Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" appears more complex at first than it really is because the poem is structured much like a long, complex sentence in which the main clause does not appear until the last of five fourteen line sections. The poem's main idea is held in suspension for 56 lines before the reader sees exactly what Shelley is saying to the west wind, and why he's saying it. In the first four sections Shelley addresses the west wind in three different ways, each one evoking the wind's power and beauty. And each section ends with Shelley asking the West Wind to "hear, oh hear!" The reader's curiosity is therefore both aroused and suspended, because we know the west wind is supposed to "hear" something, but we aren't told what the wind is suposed to hear or is supposed to do.
The first stanza develops the idea of the west wind's effect on the autumn leaves. The associations we automatically make with autumn&emdash;the end of the year, the death of the year's life, the onset of winter&emdash;are important, but just as important are other life-giving aspects of the wind's power. Shelley tells us that the wind not only blows the "Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,/ Pestilence-stricken multitudes" (4, 5) of autumn leaves, but also "Chariotest to their dark and wintry bed/ The wingèd seeds" (6, 7) which will lie dormant throughout the winter until the spring breezes&emdash; "Thine azure sister of the spring" (9)&emdash;blow over the landscape to awaken the life in them. The west wind drives dead leaves, but also scatters the seeds that will later give the world new life. This life-giving aspect of the west wind seems significant, but the reader cannot quite see yet why Shel...
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...he minds of his readers. But the readers are hard to reach, unresponsive. It can seem to a poet struggling for an audience, as Shelley did, that winter was coming. It took a lot of faith to believe that spring would follow. The west wind is a revivifying force, something that can (metaphorically if not literally) drive his poetry forward to a new birth in whatever spring lies ahead: "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?" (70) It is the poet's plea for a rebirth of energy. We don't know for certain that the poet's energy has been sapped by the struggle to make his voice heard, but we know for much of Shelley's career he did struggle with the depressing feeling that no one was reading him. In any event, this powerful natural force becomes for Shelley a symbol of a power that can drive out the year's death, his deep depression, and plant the seeds for a rebirth.
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