In To a Skylark, Shelley dwells upon the sweet and rapturous singing of the skylark. The music of the skylark has been idealized by Shelley. The poet wants to know what it is that inspires the skylark to sing such melodious and ecstatic strains. He contrasts the sorrows and sufferings of mankind with the unspeakable joy of the bird. If it were possible for the poet to experience the gladness of the skylark, he would be able to sing songs as sweet and delightful as those of the bird itself.
The poem is remarkable for its abundance of similes, each of which is a picture in itself. The skylark climbs higher and higher in the sky “like a cloud of fire” (Line 8). The skylark floats and runs “like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun” (Line 15).
The skylark is unseen “like a star of heaven/In the broad daylight” (Lines 18-19). The skylark is like a poet hidden in the light of thought, like a high-born maiden singing love-songs in a palace tower, like a golden glow-worm invisibly scattering its light among the flowers and grass, like a rose hidden by its own green leaves and filling the air with its scent. The similes in this poem are unsurpassed for their romantic charm and beauty. Each simile brings a separate picture before the mind. These similes constitute a rich feast for the senses. We gloat over each simile with an epicurean delight.
This poem is a marvel of music and melody. The sweetness of the poem, combined with its other qualities makes it a lyrical masterpiece. The music of the poem is simply irresistible. The following stanza may be quoted not only for its musical quality but for the truth that it contains:
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.
There is an intensity of feeling throughout the poem. It is a passionate utterance. The poet’s heart is overflowing with the flood of emotion. The note of longing and yearning, so characteristic of many of Shelley’s poems, is to be found in this poem also. The following stanza in which the poet makes an appeal to the skylark, is an illustration:
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.
All Shelley’s lyrics possess a spontaneous quality. This poem is no exception. It seems to have come directly from the writer’s heart. It appears to have been written naturally and effortlessly. It is a pure effusion. It is a superb example of Shelley’s lyrical gift.