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Shelley's depiction and admiration of the skylark in "To a Skylark"


Shelley admires the skylark for its unbridled joy and freedom. He compares the bird's song to various beautiful and inspiring elements, such as the moon, the stars, and a poet's imagination. Shelley sees the skylark as a symbol of pure, unrestrained happiness and creativity, elevating it to an almost divine status.

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

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

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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How does Shelley relate the skylark's song to his 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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What makes Shelley's "To a Skylark" beautiful?

It is notoriously difficult for people to agree on what is or isn't beautiful. This doesn't necessarily mean that beauty is subjective, but there's no doubt that universal assent to the beauty to a particular feature of the natural world or a specific work of art is impossible.

Even so, successive generations of poetry lovers have agreed with each other that Shelley's "To a Skylark" is indeed a very beautiful poem, one of the most beautiful in the English language.

Primarily, this appears to be because people instinctively respond to the extraordinary richness of Shelley's language, a notable feature of his work. In "To a Skylark," for example, we have the luscious words of the fourth stanza, as good as anything Shelley ever wrote:

The pale purple even

Melts around thy flight;

Like a star of Heaven,

In the broad day-light

Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight.

Like his fellow Romantic poet Keats, Shelley had an instinctive feel for the sensuous, from which he was able to construct such remarkable works of poetry.

And his deep sensuousness conjures up remarkable images, as in the stanza we've just looked at. One can easily imagine the "pale purple" of the sky melting into the twilight around the skylark as he continues his majestic flight.

In this extract, we can see Shelley depict the beauties of nature as a whole as well as the profound effect that this remarkable bird has upon his imagination. In time-honored Romantic fashion, Shelley operates on the assumption that everything in nature is unified, joined together in a comprehensible whole. Shelley doesn't simply want us to understand this, he wants us to feel it too, which is why he overwhelms our senses with such lush, sensuous, and beautiful language.

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How does Shelley personify the skylark in "To a Skylark"?

One way in which Shelley personifies the skylark in the poem "To a Skylark" is to compare the bird to characters within the poem, like a "poet hidden" and a "high born maiden;" through his use of simile, the skylark is given human qualities (36, 41). Shelley suggests that the skylark uses his music to inspire and "soothe."  He also assigns an emotional quality to the bird as well as sensitivity and understanding by portraying the skylark as being so joyful that he must not know "languor" or "annoyance" (77-78).  In the final stanza, the speaker perceives the skylark as having knowledge worth sharing, and implores him to "teach me half the gladness thy brain must know;" projecting a deeper value and lesson into the skylark's singing that may not actually be there (101-102). 

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What is Shelley's view of the skylark's song in "To A Skylark"?

Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem "Ode to a Skylark" addresses the skylark as "blithe spirit" and declares that the skylark itself could never really have been a bird, but it is a creature which, from Heaven "or near it," "pourest thy full heart." The skylark's song, according to the speaker, is essentially divine: it is so beautiful that the speaker imagines the bird to be something beyond the earthly.

Shelley reiterates this celestial theme when he comments on the "shrill delight" of the skylark, which seems to echo around the flight of the skylark as if it were "a star of Heaven."

The sublime quality Shelley describes in the voice of the skylark, which elevates it above the song of ordinary birds, echoes a sentiment found in much Romantic poetry. Shelley's concentration in this poem is upon the extremity of emotion evoked in him by the skylark's song, to the extent that he can compare it to nothing on Earth. Indeed, he questions, "What is most like thee?", the implication being that none can truly tell. The skylark is "like a Poet hidden / In the light of thought." This seems to suggest that, like the Romantic poets, the skylark seems to be interrogating the world for whatever depths it holds and whatever emotions can be drawn forth from it. The skylark is something few could understand, and yet at the same time is equated with all of earth's own beautiful things, such as the "sound of vernal showers." So sublime is the skylark that it is both and either "Sprite or Bird," something whose song seems to contain eternal mysteries within it, while it hovers between Heaven and Earth.

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What is Shelley's view of the skylark's song in "To A Skylark"?

Shelley is struck by the beauty of the skylark's song, and attributes it to the fact that the bird soars high above the earth (so high, indeed, that he remains "unseen"), presumably with none of the cares that humans have to deal with. Shelley imagines that the bird's life must be idyllic, soaring through clouds and sunlight, and muses that if he could experience the same joy in his life, his poems might be filled with the same beauty that he hears in the skylark's song:

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.

Ultimately, then, Shelley uses the skylark's song to suggest that true poetic beauty is attained when the poet looks to nature, and frees himself from worldly concerns. It is thus both a wistful poem and one which articulates one of the core principles of the English Romantic poets. 

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