In his poem “To a Skylark,” Percy Bysshe Shelley offers a speaker who directs their comments to the bird itself. Overall, the poem compares the natural talents of a bird to the strained or contrived efforts of a poet and, by extension, any human artist. The skylark’s passion and purity of intent are part of what the speaker idealizes. The fact that the bird can keep singing as it flies seems to indicate a devotion to its art that a human could not match. Other praiseworthy qualities are spontaneity, a lofty reach, and the joyful quality of its creative expression.
The speaker begins with a paradox by denying that the “blithe spirit” is even a bird, then continuing on to praise the many qualities that only a bird can possess. As the skylark pours its “full heart” into spontaneous or “unpremeditated art,” it not only sings but flies high while doing so: “Singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.” The speaker also says that the bird’s “joy” seems to be “unembodied joy,” as its high flight makes it invisible and thus resembling a bright star.
Searching for other comparisons, the speaker mentions rainbows, a maiden in a tower, a glowworm, and a sweetly scented rose. In particular, they compare the bird to a poet, who is hidden while working but later makes “the world” confront its “hopes and fears.” They implore the bird to teach them “sweet thoughts” and how to express happiness and joy:
Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know.
The speaker envies the bird’s gift to evoke emotion and draw attention, an ability that a poet needs.