Ode to the West Wind
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound (1820).
2Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
3Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
5Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
6Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed
7The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
8Each like a corpse within its grave, until
11(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
12With living hues and odours plain and hill:
13Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
II15Thou on whose stream, mid the steep sky's commotion,
16Loose clouds like earth's decaying leaves are shed,
17Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,
18Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
19On the blue surface of thine aëry surge,
20Like the bright hair uplifted from the head
22Of the horizon to the zenith's height,
24Of the dying year, to which this closing night
25Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
26Vaulted with all thy congregated might
27Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
28Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: oh hear!
III29Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
30The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
33And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
34Quivering within the wave's intenser day,
35All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
36So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
37For whose path the Atlantic's level powers
38Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
40The sapless foliage of the ocean, know
41Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,
42And tremble and despoil themselves: oh hear!
IV43If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
44If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
45A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share
46The impulse of thy strength, only less free
47Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even
48I were as in my boyhood, and could be
49The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
50As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
51Scarce seem'd a vision; I would ne'er have striven
52As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
53Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
54I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
55A heavy weight of hours has chain'd and bow'd
56One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.
58What if my leaves are falling like its own!
59The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
60Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
61Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
62My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!
63Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
64Like wither'd leaves to quicken a new birth!
65And, by the incantation of this verse,
66Scatter, as from an unextinguish'd hearth
67Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
68Be through my lips to unawaken'd earth
70If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
1] According to Shelley's note, "this poem was conceived and chiefly written in a wood that skirts the Arno, near Florence, and on a day when that tempestuous wind, whose temperature is at once mild and animating, was collecting the vapours which pour down the autumnal rains. They began, as I foresaw, at sunset with a violent tempest of hail and rain, attended by that magnificent thunder and lightning peculiar to the Cisalpine regions" (188). Florence was the home of Dante Alighieri, creator of terza rima, the form of his Divine Comedy. Zephyrus was the west wind, son of Astrœus and Aurora. Back to Line
4] The four colours of man. hectic red: the complexion of those suffering from consumption, tuberculosis. Back to Line
9] Thine azure sister of the spring: Latin ver, but not a formal mythological figure. Back to Line
10] clarion: piercing, war-like trumpet. Back to Line
14] Destroyer and preserver: Perhaps like the Hindu gods Siva the destroyer and Vishnu the preserver, known to Shelley from Edward Moor's Hindu Pantheon, introduction by Burton Feldman (London: J. Johnson by T. Bensley, 1810; reprinted New York: Garland, 1984) and the works of Sir William Jones (1746-1794). Back to Line
21] Maenad: a participant in the rites of Bacchus or Dionysus, Greek god of wine and fertility; a Bacchante. Back to Line
23] locks: cirrus clouds take their name from their likeness to curls of hair. Back to Line
31] coil: encircling cables, or perhaps confused murmuring or noise. Back to Line
32] Having taken a boat trip from Naples west to the Bay of Baiae on December 8, 1818, Shelley wrote to T. L. Peacock about sailing over a sea "so translucent that you could see the hollow caverns clothed with glaucous sea-moss, and the leaves and branches of those delicate weeds that pave the unequal bottom of the water," and about "passing the Bay of Baiae, and observing the ruins of its antique grandeur standing like rocks in the transparent sea under our boat" (Letters, II, 61). Baiae is the site of ruined underwater Roman villas. pumice: lava cooled into a porous, foam-like stone. Back to Line
39] "The phenomenon alluded to at the conclusion of the third stanza is well known to naturalists. The vegetation at the bottom of the sea, of rivers, and of lakes, sympathises with that of the land in the change of seasons, and is consequently influenced by the winds which announce it" (188; Shelley's note). Back to Line
57] lyre: Aeolian or wind harp. Back to Line
69] trumpet of a prophecy: Shelley alludes to the opening of the Book of Revelation of St. John the Divine in the Bible, 1.3-18:
3 Blessed is hee that readeth, and they that heare the words of this prophesie, and keepe those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.Back to Line
4 Iohn to the seuen Churches in Asia, Grace be vnto you, & peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come, and from the seuen spirits which are before his throne:
5 And from Iesus Christ, who is the faithful witnesse, and the first begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth: vnto him thatloued vs, and washed vs from our sinnes in his owne blood,
6 And hath made vs Kings and Priests vnto God and his Father:to him be glory and dominion for euer and euer, Amen.
7 Behold he commeth with clouds, and euery eye shal see him, and they also which pearced him: and all kinreds of the earth shall waile because of him: euen so. Amen.
8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is,and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
9 I Iohn, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in thekingdome and patience of Iesus Christ, was in the Isle that is called Patmos, for theword of God, and for the testimonie of Iesus Christ.
10 I was in the spirit on the Lords day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,
11 Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and what thou seest, write in a booke, and send it vnto the seuen Churches which are in Asia, vnto Ephesus, and vnto Smyrna, and vnto Pergamos, and vnto Thyatira, and vnto Sardis, and Philadelphia, and vnto Laodicea.
12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with mee. And being turned, I saw seuen golden Candlesticks,
13 And in the midst of the seuen candlestickes, one like vnto the Sonne of man, clothed with a garment downe to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.
14 His head, and his haires were white like wooll as white as snow, and his eyeswere as a flame of fire,
15 And his feet like vnto fine brasse, as if they burned in a furnace: and his voice asthe sound of many waters.
16 And hee had in his right hand seuen starres: and out of his mouth went a sharpetwo edged sword: and his countenance was as the Sunne shineth in his strength.
17 And when I sawe him, I fell at his feete as dead: and hee laid his right hand vponme, saying vnto mee, Feare not, I am the first, and the last.
18 I am hee that liueth, and was dead: and behold, I am aliue for euermore, Amen, and haue the keyes of hell and of death.
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RPO poem Editors:
M. T. Wilson