Summary of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s To a Skylark

To a Skylark is a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley.


The poet says that the Skylark, which pours forth from heaven a flood of spontaneous melody and soars higher and higher, can never be a bird. It is for him a joyful spirit that begins its upward flight at sunrise, and becomes at evening an invisible song just like an invisible star in the daylight.

Its notes are compared to the keen beams of the moon which contracts by and by so that its presence is rather felt than seen. Its song resembles the flood of light which the moon pours forth from behind a solitary cloud on a clear night.

The poet is at a loss to know what the bird really is. Its song may be compared to the bright raindrops falling from rainbowed clouds. The bird lost in the sunlight may be compared to a poet hidden in the light of thought, or to a high-born maiden making music to console her love-lorn heart, or to a glow-worm from which emanates its bluish light concealing itself in grass and flowers, or to a rose blown completely by the wind so that its perfume is spread on all sides.

The poet says that the skylark’s song does not stand any comparison with things that we know. When compared with it, all gay, clear, and fresh things pale into insignificance. Marriage and triumphal songs dwindle into nothingness in comparison with the Sky lark’s song.

The poet wonders what is the unknown source of inspiration of the bird’s song. Its ecstasy indicates that it does not know anything of the satiety that destroys all human happiness. It must be in the know of something more concerning death than we know, for, otherwise, its song could not be so merry and distinct. Sorrow is mingled with the very best of human joys. Even if men are free from hate, pride, fear, and sorrow, they cannot think of attaining such joy as that of the Skylark. The poet wants to experience half the gaiety of the bird and then, he would sing with such excellent poetic ecstasy that the people of the world would listen to him.

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