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Literature

Symbolism of "To a Skylark" by Shelley

The European skylark sings only when in journey. When the speaker of the poem starts flattering the bird, it is already out of his sight. So, the speaker only hears the bird, giving it an unseen or a spiritual quality. The bird is compared to a spirit or a

The European skylark sings only when in journey.
When the speaker of the poem starts flattering the bird, it is already out of
his sight. So, the speaker only hears the bird, giving it an unseen or a
spiritual quality. The bird is compared to a spirit or a soul which has left
the physical bounds of earth, but whose song, or spirit, can still be heard:


Like
a star of Heaven


In
the broad day-light


Thou
art unseen,--but yet I hear they shrill delight,


(18-20)


A
star cannot be seen in the "broad day-light" but we know it is still
there. Here, Shelley conflates natural phenomena remarked as a star invisible
in the daylight or the heard but spiritual skylark with the idea of a heavenly
presence.As the skylark flies "Higher and higher still," this
is symbolic of a being escaping the physical constraints of earth, essentially
becoming like immaterial: a spirit.The speaker claims that the skylark's
song is more "bright" (in the sense of being vivid and alive) than
the drops from "rainbow clouds." Comparing visual and audible
imagery, the skylark's song is more affecting than visible beauty.


There
is more symbolism utilizing this concept that the effect of one sense is absent
but another sense dominates the speaker's perception. For case in point, the
rose is "embowered. In its own green leaves--" meaning it is enclosed
and therefore invisible. But its sweet scent is carried on "warm
winds."


The
skylark is described as "blithe" in the opening line. This means
happy and without care or concern. The speaker longs to be free of life's
concerns and fears; to be like the skylark, not worried about fear, mortality,
etc.


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.


The
skylark, more particularly its song, symbolizes ultimate joy. The speaker,
Shelley in this case, asks the skylark to teach him this joy in order that he
might give his poetry the same blithe quality of the skylark's song.


Teach
me half the gladness


That
thy brain must know,


Such
harmonious madness


From my lips would flow


In the closing stages, the song is analogous to poetry itself
and is consequently symbolic of the potential of poetry to be as effective as
the unseen but heard song. There is the posthumous sign that like the spiritual
but heard song, Shelley's own poetry will be read after he has died. Therefore,
the skylark's song is symbolic of the beauty in nature as well as the beauty in
poetry of the poet’s Poetic diction.

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