illustrated portrait of English poet WIlliam Wordsworth

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What is the meaning of phrase "ethereal minstrel" in "To the Skylark" by Wordsworth?

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Perhaps the easiest way to define the phrase is to dissect the phrase, define the words individually, and then place them back together within the context of the poem.

First, ethereal refers to something so perfect (delicate and light) that it seems too perfect to exist in the world.

A minstrel is a medieval singer who would recite poetry for entertainment.

Placed together, Wordsworth is detailing a man whose person or voice seems too perfect to exist in the world.

When placing the minstrel into the context of the poem, one can conclude that the subject of the poem, a skylark, is admired to a point above all others. Wordsworth exalts the bird in the poem. He does this by describing it as something not of this world, something whose vision is limitless, something which can withstand the flooding of the earth.

Always remember to take the title of any work into consideration when trying to interpret any part of a poem. The use of the phrase "ethereal minstrel" to describe the skylark places the bird on a pedestal showing Wordsworth's honor and mystification of it.

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The meaning ethereal can mean heavenly or celestial: gone to his ethereal home.

The word minstrel can mean a medieval poet and musician who sang or recited while accompanying himself on a stringed instrument, either as a member of a noble household or as an itinerant troubadour.

With that being defined, Wordsworth was writing about a skylark--a bird. He is referring to the bird or skylark as an ethereal minstrel. The skylark creates heavenly music. It has a story to tell. The skylark rejoices in spring. It creates melodies that are heavenly, divine:

Ethereal minstrel! pilgrim of the sky!
Dost thou despise the earth where cares abound?
Or, while the wings aspire, are heart and eye
Both with thy nest upon the dewy ground?
Thy nest which thou canst drop into at will,
Those quivering wings composed, that music still!

The skylark is the ethereal minstrel. The music it makes is heavenly and poetic. When the skylark drops into its nest which is on the "dewy ground" it hushes its song and the "music stills."


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