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Analysis of Shelley's "ode to the West Wind"

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Analysis of Shelley's Ode To the West Wind

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.

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