Ode to the West Wind
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Original Text with Question and Answers. This poetry is prescribed in the British Romantic Literature Course for in the BA English Curriculum.
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed
The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow
Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:
Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh hear!
Thou on whose stream, mid the steep sky’s commotion,
Loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,
Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine aëry surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head
Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith’s height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge
Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might
Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: oh hear!
Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lull’d by the coil of his crystalline streams,
Beside a pumice isle in Baiae’s bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave’s intenser day,
All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic’s level powers
Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know
Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: oh hear!
If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share
The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be
The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seem’d a vision; I would ne’er have striven
As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
A heavy weight of hours has chain’d and bow’d
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like wither’d leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken’d earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
Questions and Answers – 1
1. What is an ode?
Answer – An ode is a lyric poem that suffuses with intense feelings and enthusiastic thoughts. It has elaborate and irregular metrical form.
2. Who is ‘breath of Autumn’s being and why?
Answer – The wind that blows in Autumn is strong and erratic in its direction. Such unwieldy wind is typical of Autumn. Hence the speaker terms the wind as the ‘breath of Autumn’.
3. Who are compared to corpses and why?
Answer – Trees shed leaves in Fall. Such leaves with myriad hues get scattered over the land. Being lifeless, they are destined to wither and rot. The speaker compares these dead leaves to corpses that are condemned to the graveyard.
4. What is azure sister of the spring and what she will do?
Answer – This refers to the wind that blows in Spring. This wind sweeps the dead leaves lying on earth waiting out the cold.
5. Why is the west wind called the ‘destroyer’ and the ‘preserver’?
Answer – The strong west wind blows and detaches the leaves from the branches. They fall on the ground and die. West wind, thus, acts as the ‘destroyer’. In the ground, the dead leaves and the winged seeds hibernate to last out the cold. The west wind aids this process of survival, and so, it acts as the ‘preserver’.
6. Write the activity of the West Wind on land.
Answer – The West Wind helps the seeds facing the hostile cold environment to fend off rotting and eventual destruction. Like a care taker, it keeps the moribund seeds dry, so that they could sprout later when conditions become congenial with the advent of the spring.
Question and Answers – 2
1. Explain the tangled boughs of heaven and ocean.
Answer – The West Wind creates massive turbulence in the sky and in the ocean by virtue of its gargantuan force, and erratic sweep. It shreds the rain-bearing clouds to pieces and flings them randomly in all directions. The ocean too can’t escape its monstrous reach and power. The patches of cloud strewn all over the sky are likened to fallen leaves. These leaves are awash with rain and aglitter with lightening. The wild churn of the ocean water and the maddening movement of the clouds being flailed by the West Wind give the impression of tangled boughs of heaven and the ocean.
2. Who is Maenad? What is the purpose of mentioning her?
Answer – They are the female followers of Dionysus. They seem to be jubilant and frenzied always. In mythology, they are scribed bizarre mannerisms and traits. In a nutshell, they are very caring and loyal towards Dionysus. The speaker conjures Maenads to express the uncontrolled and wild dance of the clouds in the sky.
3. Who is the ‘dirge of the dying year’? How and the why was the year dying?
Answer – The poet imagines the west wind to be like the mournful funeral song that marks the end of a year. He goes further to describe the night as a dome erected over the tomb that symbolized the death of the year. The ferocious west wind carries out this process. The year gone by saw the mass withering and destruction of leaves of the leaves of the trees. This marked the end of the year. So, the poet calls it the ‘death’ of the year.
4. How will the dome of the sepulecher formed?
Answer – The violent and erratic west wind will cause black rain, fire and hail to emanate from the dome. This is how the sepulecher will be formed.
5. Write the activity of the west wind in the air.
Answer – The west wind has brute force and a tendency to blow in random directions. It sweeps away the dry, lifeless seeds from the ground to drop them in far-away places. The moribund seeds get a fresh lease of life and sprout, thus starting a new phase of a fresh life.
Question and Answers – 3
1. Write the activity of the west wind in water.
Answer – The west wind churns the surface of the ocean causing great turbulence. Sparks of light emerge looking like the bright hairs of the maenad.
2. What is the activity of the west wind in the Mediterranean Sea?
Answer – West wind wakes the Mediterranean from its summer dreams. That blue sea, which lay wrapped in its crystal-clear currents, was snoozing near an island made of volcanic rock in the Bay of Baiae, near Naples.
3. What is the activity of the west wind in the Atlantic Ocean?
Answer – Along its path, the west wind creates tall waves in an otherwise calm surface of the Atlantic Ocean. In the deep floor of the ocean, sea-flowers and forests of seaweed abound. The leaves have no sap. They hear the voice of the west wind turning gray in fear, trembling, shedding their flowers and leaves.
4. What is meant by ‘wave’s intenser day’?
Answer – It refers to the time when the waves are really frenzied and turbulent.
5. … ‘And suddenly fear’. Which things turn gray with fear and why?
Answer – The sea flowers and forests of seaweed having leaves with no sap turn gray with fear due to the approaching of the monstrous west wind.
6. Where is Biae’s Bay and what is meant by ‘pumice isle’?
Answer – Biae’s Bay is an island near Naples. It’s formed by volcanic rocks. Pumic isle refers to the blue-coloured moss growing atop the ruins of palaces and buildings that have been submerged for long.
Question and Answers – 4
1. Why did the author implore the west wind to lift him like a wave, leaf or cloud?
Answer – The author is alive now. The thorns of the life on earth pierce him causing him great pain. He wants deliverance from such suffering. So, be beeches the west wind to lift him like a wave, leaf or cloud.
2. Scarce seem’d a vision – Explain.
Answer – Here the author expresses his awe while describing the lightening speed and the humongous force of the west wind. These thoughts crossed his mind when he remembered his boyhood days. At that time, he often ran with the fast wind in great thrill.
3. Briefly narrate the present condition of the poet.
Answer – The poet is in his dotage. He has become frail and fragile. Bereft of his strength, he lies on his bed reminiscing nostalgically about his joyful boyhood days, his many dear friends, and the good time he spent with them.
4. I fell upon the thrones of life! I bleed!”. What does Shelly mean by ‘thorns of life’? How do these thorns make him bleed?
Answer – The poet recollects the trials and tribulations of his past years. Some of these painful experiences have scarred his mind. He laments his fate as the pangs of the past continue to hurt him. The poet refers to these pains as ‘bleeding’.
5. A heavy weight of hours has chain’d and bow’d
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.
Find out the allusions hidden inside these two lines.
Allusion 1 – ‘A heavy weight of hours’ – It means passage of a long period of time.
Allusion 2 – ‘has chained and bow’d’ – The passage of time has caused ageing which has robbed the poet of physical strength, and made him frail.
Allusions 3 – ‘Once too like thee, tameless, swift and proud’ – It refers to the wild force and random blowing of the west wind.
Question and Answers – 5
1. Make me thy lyre.. Who makes this prayer and why?
Answer – The poet is making these requests to west wind. He wants to be made a musical instrument. It should sound like what we hear when wind blows through a forest. The poet knows the leaves are falling. Bereft of their leaves, trees in a forest also make some soothing sound.
2. Be thou, spirit fierce – Why has the poet made such a prayer?
Answer – The poet admires the wild energy and power of the west wind, and urges it to impart its strength to his own soul.
3. “Drive my dead thoughts over the universe.”
Answer – The poet asks the west wind to scatter his thought all over the universe like fallen leaves, so that new ideas and thoughts can be generated.
4. Briefly narrate the images associated with extinguished hearth.
Answer – When the fire of a hearth begins to die, we get to see some ashes, and some smoldering remains. The fire is still alive , but its glow is too dimmed to be visible.
5. What do you mean by the ‘trumpet of prophecy’?
Answer – Prophecy is something that’s going to happen in future. It’s a prediction. West wind is turbulent and makes a thunderous noise. It is also the harbinger of spring. So, its sound is called the trumpet of prophecy.
6. If winter comes, can spring be far behind? Explain.
Answer – This is the weather cycle. Here it has been cited to explain how west wind destroys the life in the trees by dislodging their leaves, but at the same time blows them away to warmer places to preserve them. Later, when the spring sets in, the moribund seeds germinate. New life is born. Hence, this is an unending cycle of death and regeneration. It’s so similar to the spring season following the winter season.
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