Shelley, the supreme lyricist in the romantic period always longs for something ethereal, something that is far beyond the ‘sphere of sorrow’. His ‘To a Skylark’ is, as Wordsworth puts in “the expression of the highest to which the poet’s genius has attained”. It is one of the “most marvelous of English lyrics” ever written. It is the expression of a genius who sings “In profuse strains of unpremeditated art”.
To Shelley, the bird is not a creature of flesh and blood. It is a ‘blithe spirit’ a symbol of eternal joy. It is ‘scorner of the ground’ and it is a better philosopher with an intuitive sense of mystery of life and death. It is ‘an unbodied joy’ who at the very down starts floating and singing and “singing still dost soar and soaring ever singest”. It is a perfect stranger to the feelings of ennui and satiety that wait upon human efforts. The imaginative idealism of the poet makes the bird to appear as the archetype of the beauty and joy that have been two eternal principles of the universe. The upward flight of the bird is the symbol of the poet’s unbounded aspiration. The bird gives a momentary feeling of emphatic rising and soaring above the littleness of earthly things. Champion comments, “the lark could not be allowed to be a mere bird, with blood and feather and an appetite for caterpillars. Oh no! that was not poetical enough, it was too coarse, it had to be a disembodied spirit”.
Once Prof. Courthope has observed,” If greatness in poetry consisted of succession of dazzling images and a rapid flow of splendid verse, Shelley would be entitled to almost the first place in English literature.” The song of the bird is as piercing as the rays of moonlight; the skylark has been likened to the moon shining in the sky from behind a solitary patch of cloud. The bird is like a poet who is hidden ‘in the light of thought’. It is like ‘a highborn maiden’ shut up in the tower and singing a song for “soothing her love laden soul in secret hour”. It is like hidden in grasses and flowers. It is like a rose scatters its fragrance far and near but the flower is not seen. “The bird, song is brought home to us in this series of images conceived with an intensity of power, conjure with a vividness of colouring and on apt suggestiveness hardly equaled anywhere else. In these images in which beauty and mastery and perfectly blended the symbolical import of the bird has been captured and conveyed with a wonderful sense of parallelism”.
Shelley speaks of the skylark as an ideal loving. The song of the skylark is a perfect miracle, no languor or shadow of annoyance can come near it. Human songs have always an undertone of sadness – they have something lacking in them. Moreover, human beings “look before and after and pined for what is not”. The sweetest songs of man are those that tell of saddest thoughts. But the skylark is eternally joyous and its song is the expression of ideal joy. The poet conceives the skylark as an abstract beauty possessing the vision denied to earthbound men. The poet keeps inspiration from his vision to reveal the ideal truth to mankind. So that the people of the world would listen spell bound to his divine songs. This is the cry that well out of troubled tossed heart of the poet and gives such sweetness to the lyric.
The poem illustrates Shelley’s soaring idealism, intensity of thought and feeling, vividness of colouring, splendour and imagery and matchless sweetness of melody. No other poet than Shelley could compose such a wonderful poem.