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Ode to the West Wind

Ode to the West Wind


by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Bodies of Water

Symbol Analysis

Although "Ode to the West Wind" is mostly about, well, the wind, the middle of the poem moves away from the airy breezes and considers a different element: water. This slippage starts to happen in Canto II, where the wind is described as having a "stream" (15) and a "blue surface" (19), which makes it sound like a body of water. We’re also reminded that the clouds being carried by the wind came originally from the water that evaporated from the ocean and that they’ll rain back down into it. In the next canto, we learn how the wind wakes the Mediterranean Sea from his "summer dreams" (29) and chops up the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. The water almost washes away the wind for a moment there – but the poem reminds us that the West Wind is always stronger than the calm, passive seas.

  • Lines 15-17: These lines combine intense imagery of the natural world with a complex extended metaphor. In the metaphor, "decaying leaves" falling from "tangled boughs" onto the earth are compared to the clouds that come from "Heaven and Ocean." In other words, the combination of Heaven, the sky with the sun in it, and Ocean, causes water to evaporate into the sky and form clouds. These clouds then float on the "stream" of the West Wind the way dead leaves float in a real stream.
  • Line 28: Here the water that has evaporated from the ocean rains back down. To emphasize the violence and power of the storm, Shelley uses ten one-syllable words in this line, creating a strong, harsh sound as is read aloud.
  • Lines 29-30: The Mediterranean Sea is personified here as a dreaming man, whom the wind can "waken" from "his summer dreams" (29).
  • Lines 37-41: In three of these lines, the verb is placed at the end of the line. This creates an enjambment that drives the reader from one line to the next; this is rather like what’s actually happening at this point in the poem: the Atlantic is splitting itself into "chasms" for the West Wind.

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