Currently viewing the tag: "Ode to the West Wind"

Now that a hard November wind is whirling the leaves about, it’s time for Shelley and his Ode to the West Wind. Percy Bysshe Shelley had a brief life, but it was so vivid with poetry, so politically radical, so sexually unrestrained, so romantic and Romantic, that he still arouses controversy among readers who know even a little about him.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley

He was born in England on August 4, 1892 and drowned in a stormy sea  off the coast of Italy on July 8, 1822, not having quite reached age 30. Shelley ran afoul of law and convention a number of times. He  wrote some great poems, many political and social pamphlets, and a number of papers which advocated atheism.  He also indulged in  sexual shenanigans, inspired loyal friendships,  and left a few ruined lives in his wake.

Technically, Ode to the West Wind is composed of five cantos in iambic pentameter and the overall rhyme scheme is terza rima – a beautiful method of linking three-line stanzas with aba, bcb, cdc, and so forth. Terza rima had been rarely used in English. It was most famously used by Dante in his Divine Comedy, that poem of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, where the number three recurs in a multitude of ways. Terza rima isn’t easy to work, and nobody has succeeded in doing a good job of translating Dante into English using his rhyme scheme. As for the meaning of Shelley’s Ode, that’s impossible to cram into a brief paragraph — yes, it’s about the weather, but much, much more as well.  Don’t sweat it. You can read a bit now and come back to it later.  OK, here’s the poem:

                      Ode to the West 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             5
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The wingèd 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      10
(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, O hear!    

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