illustrated portrait of English poet WIlliam Wordsworth

William Wordsworth

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Why might the skylark "despise the earth" in Wordsworth's "To the Skylark"?

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In William Wordsworth's "To the Skylark," the skylark might despise the earth because the earth is a place of worry and danger, very different from the freedom of flight.

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Wordsworth's poem is about the nature of freedom and how our desire to roam is tempered by the need for a home. One way to understand the skylark (the "pilgrim of the sky") is as a symbol of this freedom. The question the poet poses ("Dost thou despise the earth where cares abound?") suggests an opposition between the freedom of flight and the careworn life on the ground, as well as the notion that the bird is perhaps too "ethereal" to be concerned with earthly problems. Or is it, the poet muses, that even as the bird is in flight, its thoughts are of its nest and "the dewy ground"?

The second stanza resolves this problem. The skylark is a "type" or prefiguration of those "who soar, but never roam." The bird understands that "heaven and home" are not opposites but complementary principles. In this sense, the bird becomes an emblem of Wordsworth's conflation of nature and spirit. In the same way that the bird's flight is tethered to its nest, the world of spirit is connected to the physical world. The bird's freedom is defined by its connection to the earth; the "flood of harmony" the bird pours out is audible because it cannot fly too far from the nest. In the same way, nature is a "kindred point" to the divine.

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