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To a Skylark (Text) – P.B. 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 bright’ning,
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 day-light
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 aëreal 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-winged 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.

Word Notes

  1. Profuse: Abundant or overflowing.
  2. Blithe: Carefree or cheerful.
  3. Unpremeditated: Not planned or thought out in advance.
  4. Intense: Very strong or powerful.
  5. Sympathy: Understanding or sharing the feelings of another person.
  6. Bower: A shaded, secluded spot or retreat.
  7. Vernal: Relating to spring.
  8. Hymeneal: Relating to a wedding or marriage ceremony.
  9. Vaunt: Boast or brag.
  10. Chant: A repetitive song or melody.
  11. Joyance: Joy or happiness.
  12. Satiety: Feeling of fullness or satisfaction.
  13. Crystal: Clear or transparent.
  14. Languor: Lack of energy or vitality.
  15. Mortals: Human beings.
  16. Pine: Long for or desire deeply.
  17. Fraught: Filled or laden with.
  18. Languor: Lethargy or fatigue.
  19. Scorn: Disregard or disdain.
  20. Delightful: Pleasing or enjoyable.
  21. Treasures: Valuable or precious items.
  22. Harmonious: Pleasing or balanced.

Explanation of the Poem

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.

In the opening stanza, the speaker addresses the skylark with enthusiasm and admiration. The skylark is referred to as a “blithe spirit,” expressing the joyous nature of the bird. The speaker acknowledges that the skylark is not just an ordinary bird but possesses a unique quality. The skylark is described as pouring its heart out in an abundance of song, referred to as “profuse strains of unpremeditated art.” This highlights the skylark’s ability to sing spontaneously and beautifully.

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.

The second stanza emphasizes the skylark’s ability to ascend higher and higher into the sky. The bird is likened to a “cloud of fire” as it rises from the earth. The skylark’s flight is described as moving through the “blue deep,” symbolizing the vastness of the sky. Even as it soars, the skylark continues to sing, conveying the idea of simultaneous flight and song.

In the golden lightning
Of the sunken sun,
O’er which clouds are bright’ning,
Thou dost float and run;
Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.

In this stanza, the speaker portrays the skylark’s flight during the sunset. The skylark moves amidst the golden rays of the sun, which has already descended below the horizon. The presence of clouds in the sky adds to the beauty and radiance of the scene. The skylark is compared to an intangible and pure form of happiness, represented as an “unbodied joy.” The bird’s flight is depicted as a joyful and exhilarating journey that has just commenced.

The pale purple even
Melts around thy flight;
Like a star of Heaven,
In the broad day-light
Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight,

The fourth stanza describes the skylark’s presence during the twilight hours. As the evening sky takes on a pale purple hue, the skylark’s flight blends harmoniously with its surroundings. The skylark’s visibility diminishes, resembling a star that cannot be seen in the brightness of daylight. However, even though the bird is unseen, its song is still audible, signifying the skylark’s ability to captivate and bring delight through its music.

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.

The fifth stanza draws a comparison between the skylark’s song and the piercing arrows of the moon. The moon is described as a “silver sphere” with a bright and concentrated light that gradually diminishes as dawn approaches. The presence of the moon is felt even if it becomes less visible, just as the skylark’s song continues to resonate even when the bird itself is not clearly seen.

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.

In the sixth stanza, the speaker expresses how the skylark’s song fills the entire earth and air, creating a sense of grandeur and expansiveness. The bird’s voice is described as being loud, resonating and echoing throughout the surroundings. The comparison is made to a solitary cloud from which the moon’s beams shine forth, filling the sky and overflowing with their radiance. This imagery emphasizes the skylark’s ability to have a profound impact and reach beyond its immediate surroundings.

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.

In the seventh stanza, the speaker acknowledges the skylark’s mystery and uniqueness. The true nature and essence of the bird remain elusive and incomprehensible. The speaker wonders what can be likened to the skylark’s extraordinary qualities. It is stated that even the most vibrant and beautiful drops of water that emerge from rainbow-colored clouds cannot be compared to the brightness and beauty of the melodious songs that shower from the skylark’s presence. The skylark’s music is portrayed as a captivating and enchanting 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:

In the eighth stanza, the skylark is likened to a hidden poet who resides within the realm of contemplation and deep thought. The bird sings its hymns spontaneously and without being prompted. Through its songs, the skylark has the power to influence and shape the world around it. The speaker suggests that the skylark’s music has the ability to evoke sympathy, awakening and stirring the emotions of those who might not have been attuned to their hopes and fears before.

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:

In the ninth stanza, the skylark is compared to a noble and privileged young woman residing in a tower of a palace. This maiden is depicted as soothing her soul, filled with love and longing, during a private and intimate moment. The skylark’s music is portrayed as being as sweet and enchanting as the love that overflows the maiden’s chamber. This comparison highlights the emotional depth and power of the skylark’s song.

Like a glow-worm golden
In a dell of dew,
Scattering unbeholden
Its aëreal hue
Among the flowers and grass, which screen it from the view:

In the tenth stanza, the skylark is likened to a golden glow-worm situated in a secluded and dew-covered valley. The glow-worm emits a soft and radiant light that illuminates its surroundings. Similarly, the skylark’s song spreads its ethereal and enchanting quality without being fully observed or comprehended. The flowers and grass serve as a veil that partially obscures the skylark’s presence, adding to the sense of mystery and allure.

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-winged thieves:

The skylark is compared to a rose nestled within its own leaves. Just as warm winds can cause the fragrance of a flower to spread and overwhelm the senses, the skylark’s music has a similar effect. The scent of the rose and the skylark’s song both have the power to intoxicate and overpower, leaving a lasting impression.

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.

The skylark’s music surpasses the sounds of vernal showers falling on the twinkling grass and awakening the flowers. The speaker acknowledges that the skylark’s music surpasses all things that are joyful, clear, and fresh. Its melodies hold a beauty and purity that is unmatched by anything else in nature.

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.

The speaker addresses the skylark, referring to it as a sprite or bird, and expresses a desire to understand the sweet thoughts that inspire its song. The skylark’s music evokes a sense of rapture and divine ecstasy that surpasses any praises of love or wine. It is considered to be a celestial hymn or triumphant chant, far superior to any human-created celebration.

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.

In this stanza, the speaker reflects on the skylark’s song in comparison to a chorus singing hymns or a triumphant celebration. The speaker suggests that even such grand performances would pale in comparison to the skylark’s song. The poet describes that these human expressions as mere empty boasts, lacking the depth and fulfillment found in the skylark’s music. There is a sense of longing for the unknown element that the skylark possesses, which human endeavors seem to lack.

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?

Here, the speaker poses a series of questions to the skylark, wondering about the inspiration behind its joyful song. He asks what elements of nature, such as fountains, fields, waves, mountains, or the shapes of the sky and land, contribute to the skylark’s melody. Additionally, he inquires about the skylark’s capacity for love toward its own kind and its seemingly lack of understanding or experience 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.

In this stanza, the speaker suggests that the skylark’s clear and intense joy prevents it from experiencing weariness or languor. He states that the skylark has never been touched by the shadow of annoyance, implying that it is free from the burdens and troubles that humans often face. While acknowledging that the skylark experiences love, the speaker notes that it has never encountered the melancholy or dissatisfaction that sometimes accompanies love.

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?

The speaker ponders the skylark’s perspective on life and death. He suggests that the skylark, whether awake or asleep, must perceive things that are more profound and genuine than what humans typically imagine. The skylark’s song is regarded as a testament to its understanding of these deeper truths. The speaker wonders how the skylark’s music can flow so pure and clear, like a crystal stream, without such profound insights.

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.

Here the speaker reflects on the human condition. He remarks that humans tend to dwell on the past and anticipate the future, often longing for what is unattainable. The speaker observes that even our most genuine laughter is tinged with pain. Furthermore, he suggests that our most beautiful songs often arise from the expression of sad or melancholic thoughts. This stands in contrast to the skylark’s song, which remains untouched by the burdens and sorrows of human existence.

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.

Here, the speaker contemplates the possibility of humans transcending negative emotions such as hate, pride, and fear. He imagines a scenario where humans are not burdened by the need to shed tears. In this hypothetical situation, the speaker acknowledges that he cannot fathom how humans could ever truly comprehend or connect with the skylark’s unbridled joy and freedom.

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!

In this stanza, the speaker expresses the superiority of the skylark’s song over any other form of delightful sound or treasures found in books. He declares that the skylark’s ability to inspire and captivate a poet surpasses all other measures of beauty. The skylark is praised as one who disregards earthly limitations and rises above them.

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.

In the final stanza, the speaker addresses the skylark directly and expresses a desire to attain even a fraction of the skylark’s profound happiness and bliss. He longs to possess a portion of the skylark’s joyful thoughts, believing that it would enable him to produce such harmoniously ecstatic expressions. The speaker envisions a world where his words would command the same attention and captivation as he is currently experiencing while listening to the skylark’s song.

MCQs & Answers from To A Skylark

1. The skylark is addressed as a:

a) Blithe spirit
b) Melodious songbird
c) Heavenly creature
d) Enchanted being

Answer: a) Blithe spirit

2. The skylark is described as springing from:

a) Heaven
b) Water
c) Earth
d) Air

Answer: c) Earth

3. The skylark is springing from the earth like a/an

a) Flower in bloom
b) Whirlwind
c) Cloud of fire
d) Shooting star

Answer: c) Cloud of fire

4. How many stanzas does “To a Skylark” by Percy Bysshe Shelley consist of?

a) 21
b) 14
c) 7
d) 4

Answer: a) 21

5. What is the rhyme scheme followed in “To a Skylark”?

a) ABABC
b) AABBCC
c) ABABB
d) ABCD

Answer: c) ABABB

6. In “To a Skylark,” what is the metrical pattern of the first four lines in each stanza?

a) Iambic pentameter
b) Trochaic trimeter
c) Anapestic tetrameter
d) Dactylic hexameter

Answer: b) Trochaic trimeter

7. How many stressed syllables are there in each line of the first four lines of each stanza?

a) 2
b) 3
c) 4
d) 6

Answer: b) 3

8. What is the metrical pattern of the fifth longer line in each stanza of “To a Skylark”?

a) Iambic pentameter
b) Trochaic trimeter
c) Anapestic tetrameter
d) Iambic hexameter

Answer: d) Iambic hexameter

9. What literary genre does “To a Skylark” belong to?

a) Sonnet
b) Epic
c) Ballad
d) Ode

Answer: d) Ode

10. “To a Skylark” is an ode written by which poet?

a) William Wordsworth
b) Samuel Taylor Coleridge
c) John Keats
d) Percy Bysshe Shelley

Answer: d) Percy Bysshe Shelley

11. What is the main subject of “To a Skylark”?

a) A bird’s flight
b) Nature’s beauty
c) The human condition
d) The power of imagination

Answer: a) A bird’s flight

12. Which poetic device is employed when the speaker addresses the skylark as a “blithe Spirit”?

a) Simile
b) Metaphor
c) Apostrophe
d) Alliteration

Answer: c) Apostrophe

13. Which literary device is used in the line “The blue deep thou wingest”?

a) Personification
b) Metaphor
c) Simile
d) Imagery

Answer: d) Imagery

14. To what does the term “silver sphere” figuratively refer ?

a) The moon.
b) Cloud cover.
c) The wing of the skylark.
d)  The earth.

Answer : a) The moon.

15. What makes human beings inadequate in comparison with the skylark, according to Shelley?

a) That they are hateful, prideful, and scornful.
b) That they yearn for things they do not possess.
c) That they have frail voices.
d) That they dream only of death.

Answer : b) That they yearn for things they do not possess.

16. What oxymoronic image is invoked in the eighth stanza?

a) Unheeded sympathies.
b) Biding hymns.
c) Hidden light.
d) Unheeded fears.

Answer : c) Hidden light.

17. What does the word “unpremeditated” mean in line 5?

a) incredibly boring
b) Not planned out in advance
c) Sad and lonely
d) Unfocused, careless

Answer : b) Not planned out in advance

18. What does the speaker appear to envy over the Skylark?

a) The bird`s song
b) The easy life of a bird
c) The ability to fly
d) The freedom the bird has

Answer : d) The freedom the bird has

19. Who is hidden away in a tower in this poem?

a) A maiden
b) A rose
c) A poet
d) a treasure

Answer : a) A maiden

20. Fill in the missing word in this line from the poem: “Chorus __________ “

a) Autumnal
b) Real
c) Hymenenal
d) Line

Answer : c) Hymenenal

21. What season does the word “vernal” refer to (56)?

a) Summer
b) March Madness
c) Spring
d) Fall

Answer : c) Spring

22. What does “those heavy-winged thieves” refer to ?

a) Bees
b) Winds
c) Skylarks
d) Helicopters

Answer : b) Winds

23. How many lines are there in each stanza of the poem?

a) 7
b) 5
c) 3
d) 10

Answer : b) 5

24. What does a ‘love-laden soul’ refer to?

a) A heart filled with joy and happiness
b) A heart burdened with the pain of love
c) A heart longing for companionship
d) A heart devoid of any emotions

Answer: b) A heart burdened with the pain of love

25. Why does the love-lorn maiden sing?

a) To attract attention from others
b) To express her joy and happiness
c) To alleviate the intensity of her love and find solace
d) To entertain herself

Answer: c) To alleviate the intensity of her love and find solace

26. What is the similarity between the love-lorn maiden’s song and the skylark’s song?

a) Both songs are melodious and pleasant to hear
b) Both songs express deep sorrow and grief
c) Both songs are sung to attract a romantic partner
d) Both songs can be heard even though the source is not visible

Answer: d) Both songs can be heard even though the source is not visible

27. How is the skylark compared to a glow-worm?

a) Both are small and insignificant creatures
b) Both emit light in the darkness
c) Both are nocturnal creatures
d) Both are hidden from sight but leave an impact through their presence

Answer: d) Both are hidden from sight but leave an impact through their presence

28. What does the poet compare the skylark to?
a) A blithe spirit.
b) A lonely wanderer.
c) A fierce predator.
d) A creature of darkness.
Answer: a) A blithe spirit.

29. Why does the poet call the skylark a “blithe spirit”?

a) Because it brings joy and happiness to those who hear its song.
b) Because it is a mischievous and playful bird.
c) Because it is a ghost-like creature that appears in the sky.
d) Because it embodies the essence of freedom and purity.

Answer: d) Because it embodies the essence of freedom and purity.

30. What does Shelley want to learn from the skylark?

a) The secret of eternal happiness.
b) The art of singing beautifully.
c) The ability to fly high in the sky.
d) Half of its joy so he can share it through his poetry.

Answer: d) Half of its joy so he can share it through his poetry.

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