Saturday, 14 January 2012

if winter comes can spring be far behind?

06:27:00 Posted by Ashley Lister , , , , , , 2 comments
By Ashley Lister

If Winter comes can Spring be far behind?

This is the final line from ‘Ode to the West Wind’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley. I came across these words the week before last as I was researching poetic forms for one of my creative writing classes.

I was surprised by this line for two reasons.

Primarily, I was surprised because I’ve heard the phrase quoted before, but I’d never previously seen the whole poem. It was a pleasure to put the phrase in context – almost like mentally completing a jigsaw.

But I was surprised by the poem for another reason.

Over the past few years I’ve taught a wide variety of poetic forms and I sometimes worry that I’ve worked with every established form of poetry that’s been recorded. I’ve worked with poetic forms from abecedaries through to Zéjels and many more in between. But it seems there are an infinite variety of poetic forms. And, whilst I was looking through records of what I’ve taught and what’s still out there waiting to be taught, I came across Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind.’

Obviously, I’ve taught the concept of odes before. Technically, the ode is not a poetic form. Length, meter, rhyme scheme and structure can all vary in the ode dependent on the needs of the writer and the way the subject matter needs to be presented. But ‘Ode to the West Wind’ is written in the form of a Terza Rima and that’s a form I hadn’t previously covered in my classes.

The Terza Rima is originally an Italian form that’s been used by Milton, Shelley, Byron, Frost and Dante Alighieri. It’s written in tercets (three lined stanzas) with a rhyme scheme of aba bcb cdc (and so on) until the final stanza. The final stanza can either be a single line, relating back to the middle rhyme of the penultimate stanza, (yzy z) or it can be a concluding couplet (xyx zz).

The structure suits iambic pentameter or iambic tetrameter and the interlocking rhyme scheme presents a neat little form that is a challenge to write and a pleasure to read. This is the opening from the aforementioned poem by Shelley. The rest of it can be found through this link: (

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!

And, if anyone here is up to the Saturday challenge of building a poem, let’s see if we can each contribute a tercet in the comments box below.

Which moron here chose the dragon topic
For this winter’s dead good poet’s event?
The theme’s making me feel misanthropic…


vicky ellis said...

The latest theme was nowt to do with me
I think I made my feelings clear last month
This slope is slippery with hobbit pee

I love today's post Ash, entertaining and enlightening. Thank you :)

Ashley R Lister said...

Thanks Vicky,

I love this tercet. It's slowly building :-)