Shelley’s best-known poem was written in Florence in late 1819. Technically it is a series of four sonnets written in terza rima, the verse-form Shelley would use again, with similar fluency, in his final poem, The Triumph of Life. The west wind is an agent of change: with seasonal rejuvenation comes a personal rebirth which will, in turn, inspire the ‘unawakened Earth’.
This is Shelley’s fair draft of lines 1-42 of the poem. Ode to the West Wind was first published in 1820, with the following note by the author:
This poem was conceived and chiefly written in a wood that skirts the Arno, near Florence, and on a day when that tempestuous wind, whose temperature is at once mild and animating, was collecting the vapours which pour down the autumnal rains. They began, as I foresaw, at sunset with a violent tempest of hail and rain, attended by that magnificent thunder and lightning peculiar to the Cisalpine regions. The phenomenon alluded to at the conclusion of the third stanza is well known to naturalists. The vegetation at the bottom of the sea, of rivers, and of lakes, sympathizes with that of the land in the change of seasons, and is consequently influenced by the winds which announce it.
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 & black & pale & hectic red
Pestilence-stricken multitudes – o Thou
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed
The winged seeds, where they lie cold & low
Like a dead body in a grave, until
Thine azure sister if the Spring, shall blow
Her clarion oer the dreaming earth, & fill The depth of vacant depth of the The T above herand inodorous atmosphere all circling air With Cradling in hues &
Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air In softest hues & odours investing plain & hill In the low vacant space of atmosphere
With living hues & odours plain & hill,
Wild spirit which art moving everywhere
Destroyer & Preserver, hear o hear
Percy Bysshe Shelley; (1822) Mary Shelley; (bequest, 1851) Sir Percy and Lady Shelley; (bequest, 1889) Lady Shelley; (bequest, 1899) John C.E. Shelley (later Sir John Shelley-Rolls); (gift, 1946) Bodleian.
Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts, XVIII (1996), ed. N.M. Goslee, esp. pp. 88-91; Shelley’s Guitar, no. 97.