Shelley\'s "Ode To the West Wind": Analysis


In "Ode to the West Wind," Percy Bysshe Shelley tries to gain
transcendence, for he shows that his thoughts, like the "winged seeds" (7) are
trapped. The West Wind acts as a driving force for change and rejuvenation in
the human and natural world. Shelley views winter not just as last phase of
vegetation but as the last phase of life in the individual, the imagination,
civilization and religion. Being set in Autumn, Shelley observes the changing
of the weather and its effects on the internal and external environment. By
examining this poem, the reader will see that Shelley can only reach his
sublime by having the wind carry his "dead thoughts" (63) which through an
apocalyptic destruction, will lead to a rejuvenation of the imagination, the
individual and the natural world.

Shelley begins his poem by addressing the "Wild West Wind" (1). He
quickly introduces the theme of death and compares the dead leaves to "ghosts"
(3). The imagery of "Pestilence-stricken multitudes" makes the reader aware
that Shelley is addressing more than a pile of leaves. His claustrophobic mood
becomes evident when he talks of the "wintry bed" (6) and "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" (7-9). In the first line, Shelley use
the phrase "winged seeds" which presents images of flying and freedom. The
only problem is that they lay "cold and low" or unnourished or not elevated.
He likens this with a feeling of being trapped. The important word is "seeds"
for it shows that even in death, new life will grow out of the "grave." The
phrase "winged seeds" also brings images of religions, angels, and/or souls
that continue to create new life. Heavenly images are confirmed by his use of
the word "azure" which besides meaning sky blue, also is defined, in Webster\'s
Dictionary, as an "unclouded vault of heaven." The word "azure," coupled with
the word "Spring," helps show Shelley\'s view of rejuvenation. The word
"Spring" besides being a literary metaphor for rebirth also means to rise up. In
line 9, Shelley uses soft sounding phrases to communicate the blowing of the
wind. This tercet acts as an introduction and a foreshadow of what is to come
later.

Shelley goes on to talk of the wind as a "Destroyer and Preserver" which
brings to mind religious overtones of different cultures such as Hinduism and
Native Indian beliefs. The poem now sees a shift of the clouds which warns of
an upcoming storm. This helps Shelley begin to work towards a final climax.
He then writes of the mourning song "Of the dying year, to which this closing
night/ Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre/ Vaulted with all they congregated
might" (23-25). Again, the reader feels somewhat claustrophobic. The "closing
night" feels as if it is surrounding the author as he writes and the reader as
he or she reads. The "closing night" is used also to mean the final night.
Shelley shows how he cannot have a transcendence even in an open sky for even
the sky is a "dome." The "sepulchre" is a tomb made out of rock and his
imagination and the natural world will be locked and "Vaulted" tight. But in
following lines Shelley writes how this "sepulchre" will "burst" (28). In that
sense, "Vaulted" takes on the meaning of a great leap and even a spring.
Shelley uses the phrase "congregated might" not just to mean a collaborative
effort, but to represent all types of religion. Shelley seems to use obtuse
phrasing to frighten the reader and to show the long breath of the wind.
Shelley wants the reader to visualize the "dome" as having a presence like a
volcano. And when the "dome" does "burst," it will act as a "Destroyer and
Preserver" and creator. The use of the words "Black rain and fire and hail..."
(28) also helps the reader prepare for the apocalyptic climax which Shelley
intended.

As the rising action continues, Shelley talks of the "Mediterranean"
(31) and its "summer dreams" (30). In the dream, the reader finds the sea
laying "Beside a pumice isle in Baiae\'s bay/ And saw in sleep old palaces and
towers/ Quivering within the wave\'s intenser day" (32-34). Shelley implants
the idea of a volcano with the word "pumice." The "old palaces and towers" stir
vivid images of ancient Rome and Greece in the readers mind. Shelley also uses
these images in the sea\'s dream to show that the natural world and