Percy Bysshe Shelley was born in Horsham, Sussex, England in 1792. He entered
Oxford University in 1804, where he spent his time developing his idealism and controversial philosophies, and exploring the topic of Atheism. He was expelled from school for expressing these ideas, and was shunned by his father. Shelley continued to write poetry and take part in various political reform activities, and met Mary Godwin, a friend’s daughter, whom he fell in love with. They married in 1816, and moved to Italy in 1818 where they lived with their children. Shelley’s life began to take a turn when a year later, his son William died, as did his daughter Clara. His wife had a nervous breakdown, and Shelley himself was plagued by illness, struck by rumors of illegitimate children, and had many failures of his political hopes (“Shelley, Percy Bysshe”). Shelley wrote ‘Ode to the West Wind’ in 1820, several months after the death of his son. He wrote it while in Florence, home of Dante Alighieri, who wrote the famous Divine Comedy. This ode is Shelley’s calling for revolution and change, addressed to the powerful West Wind. ‘Ode to the West Wind’ is part of a work of Shelley’s entitled “Prometheus Unbound”. Like Prometheus, Shelley hopes that his fire, a reformist philosophy, will enlighten humanity and will free it from ignorant imprisonment (Lancashire). In this epic metaphor, Shelley expresses his idea brilliantly with vivid uses of symbolism, immense use of figurative language, and stable structure. Shelley makes it clear that the speaker of the poem is himself by using first person, and sets up the poem to be like an apostrophe, speaking directly to the wind, even though it may or may not be listening. He also creates a very personal tone, which can be heard through his desiring diction. By combining these techniques, Shelley conveys his desires to the wind to join with him and bring about a Golden Age to mankind.
The wind is a symbol of many things in this poem. In the first stanza, Shelley uses
it to symbolize destruction and preservation. He describes the wind as the “Destroyer and Preserver”(14); bringing about the cold death of winter and the bright regeneration of spring. This is shown in the lines “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”(7-9). In the second stanza, the wind transforms to a symbol of mourning. The oncoming storm brings about the mourning wind, “Thou dirge/Of the dying year”(23-24). This is used to represent the starting of a new year, as the great storm washes away the last of the year, bringing “Black rain, and fire, and hail”(28). In the fourth stanza, Shelley begins to use the wind to describe himself, as he was when he was youthful. He tells the wind of the pains of his life: “I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!”(54) and lists some of the characteristics of the wind, saying that he too was once “tameless, and swift, and...