West Wind describes the dead Autumn leaves. They are not described as colorful and beautiful, but rather as a symbol of death and even disease. The speaker describes the deathly colors “yellow” “black” and “pale”.

The speaker continues the metaphor of the leaves as the dead by explaining that the wind carries them and “winged seeds” to their graves, “where they lie cold and low”.He then uses a simile to compare each leaf to “a corpse within its grave”.


Canto 2

Again, the speaker addresses the wind as a person, calling it the one who will “loose clouds” and shake the leaves of the “boughs of Heaven and Ocean”. This reads almost like a Psalm as if the speaker is praising the wind for its power.

Again, the speaker refers to the wind as a spiritual being more powerful than angels, for the angels “of rain and lightning” are described as being “spread on the blue surface” of the wind. He then describes these angels as being “like the bright hair” on the head of an even greater being.

Remember, this is the being that was also described as having hair like angels. Thus, the wind is described as a being like a god, with angels for hair. These angels of rain and lightning reveal that a storm is on the way.

Canto 3

To begin this Canto, the speaker describes the wind as having woken up the Mediterranean sea from a whole summer of peaceful rest. The sea, here, is also personified.

In this stanza of Ode to the West Wind, the speaker simply implies that the sea was dreaming of the old days of palaces and towers and that he was “quivering” at the memory of an “intenser day”.

The speaker continues to describe the sea’s dreams as being of slower days when everything was overgrown with blue “moss and flowers”. Then, he hints that something is about to change when he mentions to Atlantic’s “powers”.

Canto 4

Here, the speaker finally brings his attention to himself. He imagines that he was a dead leaf that the wind might carry away or a cloud that the wind might blow. He thinks about what it would be like to be a wave at the mercy of the power of the wind.

The speaker stands in awe of the wondrous strength of the wind. It seems to act on “impulse” and its strength is “uncontrollable”. He then mentions his own childhood.

He thinks that when he was a boy, he may have been about to “outstrip” the speed of the wind. And yet, his boyhood “seemed a vision”, so distant, and so long ago.


Canto 5

Again, the speaker begs the wind to make him be at its mercy. He wants to be like a lyre (or harp) played by the wind. He wants to be like the dead leaves which fall to the ground when the wind blows.

In some religions, particularly the Christian religion, there is the belief that to have a new life, one must receive the Holy Spirit into his bodily being. This is precisely what the speaker is asking the wind to do to him.

The speaker asks the wind to “drive [his] dead thoughts over the universe” so that even as he dies, others might take his thoughts and his ideas and give them “new birth”. He thinks that perhaps this might even happen with the very words he is speaking now.

Ode to the west wind summary is a poem that shows us the power of the wind which brings a change in the natural world. Similarly, the poet wishes for reform in society. Moreover, the poem has underlying themes of optimism and hope for a better future.

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