Critical appreciation of To a Skaylark

Critical appreciation


Shelley's 'To a Skylark' is one of the most wonderful lyrics composed in 1820 when Shelley and his wife spent a week or two near Leghorn. They heard the song of a skylark o a beautiful evening, while strolling around the lanes lined with hedges on which fire-flies gleamed. This song inspired this poem. Wordsworth praises the poem as the 'expression of the highest to which Shelley's genius has attained. It reveals some of the beautiful traits of the poet's genius. The first thing that strikes us is the soaring idealism of the poet that transcends all actuality. The skylark and its song are wonderfully described and the description brings out the poet's superb imaginative power.

 Shelley can never conceive of the skylark as creature of flash and blood but it is a spirit of joy. Its song is the symbol of spiritual aspiration of 'universal expansion'. As it raises higher still and higher and loses itself in its melodious song it seems to the poet to be the very spirit of joy, unbodied and aspiring, that has not been touched with the sorrows of the years. It is a corner of the ground and ever remains in the sky, which is its proper place. It is an abstraction. It is a symbol of 'illimitable thirst drinking in illimitable sweetness'. 

The bird is everything that man is not. It is a better philosopher with an intuitive sense of the mystery of life and death which is denied to rational man. Its joy is free from weariness and annoyance or satiety. It must have a truer idea of death than man has. Man is always yearning for what is unattainable. Hence all his joys are touched with sadness. His sweetest songs are those that express thoughts of sorrow. But the bird is a symbol of eternal joy and remains ever untouched with sorrow. It is in this pure and untroubled joy of the bird's song that the poet finds inspiration for this poem. He becomes identified with the bird. 

The imaginative idealism of Shelley reaches its highest point in the stanzas which describe the bird. The poet describes the bird's flight- its upward soaring through the blue deep of the sky. It springs from the earth like 'a cloud of fire'. It soars 'like an unbodied joy'. As it soars higher, its song permeates the earth and air even as Heaven is overflowed with the rays of the silvery moon. The poet draws colourful pictures to describe the bird. Here is a glittering picture of the moon:
Keen as are the arrows
Of that silvery sphere,
Whose intense lamp narrows
In the white dawn clear...
Shelley describes the bird's nature through a series of exquisite images. The songs of the birds are like bright drops of rain falling from 'rainbow clouds'. The bird, in the poem, is like 'a poet hidden in the light of thought'. It is like 'a high-born maiden' soothing the love-laden soul with song in her secret bower. It is like a 'glow-worm golden in dell of dew' and 'a rose embowered in its own green leaves'. All these pictures habe a keen sensuous appeal.

The poet praises the bird's song in a series of images conceived with an intensity of power, conjured with a vividness of colouring. Its song surpasses all the rains in spring as well as to the flowers refreshed by the rains. It far excels in marriage songs as well as the songs of victory. It is free from dullness or grief, and the bird loves but does not know 'love's sad satiety'. The poet aspires to know the secret of its song, because he will sing such inspired song that the world will listen to him as he is listening to the song of the skylark. As so from being a spirit the bird unconsciously is brought down to the earth in order to inspire the poet and scatter healing influence upon grief-stricken humanity. The idea that there is yet hope for the world in it will pay heed to the poets is only a poetic rendering of the thought that the world as it is can be converted into the world as it ought to be.

Wordsworth's conception of the skylark is contrasted with that of Shelley. The main difference between Shelley's conception and Wordsworth's is that Wordsworth thinks mainly for the bird, and its song as only a musical tie that binds the bird to its nest. Shelley forgets the bird and thinks only of its devine melody. Hence Shelley has no touch of the earthiness thar we find in Wordsworth. He is lost in the clouds of sublime idealism whereas Wordsworth has his mind fixed upon the earth.

Shelley's 'To a Skylark' is a dazzling succession of glorious images. Its music is ethereal and intense. In the rhythm of the poem Shelley tries to reproduce the music of the skylark's song. The images that Shelley often gives in his lyrics as in this poem are of light and wind, cloud and sky, moon and sun, star and rainbow, the bright and beautiful things of air and Nature. In the images of the poem beauty and mystery are perfectly blended. His imagery is expressive of his fertile and wing imagination. The bird is the personification of the poet himself in being a scorner of the ground and a singer of melodious tunes. To conclude, 'To a Skylark' is an exquisitely charming poem notwithstanding a wealth of similes and metaphors it is enriched with.

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