What does the skylark symbolise in Shelley's "To A Skylark"?

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wordprof | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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On the first realistic level, the poem’s narrator (presumably Shelley himself) hears the song of a skylark, flying and singing at twilight (“In the golden lightning/Of the sunken sun”); the first seven stanzas describe this moment.  Then the poet offers five similes (“Like a Poet..”; “Like a high-born maiden” etc.) Then the poet asks to bird to teach him “what sweet thoughts” conjure up such beautiful sounds (six stanzas), then points out that the beauty of the song comes from the absolute absence of any negative parts of life, as opposed to a poet (“Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.”)   “Teach me half the gladness/That thy brain must know” – so the skylark is compared to the poet, but the skylark’s sound is gladder than the poet’s, whose “song” is tempered with sadness. The skylark, then, is the height of a poet's ability to express life's joys in his poetry.

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