Percy Shelley: Poems

The politics of Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind"

In his impassioned paean "Ode to the West Wind", Percy Bysshe Shelley focuses on nature's power and cyclical processes and, through the conceit of the wind and the social and political revolution prompted by the Peterloo massacre of August 1819, examines the poet's role therein. Although these ideas seem, on the surface, to be distinct from one another, Shelley intertwines them all by the poem's conclusion.

The poet divides the ode into five stanzas, each appearing to be a sonnet. The opening two stanzas are focused on the wind and its interaction with the leaves and the clouds, while the third moves on to waves. These are then brought together in stanza IV as the poet's argument, like the storm, has gathers momentum. The opening sees the "wild west wind"; here, the alliteration echoes the wind's sound in almost onomatopoeic melodrama, acting out nature's cycle of birth, death, and regeneration, which is then contrasted with and complemented by the softer and breathier inspiration of the "breath of Autumn's being." This duality in the opening prefigures the wind's description as both "destroyer and preserver" and establishes the idea that is maintained...

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