A Brief Introduction to Percy Bysshe Shelley's 'To a Skylark'

Introduction: English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley becomes known as one of the greatest lyric poets of English literature. Among his best-known poems are 'To a Skylark' and 'To the West Wind.' Like acting or the playing of music, it is an art of interpretation, more difficult than mare saying so. Percy Bysshe Shelley, the supreme lyric in the romantic period, always longs for something ethereal, something that is far beyond the earthly, spare of sorrow. His ‘To a Skylark’ as Wordsworth puts in “the expression of the highest to which the poets genius has attained”. It is one of the most marvelous of English lyric ever written. It is the expression of a genius who sings In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

In fact, some recent scholars have attributed the modern ideas of personality to the Romantic poets, whose focus on personal, emotional, and subjective experience may have given rise to our notions of individuality. The discussion that follows makes clear the fact that poetic license permits the maker of verses to do a number of things. Among them are:

(1)   Contractions for the sake of swing, or meter.

O'er which clouds are bright'ning

(2)   Quaint or obsolete expressions.


(3)   Poetic forms of words.

Pale purple even

(4)   One part of speech for another.

The deep blue thou livingest

(5)   Inversion

Bird thou never wert

Figures of speech.

As a figure of speech is a departure from the literal statement for the sake of affectiveness, students ought to be familiar with the most used figures:

Simile, metaphor, personification, and alliteration.

This poem offers material for a good ten-minute discussion of these.

Simile                                            Metaphor

Like a cloud of fire.                   Golden lightnings.
Like an unbodied joy.                Silver sphere.
Like a star.                                 Intense lamp.
Keen as are the arrows.              Rain of melody.
Like a poet hidden.                     Light of thought.
Like a high-born maiden.           Glow-worm golden.
Music sweet as love.                   Flood of rapture.
Like a glow-worm golden.         Fountains.
Like a rose.                                Crystal stream.


Singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

Sunken sun.

Glow-worm golden in a
Sweetest songs are those /that tell of saddest thought.


Hail to thee, blithe spirit.

Teach us, bird or sprite.

Thou scorner of the ground.


Heavy-winged thieves.

Joy , Eternal Joy! The skylark is eternally joyous and its song is the expression of ideal joy. The poem conceives the skylark as an eternal beauty – possessing the vision denied to earth bound men. The poet keeps inspiration from his vision to reveal ideal truth to mankind so that the people of the world could listens spellbound to his divine song. This is cry that wells out of the trouble  heart of the poet and gives such a sweetness to the lyric.

                The poem illustrated poet's soaring idealism, intensity of thought and feeling and vividness of thought . It is matchless in colour, splendour, imagery and sweetness of melody.

In Shelley's hands that old trick of the poets, the simile, takes on a new and surprising form. He does not enforce the creations of his imagination by the analogy of natural appearances ; his instinct is just the opposite to describe and illumine nature by a reference to the creatures of thought. Other poets, Keats for instance, or Tennyson, or the older poets like Dante and Homer, might compare ghosts flying from an enchanter like leaves flying before the wind. They might describe a poet wrapped up in his dreams as being like a bird singing invisible in the brightness of the sky. But Shelley can write of the west wind as " Before whose unseen presence the leaves, dead, Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing." and he can describe a skylark in the heavens as “Like a poet hidden In the light of thought." Of all English poets he is the most completely lyrical. Nothing that he wrote but is wrought out of the anguish or joy of his own heart. " Most wretched souls,' he writes” Are cradled into poetry by wrong They learn in suffering what they teach in song." Perhaps his work is too impalpable and moves in an air too rarefied. It sometimes lacks strength. It fails to take grip enough of life. Had he lived he might have given it these things; there are signs in his last poems that he would have given it. But he could hardly have bettered the sheer and triumphant lyricism of The Skylark, of some of his choruses, and of the Ode to Dejection, and of the Lines written on the Eugencen hills. His work has one message and one only, the lastingness of beauty and its supreme truth. It is stated in Endymion in lines that are worn bare with quotation. It is stated again, at the height of his work in his greatest ode, " Beauty is truth, truth beauty: that is all

We know on earth and all we need to know.'

Structure of the poem

 There are twenty-one stanzas.  Lets break up into the following sections with running notes:

I-VI: Description of the lark rising in song; in the sky unseen; song keenly clear and piercing; overflows heaven.

VH-XH: What thou art most like: rainbow clouds; poet's songs; maiden's love song; glow-worm's light; rose's fragrance; vernal showers.

XHI-XIV: Teach us thy thoughts: better than song of love or wine; or wedding chorus; or triumphal chant.

XV-XVII: What has inspired thy song? Love without satiety; what dost thou know?

XVIII-XIX: Compared with our attitude toward life; our songs. Could we appreciate the joy of the lark, if we knew no sorrow?

XX-XXI: The lark's lyrical power better than music or poetry to the poet. Writer wishes for the lark's power, to write poems that should stir the whole world, as the lark stirs the listener.

Suggestive questions.

*      What form of subjective poetry is To a Skylark?
*      What about the bird makes Shelley call it a spirit? Does it think out its song beforehand? What is a characteristic of its flight? How does the poet describe that?
*      For what word is deep used? How does the poet describe sunset?
*      What is poetic in the line, Pale purple even?
*      Why the moon is called silver sphere?
*      What are the arrows? To what does lamp refer?
*      What would be the prose order of the line in the white dawn clear? Why does the poet use this arrangement?
*      Note the various ways by which the writer makes us feel the piercing quality of the song.
*      Describe in your own words the pictures of sunset, twilight, the moon just before dawn, the moon peeping out from behind a cloud.
*      Which line in the seventh stanza is a natural question after the second line of the first stanza, Bird thou never wert?
*      What is most like the lark? What is a rainbow? Its cause? What picture does "From rainbow clouds there flow not/Drops so bright to see” make in your mind?
*      Why has poetry been able to stir men's minds and souls? To make them sympathize with things they had not heeded before?
*      What effect does the singing of hymns have on people?
*      How does the poet describe the love song? In what does it recall the Middle Ages? Or stories of knights and ladies?
*      What is the aerial hue of the glow-worm?
*      What name is applied to the winds for stealing the fragrance of the rose?
*      Why is twinkling grass? Why rain-awakened flowers? How does this stanza rise to a climax in assertion? Look back and name the details that describe the lark's song as joyous and clear and fresh.
*      Teach us, sprite or bird spirit or bird. Does the poet go too far in attributing spiritual qualities to the lark? What two words stand for wedding song?
*      How does the poet express the idea, "There would be something lacking?" How does the poet say, "Of what would you sing? What inspires you?
*      “Love of nature, love of friends and family, mere joy of living, these are sources of song! Note how the poet says that listlessness will not mingle with joy. What can be the source of the lark's crystal song?

Ardhendu De
My photo

An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

"Dear Readers/ Students, I am a huge fan of books, English Grammar & Literature. I write this blog to instill that passion in you." 

Popular Posts

Analysis of Mulk Raj Anand’s Story, "The Lost Child": Accepted Part of Our Multicultural Neighborhood in the World

Dr. West’s New Method of Teaching English :Its Merits and Demerits

G.B. Shaw’s Radio Talk, ‘Spoken English and Broken English’:Broken English’s Relevance in Today’s English Spoken World

Brief Analysis of R.K Narayan’s ‘Engine Trouble’: Greater Simplicity of Plot and Language, even as it Develops a Greater Complexity of Meaning to Exhibit the Domain of India

Critical Appreciation of Philip Larkin’s Poem, "The North Ship": Life Award for Best Philosophical Access

Critical Analysis of Rabindranath Tagore’s Story 'Kabuliwala': Love and Waiting

Analysis of Virginia Woolf's Essay "Modern Fiction"

Of Studies by Francis Bacon -- the Theme and Style of the Essay

Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones as a Picaresque Novel: ‘comic – epic in prose’

Critical Analysis of Rabindranath Tagore’s poem “Where The Mind Is Without Fear”