To a Skylark Questions and Answers
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Start Your Free Trial

Explain how Percy Bysshe Shelley relates the skylark's song to his own efforts to write poetry in "To a Skylark."

Expert Answers info

Jay Gilbert, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseCollege Lecturer

bookB.A. from University of Oxford

bookM.A. from University of Oxford

bookPh.D. from University of Leicester


calendarEducator since 2017

write2,274 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

Shelley asks the question: what thing in the world is most like the skylark? He has been praising, for several stanzas, the beauty of the skylark and its song, whose melody seems to come from "heaven" itself. In answer to this question, he describes the skylark as being "like a poet" who spends his time composing "hymns unbidden." Like Shelley, then, nobody has asked the skylark to compose its songs. Nobody has asked Shelley to write poetry; it is something elemental in him, which he feels compelled to do.

Shelley calls upon the bird, or "sprite," to share some of its skill or knowledge with him. The "rapture" which emerges from its song and is generated through its melodies is greater, Shelley suggests, than anything that could have been composed by a human poet. Human poetry is "empty" by...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 437 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now


check Approved by eNotes Editorial

accessteacher eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write13,728 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

check Approved by eNotes Editorial


abdulquddoos | Student


Hail to thee, blithe spirit! 
Bird thou never wert- 
That from heaven or near it 
Pourest thy full heart 
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art. 

That first stanza of Shelley's poem calls the bird's song "unpremeditated art." In other words, human poets have to premeditate, have to think about what they're going to write. But the skylark's music pours out naturally without the bird having to think about it ahead of time. 

Teach us, sprite or bird, 
What sweet thoughts are thine: 
I have never heard 
Praise of love or wine 
That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine. 

In that stanza (which comes much later in the poem, I've skipped over quite a few stanzas) "Praise of love or wine" means "poems that human artists have written praising the joys of love and the pleasures of wine." The speaker or this poem, the human poet addressing the skylark, is saying, "The joy and pleasure that you pour forth in your song is greater than any expression of joy and pleasure that I have ever come across in any poem by a human author." 

Chorus hymeneal, 
Or triumphal chant, 
Match'd with thine would be all 
But an empty vaunt- 
A thing wherein we feel there is some hidden want. 

A "Chorus hymeneal" is a poem that celebrates a wedding. A "triumphal chant" is a poem that celebrates a military victory. Shelley's poem is saying that the joy expressed in a wedding poem or a victory poem sounds like "But an empty vaunt" (just a meaningless boast) compared to the skylark's song. A "hidden want" is some lack, some shortcoming that can be felt but can't quite be defined. So the last line of that stanza is saying that even the most celebratory human poetry seems to be missing something when measured against ("Match'd with") the bird's singing. 

Teach me half the gladness 
That thy brain must know; 
Such harmonious madness 
From my lips would flow, 
The world should listen then, as I am listening now. 

In the final stanza of the poem, the speaker says, "If I were filled with even half as much beauty and magic as you seem to be filled with, I would be able to create poetry that would grab people's attention and blow people's minds as much as your song is affecting me right this minute." 

There are other passages in the poem that talk about how much more wonderful the skylark's song is than any poem ever written by a human being. I've pointed out some of the highlights, but you can find more