Percy Bysshe Shelley

(1792-1822 / Horsham / England)

To A Skylark


Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

In the golden lightning
Of the sunken sun
O'er which clouds are bright'ning,
Thou dost float and run,
Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.

The pale purple even
Melts around thy flight;
Like a star of Heaven
In the broad daylight
Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight:

Keen as are the arrows
Of that silver sphere,
Whose intense lamp narrows
In the white dawn clear
Until we hardly see--we feel that it is there.

All the earth and air
With thy voice is loud.
As, when night is bare,
From one lonely cloud
The moon rains out her beams, and heaven is overflowed.

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:

Like a high-born maiden
In a palace tower,
Soothing her love-laden
Soul in secret hour
With music sweet as love, which overflows her bower:

Like a glow-worm golden
In a dell of dew,
Scattering unbeholden
Its aerial hue
Among the flowers and grass, which screen it from the view:

Like a rose embowered
In its own green leaves,
By warm winds deflowered,
Till the scent it gives
Makes faint with too much sweet these heavy-winged thieves.

Sound of vernal showers
On the twinkling grass,
Rain-awakened flowers,
All that ever was
Joyous, and clear, and fresh, thy music doth surpass.

Teach us, sprite or bird,
What sweet thoughts are thine:
I have never heard
Praise of love or wine
That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine.

Chorus hymeneal
Or triumphal chaunt
Matched with thine, would be all
But an empty vaunt--
A thing wherein we feel there is some hidden want.

What objects are the fountains
Of 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 joyance
Languor cannot be:
Shadow of annoyance
Never came near thee:
Thou lovest, but ne'er knew love's sad satiety.

Waking or asleep,
Thou of death must deem
Things more true and deep
Than we mortals dream,
Or how could thy notes flow in such a crystal stream?

We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

Yet if we could scorn
Hate, and pride, and fear;
If we were things born
Not to shed a tear,
I know not how thy joy we ever should come near.

Better than all measures
Of delightful sound,
Better than all treasures
That in books are found,
Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!

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!

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

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Comments about this poem (To A Skylark by Percy Bysshe Shelley )

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  • Daniel Mapp (3/29/2013 8:11:00 AM)

    Wonderful ride, to compare divinity, to a mere fowl, of song and beauty. Shelly displays high imagine skills in this work. (Report) Reply

  • Danjosh Zeus (4/3/2012 9:37:00 PM)

    Shelley compares the skylark to various objects in order to make the readers understand as much as is possible the mysterious and beautiful bird, and its divine music.

    Some of the dazzlingly and exquistely beautiful objects to which it and its melodious voice are compared are: blithe spirit, a cloud of fire, an unbodied joy, a star of heaven, moon beam, the bright colours of the rainbow, an 'unseen' poet, a high-born maiden, a glow-worm, a rose, sound of vernal showers, crystal stream. It would be impossible to analyse all these images because of the restrictions on the word limit. However an analysis of one should serve the purpose.

    The following lines capture the essence of the bird and reveal the central message of the poem: 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 in his essay Defense of Poetry (written 1821 published 1840) remarks that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. That is, although the poets are never in the limelight they guide the destinies of a nation by voluntarily pronouncing profound truths which serve as moral guideposts to the common people. Similarly, the skylark also is rarely seen but its soulful melodious music serves to remind the people of the mysitcal beauties of Nature. (Report) Reply

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