The Ode of Imagery
The Ode to the West Wind, by Percy Bysshee Shelley, is a poem of spiritual power. The power is demonstrated through the use of visual, auditory, and kinetic (motion) imagery. The poem was written on a day that the “tempestuous wind, whose temperature is at once mild and animating, was collecting the vapors which pour down the autumns rains [Shelly’s notes].” The poem uses terza rima to portray a very rhythmic rhyming pattern. This pattern is used to describe five very distinct and different stanzas, which describe: autumn, rainstorms, the sea, man merging with the wind, and man being the sound of the wind. Shelley uses three types of imagery in each of these stanzas. His use of visual, auditory, and kinetic imagery is demonstrated in each of the five stanzas throughout Ode to the West Wind.
In the first stanza of Shelley’s poem, Shelley describes autumn and the changing of colors. “Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red, Pestilence-stricken multitudes,” is a visual imagery of the leaves that change colors in the fall. “Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth,” is a strong auditory image of the wild west winds blowing in as autumn arrives. “Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere,” is kinetic imagery, which describes the energy, and the force that drives the spirited west wind.
In stanza two Shelley talks of the effects that the west wind has on a rainstorm. “Angels of rain and lightning there are a spread On the blue surface of thine aery surge, Like the bright hair uplifted from the head,” is a very vivid and colorful use of visual imagery. These lines do a great job of imaginatively taking the reader to the front of the wind to see its power on a storm. “Black rain and fire and hail will burst: O hear,” is a great line used by Shelley to fuel the readers thoughts of how powerful the sound of the wind and storm are. “Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,” is a form of kinetic imagery that describes the motion of the wind and its power to shake down rain from the sky.
In the third stanza, Shelley describes the spirit of the wind and its effects on the sea. “While far below The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear The sapless foliage of the ocean,” is a line used in this stanza that portrays colors of the sea. This is a form of visual imagery. “Know thy voice, and suddenly grow grey with fear, And tremble and despoil themselves: O hear,” is an example of auditory imagery describing the effect of the wind blowing mercilessly on the sea. “For whose path the Atlantic’s level powers Cleave themselves into chasms,” is a powerful use of kinetic imagery allowing the reader to imagine the tremendous strength of the wind and the force it has to produce huge, powerful waves that come crashing down with great force.
In Shelley’s forth stanza he has a desire to merge, or become one with the west wind. He wants only for the west wind to have more power and freedom than himself. “If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear, If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee,” is a beautiful way that he uses visual imagery to describe himself as an object that could travel about with the west wind with all the freedom in the world. In “A wave to pant beneath thy power,” Shelley uses auditory imagery to make his readers hear the strength and feel that they are one with the wind. Shelley uses kinetic imagery in “Oh! Lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud! I fall upon the thorns of life!” This line describes how the poet wants to be physical lifted up to fly and become one with the powerful west wind.
In the final stanza Shelley has the desire to be the harp of the wind. He wants to be the music and sound the wind makes as it blows through the trees. “What if my leaves are falling like its own,” is a line of visual imagery giving the reader a view of the forest and the beautiful leaves that fall in the Autumn. That line is followed by, “The tumult of thy mighty harmonies,” which allows the reader to imagine the sound of the wind as it blows through the trees, knocking the leaves off and their descent to the forest floor. “Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth Ashes and sparks,” is an example kinetic imagery used by Shelly to describe the awesome power that sweeps the wind through the sea of trees.
Throughout all five stanzas, Shelley uses three types of imagery in Ode to the West Wind. He uses visual imagery, which is the thought portrayed by the vision of an object. He uses auditory imagery, which is the thought of something through a sound, and he uses kinetic imagery, which is a vision of something by motion, or a powerful force. The use of imagery in this poem creates a feeling that the poem is alive. By using the three types of imagery the wind is given such powers that it feels like the reader is a simple object in the path of such a great force.