AD's English Literature : Analysis of P.B. Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind: Adoration of Powerful Force and the Poet's Reformist Words

Analysis of P.B. Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind: Adoration of Powerful Force and the Poet's Reformist Words

P.B. Shelley‘s Ode to the West Wind addresses the west wind as a powerful force and asks it to scatter the poet's reformist words throughout the world. It is written in a spirit of exaltation; it is a dignified strain in praise of West Wind. The metrical effects are very beautiful here and in doing so Shelley unifies the content of the poem by focusing the first three stanzas on the powers of the wind and the last two stanzas on the poet's desire to use these powers to spread his words throughout the world.

Shelley bids the West Wind as a magician who sweeps away the dead leaves in autumnal nature by remaining it invisible. Here the “Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red, Pestilence-stricken multitudes” of leaves are decomposing on the ground. But symbolically the ‘multitudes’ refers to the entire human society, which, the poet thinks, in a state of degeneration.

Next the poet describes how with the onset of spring shepherds go out with their flocks of sheep for tending on the green field. The gentle breeze similarly, the poet imagines, causes the buds to bloom and carry the fragrances from one place to another. The West Wind carries the seeds with wing-like devices down to the ground where those remain dormant. During spring, however, when Zephyr, the warm and gentle wind will blow across the land, the seeds, shooting forth from the ground, will grow into plants. Thus the West Wind becomes both a “destroyer and preserver”:
“Wild spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver, hear, oh, hear!”

In the second stanza, Shelley refers to the scientific fact that clouds are created in the sky out of the evaporation of water from the surface of the water bodies on earth. But in the immediate context of the poem, he must have observed the clouds to have been accumulated right from the surface of the ocean up to the great heights of the sky. He imagines the clouds as the inter-connected boughs of the ocean and the sky. Shelley compares the clouds ravaged by the power of the wind to the uplifted hair of a Maenad, woman-worshiper of Bacchus, in order to convey the sense that the West Wind operates possessed by some supernatural force.

Before the coming of winter West Wind passes over earth destroying the old degenerate things and making horrible sounds. All such passing destruction are copied in the third stanza. The howling of the wind is imagined by the poet to be the dirge or the funeral song for the closing year. Shelley here addresses the clouds, accumulated from the surface of the ocean up to the great heights of the sky, as “angels of rain and lightning” because they obviously indicate that rain and lightning are approaching soon.

During summer the Mediterranean and the Roman palaces and, the towers which remain submerged, are all quiet as if they seem to be sleeping because no storms appear to ruffle the surface of the sea in that season. But the wind agitates the sea and the palaces seem to quiver on account of the tremendous motion of the waves:
“And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave's intenser day”

The fourth stanza of the poem Shelley refers to the troubles, sorrows and the bitter disappointment of life which are inevitable to every human being. Shelley was no exception to it. More importantly, as he was an idealistic and Romantic, he was deeply hurt by the bitter experiences of life. He bids the west wind to uplift his moral stands.

Again, Shelley here must have tried to bring home a political philosophy. The old palaces and towers symbolize corrupt, degenerate and old power, old order and institutions. All these should be destroyed, the poet dreams along with the sea, in order to make way for new beginning. As an idealist and as an extremely sensitive soul, Shelley was in much distress to see mankind exploited and being dehumanized by the corrupt, degenerate and old political powers and institutions. He wanted to see mankind reach an ideal state of life based on fraternity, equality and democracy. And that is why he was seeking revolution, which he refers to as his “sore need”. Believing firmly in democracy and individual rights, Shelley supported movements to reform government and he believed that the poetry he wrote had the power to bring about political reform. The poem Ode to the West Wind obliquely refers to his desire to spread his reformist ideas when it says, "Scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearth / Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!" Shelley desires the irresistible power of the wind to scatter the words he has written about his ideals and causes, one of which was opposition to Britain’s monarchical government as a form of tyranny.


  1. Respected Sir, can you please give us some question answer for ssc which will cover the syllabus of English (pass)


  2. Respected sir, please tell me about the secret in the heart of EUGNE MARCHBANKS in the play CANDIDA by G.B.SHAW.

  3. Dear Vivek, I will soon post an article on EUGNE MARCHBANKS. Thanks for your interesting query.


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