western autumn wind
mover of dead leaves and seeds
brother of the rich spring wind
wild moving spirit – hear me
western autumn wind
high in the streams of steep sky
bringer of rain and lightning
your dirge mourns the dying year
through black rain and hail – hear me
mover of great seas
summer dreams quiver in waves
near Baiae’s bay
furious wavy chasms grown
they fear your voice – hear me
to be leaf – cloud – wave
or wild youth as once before
once your free equal
listen to my sore plea – I’m chained
no longer swift – tameless – proud
play my soul strings
my song, your tune of autumn
quicken my dead thoughts
scatter my words among men
spring will soon return
Shelly’s “Ode to the West Wind” is a plea by Shelly to the western wind, harbinger of autumn to free him from the chains of his present life, which has lost its spirit and sense of free spiritedness, in order to permit him to enjoy once again the freedom and vitality of youth. He concludes with the hope that his poetry…his words no longer downtrodden in melancholy, will quicken mankind with his prophecy of life’s cyclical renewal.
The distillation of such a poem in haiku, though probably possible is far beyond my talent or skill. Here I’ve simply transformed the poem, into 5 tanka to follow the original 5 stanzas of the poem. It was written in iambic pentameter following the terza rima form for the first three lines of each stanza with a couplet at the end of the terza rima (the first and third lines rhyme the second line of the terza rima carries over into the couplet) . The rhyming scheme is ABA BCB CDC DED EE.
Here’s Shelly’s poem:
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 wingèd 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, O 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 airy 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: O hear!
Thou who didst waken from his summer
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lulled 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 grey with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: O 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 seemed 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 chained and bowed
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 withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened Earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?