Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind

Upon my first reading of Percy Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind, I only assumed there was a sort of symbolism of life and creation that the west wind had a critical part in. After reading articles by Carl Woodring and David McInnis on the structure and themes of the poem, my perception of the poem changed due to their analyzation of the bodily humors, structure, and elements symbols. Each of the five sections of the ode are structured into terza rimas, and in each of those stanzas Shelley describes the duties the west wind is responsible for, ultimately ending with himself. I realized that the obvious analysis of the cycles of life and seasons were not the only ones present. Instead, Shelley directly places himself inside the poem as a subject of the west wind, unable to fully be the poet he wants without the west wind sending his poems across to mankind. The idea that the poet needs some force other than themselves to become more of a creative power is something that comes up many times in Romantic poetry. 

For example,

“The impulse of thy strength, only less free

Than thou, O uncontrollable! if even

I were as in 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.

O!  lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud! 

I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!”

Here Shelley is reminiscing on his childhood and during those times he did not need the west wind. Instead, they were equals in speed and in duties. But time slowed Shelley down creatively and motivationally, and now he invokes the west wind to come to him this time as an aid. 

Shelley has used this poem to ask for help in both carrying his poems to the eyes of those he wants to read them (like fellow liberals and revolutionists) and to give him a burst of creative power. It is not uncommon for a poet to lose confidence in their poetical genius. We saw the same happen to Coleridge. Luckily, such feelings have given us poetry like Ode to the West Wind

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