Online Poetry Anthology

“To a Skylark” by Percy Shelley

Introduction to Notable Poems by Hamilton Wright Mabie (1909) | Percy Shelley (1792–1822)

"To a Skylark" by Percy Shelley

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 brightening,
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 overflow’d.

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 embower’d
In its own green leaves,
By warm winds deflower’d,
Till the scent it gives
Makes faint with too much sweet those heavy-wingèd thieves.

Sound of vernal showers
On the twinkling grass,
Rain-awaken’d 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 chant
Match’d 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!

Introduction to Notable Poems by Hamilton Wright Mabie (1909) | Percy Shelley (1792–1822)


Online Poetry Anthology

 

Suggestions
  • If you read a bit about Shelley’s life, you immediately understand that this poem has little to do with ornithology, and more to do with Shelley’s envy of the bird’s happiness in freedom. The irony is that the very freedom Shelley abused was the impetus for his lack of happiness.
  • Learn more about the skylark and listen to its song.
  • Explain the point the poet is making.
  • Compare and contrast the poem to the book of Ecclesiastes.
  • Have the student write his own poem (one or two stanzas) in the style used by Shelley. What emotion can he write about metaphorically by describing a tangible object?

 

Additional Resources

14 Forms of Writing for the Older Student: Poetry14 Forms of Writing for the Older Student: Poetry
Ideas for writing in the style of Shelley.

Introduction to Notable Poems by Hamilton Wright Mabie
Older students may wish to read the introduction to the poem, which includes a characterization of Shelley’s life.

Free Nature Studies: Hunting Birds With Eyes & CameraFree Nature Studies: Hunting Birds With Eyes & Camera
Resources for expanding lesson.