The first recorded instance of the song was in a partbook from around 1530. But, some scholars believe that these lines are at least a couple hundred years older. The lyrics were originally transcribed by Charles Frey as:
Westron wynde when wyll thow blow
the smalle rayne downe can Rayne
Cryst yf my love were in my Armys
And I yn my bed Agayne.
When read today, a modernized version of the song is utilized (see the analysis below). Variations of the poem or song can be found in many literary sources. For example, Ernest Hemingway utilizes it in his novel A Farewell to Arms published in 1929. Virginia Woolf, one of the most important English writers of the 20th-century, uses it in her novel The Waves in 1931.
It can also be found in film and television. For example, in The Other Boleyn Girl starring Scarlett Johnson, released in 2008, and South Riding, a 2011 mini-series.
Western Wind O Western Wind when wilt thou blow The small rain down can rain Christ! my love were in my arms and I in my bed again.
Explore Western Wind
‘Western Wind’ is a short poem that scholars believe originated in the 1500s or earlier. It is addressed to the “western wind.”
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker addresses the “western wind.” They ask the wind when it is going to bring the rain down before transitioning into a reference to their “love” and desire to have them in their bed “again.” Although this piece is quite short and fairly simple (at least in its modern form) it is still quite effective. The speaker is longing for his lover comes through quite clearly and is likely to be highly relatable.
Structure and Form
‘Western Wind’ is a four-line poem that follows a rhyme scheme of ABCB. The lines are quite short, between six and seven words long, and utilize repetition in order to emphasize their song-like qualities. The poem was originally sung aloud. There was a specific tune that went with the song and various reconstructions of what that song might’ve sounded like have been created. Since the vines are recovered, the song has been put to music by several different musicians and groups.
Throughout the short song, the writer utilizes several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Caesura: occurs when a poet inserts a pause in a line of verse. This could be through the use of punctuation or through a natural pause in the meter. For example, “Christ! my love were in my arms.”
- Imagery: the use of particularly interesting descriptions. It should trigger the reader’s senses, inspiring them to imagine the scene in great detail. For example, “when wilt thou blow / The small rain down can rain.”
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “Western Wind” and “wilt” in line one, and “rain” is used twice in line two.
- Apostrophe: occurs when the poet addresses something or someone that isn’t capable of hearing and/or responding to them. In this case, the speaker addresses the “Western Wind” and “Christ.”
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off the line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines three and four.
O Western Wind when wilt thou blow
The small rain down can rain
In the first lines of this modernized version of ‘Western Wind,’ the speaker uses an anaphora to address the wind and ask a question. The use of “O” at the beginning of this poem is an addition attributed to William Chappel in his 1859 version of the text.
The speaker asks the wind when it’s going to blow “the small rain down.” The second line of the short verse is the hardest to interpret. The repetition of the word “rain” confuses the meaning of the line. But, scholars generally interpret the line as asking the wind when it will blow so that the “small rain” can rain down. The longing for the rain to come is an interesting twist that is less commonly seen in songs and poems. It also presents an interesting juxtaposition with the speaker’s longing in the final two lines.
Christ! my love were in my arms
and I in my bed again.
In the final two lines, the speaker address “Christ” and asks that their “love” were “in” their “arms.” They are longing for their lover to return to them and be with them in their arms “in [their] bed again.” The simple conclusion is quite effective especially when the first lines of the poem appear to be dedicated to nature alone.
The lines are also quite simple in a way that allows many different readers to relate to them and perhaps even envision themselves speaking or thinking them.
‘Western Wind’ is a short medieval poem addressed to both the western wind and Christ. The speaker is longing for their lover to return to their bed and for the “small rain” to rain down. The poem, originally written as a song meant to be chanted or sang aloud, can mostly be interpreted at a surface level.
It is unclear who originally wrote this short medieval song. But, it was later used by many English composers, such as John Shepard and Christopher Tye.
This short song is believed to have been written sometime between 1515 and 1540. But, there are some scholars who believe it is older, or at least parts of this song are.
Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Ode to the West Wind‘ by Percy Bysshe Shelley – focuses on death’s necessary destruction and the possibilities of rebirth.
- ‘The Canterbury Tales Prologue‘ by Geoffery Chaucer – expresses the poet’s satirical view of the society of his time. Especially, on the church and its representatives, who are more worldly than being holy and straightforward.
- ‘Wind‘ by Ted Hughes – takes place over the course of one night and describes a family cowering inside a house, listening as a fierce storm rampages outside.