Ode to the West Wind is a Plea for Poetic Inspiration

With “Ode to the West Wind,” Percy Bysshe Shelley presents a poetic prayer
filled with musical metaphors and themes of death, rebirth, inspiration,
and liberation. The poem possesses dynamic language to convey the
formidable forces of the West Wind, an autumnal energy “whose unseen
presence the leaves dead Are driven,” (2-3). The leaves refer not only to
the literal leaves off trees but also to leaves of paper, on which Shelley
conveys his messages to the world. “Ode to the West Wind” is largely a plea
for both personal and universal transformation. The West Wind transforms
the natural world, killing off all that is dead and decaying and making
room for the “sweet buds” of Spring and the New Year (11). So too can the
“breath of Autumn’s being” drive Shelley’s “dead thoughts over the
universe,” (63). Through his poetry, and renewed and revitalized by
universal energy, Shelley hopes to awaken and enlighten a sleeping world.
Musical metaphors link with the central images of wind and air, for Shelley
refers exclusively to wind-dependent instruments: the lyre, the clarion,
and the trumpet. Moreover, the poet ends thefirst three sections with a
plea, “oh hear!” “Ode to the West Wind” evokes and lauds the West Wind as a
tangible and ephemeral force affecting the both the natural world and the
In thefirst section of the ode, Shelley refers to “winged seeds”
which “lie cold and low, Each like a corpse within its grave,” (7-8).
Winged seeds signify airborne potency, new life and rebirth, as seeds
contain the blueprint for new life and their wings carry them through the
air onto new soil. Seeds are born from flowers nearing decay; carried by
the wind they float and fall, finding their way into organic graves beneath
the ground. There they lie like corpses in a cold, dark womb of earth.
Experiencing a symbolic death, the seeds hearken to the clarion call of
spring, which awakens a …


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