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Ode to the West Wind was conceived and chiefly written in a wood beside the Arno, near Florence. It is divided into two parts; the first one, consisting of the first three stanzas, deals with the effects of the wind on the land, the sky and the sea, through the different seasons, and Shelley addresses the wind personally as if it were a deity. The second part, on the contrary, consisting of the final two stanzas, deals with the poets identification with the wind, the force and power of which he summons, both to give new energy to his work and for the political regeneration of Europe. Shelley, in fact, is concerned with the regeneration of himself poetically, spiritually and of Europe politically. The west wind is seen as the force necessary to effect this generation. As already pointed out, stanza 1 describes the effect of the wind on the land first in autumn and then in spring. In the former season the wind is presented as a destroyer of the previous season and its action is characterized by images of death. This function changes in spring when the wind is seen as a preserver, thus restoring the life that autumn had taken away from the land. The images change accordingly and words which evoke rebirth and life are introduced. Right from stanza 1 the wind is addressed directly, through the use of the second-person pronoun thou. This personification is further developed through the attribution to the wind of verbs denoting human faculties, like wakest, hear, etc. In stanza 2 the action of the wind shifts from the land to the sky, but the images the poet uses are still linked to the preceding ones. The clouds in fact are compared to leaves and boughs. These clouds are angels, in the sense of messengers, of the rain and lightning that will come at nightfall. Also in this case, however, the wind is presented in autumn and its function is a destructive one, because it deals with rain, hail and storm. To add to its destructive force, the wind is also addressed as dirge and sepulchre, which are associated with death. In stanza 3 the mood changes completely: peace is restored and the violent energy of the preceding stanzas has ceased. Now the action of the wind is described in spring and on the sea, its function being a creative one. The sea, in fact, is seen as the place where in ancient times civilization was born. He visualizes how the wind disturbed the typical calm of the Mediterranean sea, personified as a languid form, lulled by the coil of his crystalline streams, and reflecting old palaces and towers, but reflecting them lazily, like a person asleep. The first part of stanza 3 is characterized by a softer atmosphere and sweet colours (the azure and crystalline sea) and by the presence of flowers. Moreover, soft consonants

and falling cadences have replaced the earlier harsher consonants. Towards the end of the stanza, however, a gloomier mood re-emerges and the scene shifts from the Mediterranean sea to the Atlantic Ocean, described in powerful and frightening terms, whose level powers cleave themselves into chaos and whose vegetation in the depths of the sea shakes as with fear. Stanza 4 describes the poets identification with the wind and introduces a more personal tone. He draws together the dead leaves of the first stanza, the clouds of the second and the power that the waves have, so that he could combat the evils he wanted to destroy. He speaks about his childhood when he ran after the wind, thus contrasting his past energy with his present misery. He feels that he has lost his boyhoods freedom, when everything seemed possible to him, and that the passing of the time has tamed and enslaved him. There is an echo here of Wordsworthian thought, but with a difference of emphasis: Wordsworth felt that he had lost the visionary spirit of childhood; Shelley is concerned with the loss of his personal physical and spiritual energy. Thats why he then asks the wind to help him regain the energy he has lost. Such a prayer reaches its climax in stanza 5, when he asks the wind to be his lyre, to renew him, to reanimate his spirit, so that his dead thoughts, blown about the universe, will come to new life, like the seeds blown with the dead autumn leaves. His message is one of hope for mankind: autumn heralds the approach of winter, representing death, but spring, representing the regeneration of mankind, will follow after. However, the very end of the poem is in a certain sense perplexing. We expect another exclamation but the poem closes with a question. Shelley is not quite so certain as his build-up suggested and at the final moment a doubt vexes his mind. Can regeneration arrive so mechanically?


Formally, the ode is composed of five stanzas each consisting of a sonnet formed of four units of terza rima completed by a couplet. In terza rima, the verse form so brilliantly employed by Dante in his Divine Comedy, the first and the third lines rhyme and the rhyme sound of the second line is taken up by the fourth and sixth lines. This, by linking the stanzas to each other, grants a continuous movement forward which parallels the forward movement of the wind. The ode takes on the form of a prayer addressed to a divinity. The first three stanzas all conclude with the vocative Oh hear, but only from stanza 4 does the tone become more personal and the identity of the supplicant is revealed. In fact, as is common in prayers, the first half of the poem describes the attributes, both frightening and consoling, of the deity. The powers of the west wind are manifested through the seasons of the year as a destroyer, preserver and creator, and in the elements of nature on land, in the air and in the sea. Up until the fourth stanza there is no mention of

the supplicant, but in the final two stanzas the poet confesses his own frailties and implores the deity to make the poets work part of a spiritual awakening of a new year. Shelley acknowledges his need for a force beyond his own calculation to lift him and to disseminate a new gospel of hope. Always the divine power of the wind is stressed, for example through its identification as charioteer and enchanter, which emphasize its supernatural essence.

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