“Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.”– Shelley
“To a Sky-Lark”
Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!1Bird thou never wert-That from Heaven, or near it,Pourest thy full heartIn profuse strains of unpremeditated art.2
Higher still and higherFrom the earth thou springestLike a cloud of fire;The blue deep thou wingest,And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.3
In the golden lightningOf the sunken Sun-O’er which clouds are brightning,Thou dost float and run;Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.
The pale purple evenMelts around thy flight,Like a star of HeavenIn the broad day-light4Thou art unseen, -but yet I hear thy shrill delight,
Keen as are the arrowsOf that silver sphere,Whose intense lamp narrowsIn the white dawn clearUntil we hardly see-we feel that it is there.
All the earth and airWith thy voice is loud,As when Night is bareFrom one lonely cloudThe moon rains out her beams-and Heaven is overflowed.
What thou art we know not;What is most like thee?5From rainbow clouds there flow notDrops so bright to seeAs from thy presence showers a rain of melody.
Like a poet hiddenIn the light of thought,Singing hymns unbidden,Till the world is wroughtTo sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:
Like a high-born maidenIn a palace-tower,Soothing her love-ladenSoul in secret hour,With music sweet as love-which overflows her bower:
Like a glow-worm goldenIn a dell of dew,Scattering unbeholden6Its aerial hueAmong the flowers and grass which screen it from the view:
Like a rose emboweredIn its own green leaves-By warm winds deflowered-Till the scent, it givesMake faint with too much sweet those heavy-winged thieves
Sound of vernal showersOn the twinkling grass,Rain-awakened flowers,All that ever wasJoyous, and clear and fresh, thy music doth surpass.
Teach us, Sprite or Bird,7What sweet thoughts are thine;I have never heardPraise of love or wineThat panted forth a flood of rapture so divine:
Chorus HymenealOr triumphal chauntMatched with thine would be allBut an empty vaunt,A thing wherein we feel there is some hidden want.
What objects are the fountainsOf thy happy strain?What fields or waves or mountains?What shapes of sky or plain?What love of thine own kind? what ignorance of pain?
With thy clear keen joyanceLangour cannot be-Shadow of annoyanceNever came near thee;Thou lovest-but ne’er knew love’s sad satiety.
Waking or asleep,Thou of death must deemThings more true and deepThan mortals dream,8Or how could thy note flow in such a chrystal stream?
We look before and after,And pine for what is not-Our sincerest laughterWith some pain is fraught-Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.
Yes if we could scornHate and pride and fear;If we were things bornNot to shed a tear,I know not how thy joy we ever should come near.9
Better than all measuresOf delightful sound-Better than all treasuresThat in books are found-Thy skill to poet were, thou Scorner of the ground!10
Teach me half the gladnessThat thy brain must know,Such harmonious madness11From my lips would flowThe world should listen then-as I am listening now.
Shelley wrote “To a Sky-Lark” in twenty-one stanzas, each made up of five lines. The first four lines of each stanza are written in trochaic trimeter, meaning that each line contains three trochees (a trochee is a metrical foot consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable). The last line in each stanza does not follow this same meter, rather these lines are written in iambic hexameter (each line contains 6 iambs; an iamb is a metrical foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable). The variation of the meter enables the poem to have a song-like quality to it–a characteristic that adequately captures the subject itself: the song of the skylark.
In this poem, Shelley delves into his recurring idea of the transcendent and abstract notion of pure beauty, through the song of the skylark. In stanza 4, it is identified that the bird is unseen; nonetheless, the speaker can still hear its beautiful song. This image of the speaker following the skylark’s flight in a strictly auditory way makes the earth seem to be ringing with the song of the bird, especially as Shelley compares this experience to the way that the light intensely shines from the moon when it overcomes a cloud and peeks through (stanza 6). Shelley compares the skylark to many things, from a poet to the sound of a spring shower falling onto the earth. The poem then transitions to attempt to understand the special song of this bird; the skylark seems to be more joyous and content in its song than anything human thought could attain. The skylark is free of all human worry and pain, which is perhaps its best kept secret. The poem ends on a reflective note; if the skylark could teach merely “half the gladness” that it knows–as exemplified by its joyous song–then the speaker’s song too would be beautiful. Here, his own song would be through poetry or spoken word, and then all of the world would listen, for they would hear (and consequentially appreciate) something as merry as the song of the skylark.
Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “To a Skylark.” Trans. Array The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Romantic
Period. 9th ed. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2012. 834-36. Print.
Skylark. N.d. Photograph. BirdWatch Ireland, Wicklow, Ireland. Web. 15 May 2015.