Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley
hectic – frenzied
pestilence – plague, disease
azure – blue
pumice – powdery ash used as an abrasive
Questions and Answers
1. What is the rhyme scheme of each section of the poem?
The first and third lines of each stanza rhyme, while the middle line begins the rhyme of the following stanza. This rhyme scheme is known as terza rima.
2. What is the wind a metaphor of?
The speaker uses the wind as a metaphor for his own art.
3. In contrast with Pestilence-stricken, what positive attribute do the dead leaves have?
Despite their disease-carrying nature, the leaves carry seeds into the ground, where they wait under the snow to bloom.
4. In section IV, what is the wish of the speaker? What urges him to make such a wish?
The speaker wishes he could be a leaf, a cloud, or an ocean wave so that he may be lifted up by the West Wind and away from the world in which he lives. In this section, he tells the reader it is a time of “sore need” for him. He states, “I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!” and “A heavyweight of hours has changed and bowed/ One too like thee.” Both these statements reveal the misery the speaker currently is experiencing, therefore motivating him to wish to be lifted up and away from his life on Earth.
5. In the final section, the speaker asks the West Wind to “Be through my lips to unawakened earth/ The trumpet of a prophecy!” To what prophecy do you believe the speaker is referring?
Answers may vary. Example: Before this request, the speaker says he believes the power of the West Wind could lift him out of his sadness, pushing his “dead thoughts” away and allowing him the energy to begin again. The prophecy he refers to may relate to these thoughts: The West Wind is a sort of prophecy of the winter to come; however, the speaker wishes to remind the world that after winter, spring is not far behind. In life, then, when sadness prevails, a chance to begin again cannot lurk far off.
6. As a representative of the Romantic poets of the early nineteen-century, Shelley’s poem can be seen as offering an explanation of the Romantic idea of nature. How does Shelley (and the other young Romantic poets) view nature?
Shelley views nature as a source of beauty and aesthetic experience (i.e. inspiration).
7. When the speaker prays to the West Wind to scatter his ashes like dead leaves across the universe, what is he implying about poetic language? How does such a prayer relate to Shelley’s ideas about inspiration and expression?
The speaker’s request implies that poetic language, like nature, does not die, but is reborn through future generations. His request echoes his ideas about inspiration and expression because he has gained his ideas from nature and his predecessors as well.