Poetic expression in Shelley's "To A Skylark"

Essay, 2011

12 Seiten


Poetic Expression in Shelley’s ¢ To A Skylark ¢

Short Bio of Shelley

- born on 4 August 1792 in Sussex

- got expelled from Oxford for writing an paper on atheism (cf. Kelley, p. 18)

- lived a short life full of scandals
- rebellious against his father’s authority and inherited rank (cf. Kelley, p. 18)
- advocated free love Þ is said to had experimented with both male and female partners. He married first shortly after he got expelled from Oxford but left his wife later on while pregnant to be with his second wife (later known as Mary Shelley). (cf. Kelley, p. 18)
- cosmopolitan Þ travelled a lot, felt especially at home in Italy (cf. Kelley, p. 19)
- wrote from a sharply political and material understanding of the world (cf. Kelley, p. 18)

- drowned on a boat trip in Italy on 8 July 1822 Þ Although the boat was not suited for handling in stormy weather, it remains unclear whether Shelley actually wanted to die and refused the order to reposition one of the sails or if it truly was an accident after all. (cf. Kelley, p. 32 – 33)

Shelley’s inspiration for ¢ To A Skylark ¢ (written in 1820)

-ne source – a note Mary Shelley wrote in 1839 – claims:

„In the spring we spent a week or two near Leghorn, borrowing the house of some friends, who were absent on a journey to England. It was on a beautiful summer evening while wandering among the lanes, whose myrtle hedges were the bowers of the fireflies, that we heard the caroling of the skylark, which inspired one of the most beautiful of his poems.” (Wilcox, p. 561)

- According to Stewart C. Wilcox, Shelley’s own state of mind around 1820 may have been reflected in the poem as well. (Wilcox, p. 560)


Communicative situation and situation in the poem

- The speaker remains anonymous. But one can argue that the speaker actually is a poet himself as he is addressing the skylark several times throughout the poem, asking to ‘teach’ him, as he would not be able to compose a song equally as good as the skylarks. Furthermore the “world” should then be listening to the poet as he listens to the bird now. Þ “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.” (l. 101 – 105)

- Addressee:
- the speaker in the very first line of the poem cheers to the skylark, addressing him as the “blithe spirit” (l. 1), whose song comes “from heaven or near it” (l. 3) Þ bird is more than just a skylark; it is put close to the divine and supernatural right from the beginning of the poem
- mystified by describing him as “sprite” (l. 61), Þ the bird becomes a supernatural being

- Time: varying Þ evening “In the golden light’ning/ Of the sunken sun” (l. 11 – 12), from that on only settings in comparisons, like dawn (l. 20 – 25), night (l. 26 – 30)

- Setting: nature

Patterns of verbal and other kind of repetition

- Anaphora
- “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?” (l. 71 – 75) Þ the poet asks the bird about the source of inspiration for its song; speaker’s obsession

- Alliteration

- e.g. “The pale purple even” (l.16), …

- Syntactic repetition Þ adding regularity to the poem
- “Higher still and higher” (l. 6)
- And singing still dost, soar, and soaring ever singest.” (l. 10)
- “Yet, if we could scorn/ Hate and pride and fear,/ If we were things born” (l. 91 – 93) Þ bird joyous by nature in contrast to men
- “Better than all measures/ Of delightful sound,/ Better than all treasures/ That in books are found” (l. 96 – 99) Þ no men can ever reach natures creativity
- …

Sequential structure

- Stanzas and subdivisions:

- 21 stanzas with a songlike form; it can be said that the form is unique in its kind.

- Stanza:
- very regular
- 5 lines per stanza: four compact lines and one longer concluding line
- musical

- Rhyme scheme: fairly regularly, only few exceptions

- Sense units
- Stanza 1 – 4: greeting the skylark; identifying him as more than a bird, but a divine creature; even so the skylark flies higher into the afterglow and eventually vanishes from the speaker’s sight, the speaker is still able to hear its song. Þ reoccurring pattern of see vs. hear
- Stanza 5 – 7:

- like a star which vanishes in the dawn, the poet is unable to see the skylark, but able to feel his presence. Þ reoccurring contrastive pattern of see vs. feel

- Voice of the skylark compared to the moon’s ability to shed light on a clear, cloudless night Þ song = enlightened

- Questions of what can resemble the bird

- Attempt to compare the song to a rainbow

- But even a rainbow as rather beautiful natural phenomenon cannot be equated with the skylark’s song

- Stanza 8 – 11: stanzas are similes comparing the bird/song to a poet, a high-born maiden, glow-worm and a rose.

- Stanza 12:

- even though not a simile, still a comparison

- the joyous music is beyond the ability to be reproduced

- “Joyous and clear and fresh – thy music doth surpass.” (l. 60)

- Stanza 13 - 16: concerned with the inspiration for the bird’s song

- Stanza 13:

- the speaker requests the bird to teach his inspiration
- bird intelligent and divine as there is nothing to compare to its song Þ nature = supernatural

- Stanza 14: songs produced by men are empty; not comparable with nature

- Stanza 15: questions -> what is the inspiration for the song? Þ speaker’s obsession

- Stanza 16: “Shadow of annoyance/ Never came near thee” (l. 78 – 79)

- Stanza 17 - :

- Stanza 17: “Thou of death must deem/ Things more true and deep/ Than we mortals dream” Þ could be seen as an Anaphora

- Bird is acquainted with the world of the living and the spiritual world of the dead Þ reflected in its song

- Stanza 18:

- Men try to “look before and after” (l. 86), but are only able to produce good songs, which “tell of saddest thought.” (l. 90)

- Stanza 19 – 20: bird is the real poet, no human can ever be as creative as the bird


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Poetic expression in Shelley's "To A Skylark"
Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen
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Alexandra Koch (Autor:in), 2011, Poetic expression in Shelley's "To A Skylark", München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/198426


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