Discussion Topic

The poet's desire to learn from the skylark and the request made to the skylark in "To a Skylark"

Summary:

The poet in "To a Skylark" expresses a desire to learn from the skylark's unrestrained joy and harmony with nature. The poet requests the skylark to teach him its secret of happiness and freedom from human worries, reflecting a longing to transcend earthly concerns and attain the bird's pure, spontaneous bliss.

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What does the poet want to learn from the skylark in "To a Skylark"?

Shelley spends about the first third of "To a Skylark" praising the bird, saying it is "from Heaven" and "Like an unbodied joy." The skylark is depicted as perfect and otherworldly. Eventually, the poet asks the skylark what the bird can be compared to. What else functions in this way? And then at the end of the poem, the poet asks the skylark to teach him how to be more like the bird. The speaker writes,

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.
This final stanza of the poem is where the speaker explicitly asks the skylark to teach him the bird's ways. The poet asks the bird to instruct him in only "half the gladness / That thy brain must know." Shelley needs only that small portion of the "gladness," respecting and acknowledging that the bird will always have more power and grace than he can hope to have himself. If he had even half of the bird's skill, he would be able to compel "The world" to "listen" to his "harmonious madness." What he wants from the skylark is the ability to influence the world around him the way the skylark influences him.
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What request does the poet make of the skylark in "To a Skylark"?

As the speaker listens to the sweet strains of the nightingale's song, he wonders what in nature is most like a nightingale, comparing the bird to a rainbow, a poet, a glow worm, a rose, and the sound of rain. He then requests of the nightingale that it tell us its thoughts:
Teach us, Sprite or Bird,
What sweet thoughts are thine [yours]
The speaker goes on to ask the bird:
What objects are the fountains
Of thy happy strain?

The speaker wants to know what causes the nightingale to sing such a lovely song. What is it celebrating?

This is a lyrical poem, one that expresses emotion. The poet conveys how deeply the song of the nightingale moves him. Then, he wants to understand what motivates the nightingale. It is not enough simply to listen and respond to the beautiful music. The speaker longs to know where the bird's inspiration comes from.

Therefore, he asks the nightingale if its music is shaped by nature or love or simply ignorance of pain. He surmises, too, that the bird's song must come from a knowledge of death that is deeper than humans can imagine, meaning that the bird must have a vision of heaven that humans can not access, which inspires its lovely song.

The speaker calls the nightingale's song superior to all the treasures to be found in books. He says to the bird that if it could teach him its wisdom:

Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.
The idea that humans can learn a special wisdom from a bird, a symbol of nature, is a very Romantic idea, attributing to nature a sense of the divine presence that humans have lost but would benefit from regaining.

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