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Explication Of “To A Skylark” By Percy Bysshe Shelly Essay, Research Paper

Explanation of “To a Skylark” by Percy Bysshe Shelly

Percy Bysshe Shelly was born in Sussex in 1792 with scoliosis. He was sent to prestigious schools, first Eton and later Oxford, but he never could settle into the role of a student. Shelly was expelled because of a pamphlet he wrote entitled The Necessity of Atheism. This led to trouble between him and his father, so instead of going home, Shelly went to London. Shelly spent the last few years of his life in Pisa, Italy, where he became great friends with Lord Byron, which had a great impact on his work. His best poetry, including “Ode to the West Wind” and Prometheus Unbound, was written during this time. Shelly tragically died in a boating accident at age 30, in 1822.

In “To a Skylark”, Shelly uses many literary devices, excellent imagery, and emotion-filled phrases, making it one of the greatest works of all time. In the first stanza, Shelly compares the skylark to an angel, writing, “Hail to thee, blithe spirit! Bird thou never wert, that from heaven, or near it…” In the next stanza, he compares the skylark to a “cloud of fire” in “the deep blue thou wingest…” In the last line of this stanza, Shelly uses consonance to make a concise statement. Shelly writes, “And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.” which means that the skylark’s beautiful singing soars, and the skylark sings ever while he soars. The next two stanzas show Shelly’s excellent ability to use imagery and metaphors in his writing. He sets the scene for the skylark’s flight. Shelly writes, “In the golden lighting of the sunken sun, o’er which clouds are brightening, thou dost float and run; like an unbodied joy whose races 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.” Shelly compares their “shrill delight” to the rays of a star in the next stanza. Shelly says, “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.” In the sixth stanza, Shelly compares the skylark to the moon that lights up a bare night. He says, “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.” These opening stanzas are Shelly’s explanation of what he is seeing, and he uses imagery and metaphors to make the reader feel and see what he his experiencing.

In the next stanzas, Shelly uses parallelism, imagery, metaphors, and great writing to try to compare the skylark to other beautiful scenes or people on earth. Shelly begins by saying,”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.” This stanza sets the stage for Shelly’s comparison of the skylark to beautiful creations on the earth. Shelly’s use of parallelism (”Like a poet hidden…Like a highborn maiden…Like a glowworm golden…”) shines through these stanzas. First, he compares the skylark to a hidden poet that brings the world to “sympathy with hopes and fears it needed not…” Then he compares the skylark to a maiden. Shelly writes, “Like a highborn maiden in a palace tower, soothing her love-laden soul in secret hour with music sweet as love, which overflows her bower…” Shelly goes on to compare the skylark to a “glowworm golden.” He writes, “Like a glowworm golden in a dell of dew, scattering unbeholden its aerial hue among the flowers and grass, which screen it from the view!” Finally, Shelly compares the skylark to a rose. He writes, “Like a rose embowered in its own green leaves, by warm winds deflowered, till the scent it gives makes faint with too much sweet those heavy-winged thieves.” The stanza that closes this portion of the poem emphasizes the skylark’s song. Shelly says, “Sound of vernal showers on the twinkling grass, rain-awakened flowers, all that ever was joyous, and clear, and fresh, thy music doth surpass…”

After Shelly attempts to compare and describe the skylark to other beautiful creations on earth, he asks the skylark for knowledge and insight into the skylark’s sweetness and joyfulness. Shelly proclaims the skylark for his great joy and beauty. Shelly begins, “Teach us, sprite or bird, what sweet thoughts are thine: I have never heard praise of love or wine that painted forth a flood of rapture so divine.” This is Shelly asking the skylark why he is soy joyous, because he has never heard of anything that could make someone so happy. In the next stanza, Shelly uses an allusion to increase the emphasis on the skylark’s happiness. He continues, “Chorus Hymeneal, or triumphal chant, matched with thine would be all but an empty vaunt, a thing wherein we feel there is some hidden want.” This stanza also begins his use of the joy of the skylark to explain a fault in man. But first, he asks the skylark for more insight. He says, “What objects are the fountains [sources of inspiration] of thy happy strain? What fields, or waves, or mountains? What shapes of the 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.”

Shelly goes on to use this unabridged happiness of the skylark to show a fault in man. He begins, “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.” This powerful stanza praises the bird as a pure, (crystal stream) immortal creature because of his complete joy, which somehow must surpass the dreams of human “mortals”. Now Shelly points out the failures of man. Shelly says, “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 scorn hate, and pride, and fear; if we were things [see! Shelly used 'things'! Ha!] born not to shed a tear, I know not how thy joy we ever should come near.” Shelly explains that we cannot compare with nature and the skylark because of this failure and our weakness.

In closing, Shelly praises the skylark once again for his beauty and joy, and once again asks to learn from the skylark. Shelly closes with, “Better than all measures of delightful sound, better than all the treasures that in books are found, thy skill to poet were [would be], 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.” Shelly once again compares the skylark to humans, and asks to learn the secrets of the skylark so that he can teach the world the skylark’s ways.

In “To a Skylark” by Percy Bysshe Shelly, Shelly uses the excellent imagery, literary devices, and wonderful writing skill that he is known for. Shelly first explains with great detail, metaphors, and imagery the scene which he is experiencing. Then he attempts to compare, using parallelism, metaphors, and similes, the skylark to other beautiful creations upon the earth. Next, Shelly asks the bird for insight to his eternal bliss and superior knowledge, that he may tell the world of it. Then, Shelly explains a fault in man, using the “things [he used it again!] more true and deep” that the skylark has. Finally, Shelly praises the skylark again, and pleads that it teach him some of its gladness, that he may pass it on to humanity. “To a Skylark” is one of Shelly’s greatest works.


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