How does Shelley relate the skylark's song to his poetry in "To a Skylark?"

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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 comparison; Shelley therefore questions what is actually going on in the skylark's mind and how much it is actually aware of in order to be able to produce such beauty.

In the final stanza of the poem, Shelley exhorts the bird again to "teach" him its gladness, because he seeks to produce "madness" which is as "harmonious" as the songs the skylark produces. He believes that if he were able to produce anything as beautiful as the skylark's song, the world would be compelled to listen to him.

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The part of this poem that you are looking for comes in the eighth stanza, where Shelley compares how unknowable the skylark is to a poet writing his poetry. This is of course the first of several stanzas where Shelley tries to find a suitable comparison to describe the mystery and poignant beauty of the skylark and its song. Let us consider how he does this:

What thou art we know not;

What is most like thee?

From rainbow clouds there flow not

Drops so bright to see

As from thy presence showers a rain of melody.


Like a Poet hidden

In the light of thought,

Singing hymns unbidden,

Till the world is wrought

To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:

Shelley is struggling to describe the beauty of the skylark, but he finds a suitable comparison in the poet, who is "hidden / In the light of thought." The poet, like the skylark, "sings hymns unbidden" until the world is awakened to the "sympathy and hopes and fears" that it was previously unaware of, but now, thanks to the poetry of the poet, has recognised. The skylark's song therefore helps us become "more" human in recognising more of our own condition and being aware of our emotional situation.

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

The skylark is famous for becoming a symbol in Romanticism of beauty, eternity and understanding, amongst other things. In this famous poem, having tried to capture the bird's song and describe what it is like in vain, Shelley realises the futility of his task because none of the images he devises, such as comparing the bird to a rainbow cloud or a glowworm is sufficient to convey the sheer, ecstatic joy that the speaker feels when he listens to the skylark's song.

It is this joy that the speaker wants to learn or understand, because the skylark's joy is different from the joy felt by humans, whose understanding of joy is marred by the suffering we undergo. Learning how to capture such joy will enable the speaker to incorporate such a feeling into his poetry, radicalising the lives of his audience and benefiting his race. Note the plea in the last stanza of this poem:

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.

Shelley thus recognises what is special about the skylark's song and speculates on what uniting this specialness with his poetic talent would achieve. Being aware of the power in nature and incorporating that into our frames is an immensly potent force, Shelley seems to suggest.

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