Musing Aero Tones: A Romantic and Contextual Analysis of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “To A Skylark”

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In the contemporary period, we are witnesses to a lot of repetitive horror movies spanning from the classics to the modern one, little by little inflicted by the pangs of violence, gore, and nudity. Both the orient and the occident features different films that would charm many people, especially the youth, in watching films that are embodiments of abysmal imageries, somber imagination, the intersection of the natural and the supernatural, as well as the overflowing emotions of fear and anger brought by unimaginable circumstances. Though to be distinct from the recurring motif of horror, it was Gothicism that brought the surge of the current trends in filmic productions of thriller and horror movies. In the literary history, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein are both literary gothic productions that sought to promulgate the emphasis of the supernatural, as well as themes of drabness and imperfections. The present is dotted already with rich productions of novels which encage thematic depictions of darkness, supernatural, and romance, like Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga which incorporates vampires having a romance with a human.

The production of many romantic films are also best observed in the spectacle era of the contemporary, telescoping the recurring themes of romance combined with comedy, drama, magical realism, supernatural, and others. One of the best exponent of these romantic films is its emphasis on the emotion, which the romantic age deeply catered. We are even crying to many films like A Walk To Remember which starred Mandy Moore and Shane West. Undoubtedly, the romantic production of films that spanned many eras influenced many of our lives in the present, however as romantic as we would be, we should also be concerned on the surveying of the past, or how the “romance” was primarily constructed in the past and slowly changed in the present.

In connection with romanticism, Percy Bysshe Shelley is one of the literary giants of the romantic age. He had a rich background in the study of literature and other social sciences that enabled him to write one of his most controversial work, the Necessity of Atheism which expounded on the rejection of God’s existence due to the impossibility of locating Him through empirical bases. Shelley’s life is as well, filled with many gothic and romantic themes that became evident in many of his poems, especially dealing with the wonders of nature. This paper seeks to analyze Shelley’s poem, “To A Skylark” by: (1) historical context; (2) authorial context; (3) literary context; and (4) poetic analysis or criticism.

The “Gothic”

The term gothic originated from the classical history of the barbaric invasion of the Germanic tribes that had its monumental battles with the Roman Empire. Though divided into two groups, the Visigoths (West Goths) and the Ostrogoths (East Goths) due to conflicts in the settlement, they have reached their full potential of unparalleled power come their victory in the successful sacking of Rome.

In the study of romanticism, it is also important to study the gothic literature because it is also one of the important tenets of the romantic trend itself because of its heightened depiction of the core characteristics of romanticism. It is hard, however, to just simply contextualize how the classical history of the Goths are brought upon the Romantic age of literature. However, noting the interest of the romanticists in the remote past (which should be differentiated from the immediate past, as it would go back to neo-classicism which the romanticists or the romantic age itself negatively reacts). And because of this romantic tenet, the romantic age sought the revival of interest towards the gothic architecture, which is then to be associated with the “medieval” architecture connected to popular gothic fictions because of its somber themes and settings situated in gothic-styled places. One of the important characteristics of the gothic fiction is its association with the gothic hero where he is usually isolated and is in battle with the antagonist characterizing the epitome of evil[1]. The term gothic is now situated as a literary term or genre which is a depictive reaction to the Enlightenment ideology of human reason[2].


It is primarily important to note that the romanticism existed before the romantic age as the romantic age only characterized the booming of romantic poets and not as an age where romanticism began[3]. Three important romantic poets, Southey, Coleridge, and Wordsworth, deviated from the established system or canon of the period of Enlightenment, or characterized as “dissenters.” Wordsworth himself expounded on his belief of dissenting from the Neoclassical imperative by releasing himself from the clutches of formal structures and perfection in his poetry and by, instead, clinging to the “spontaneous overflowing of powerful feelings” that rejects any notion of restraint or order.

Romanticism itself has a loose definition, and it is defined more through its intrinsic tenets and characteristics, as asserted by F.L. Lucas, there are more than 11, 396 definitions of romanticism[4]. In the Western world, three important events gave rise to the romantic age: (1) America’s war for independence; (2) French Revolution; (3) Industrial Revolution. Romanticism garnered a lot of characteristics, however, there are unique characteristics that can be truly characterized as being “romantic” or that which is very much observed in different literary works, possibly considered archetypal. Firstly, an important earmark of romanticism is its emphasis on “sensibility” where emotionalism triumphs over the rational reason and where truth is achievable through feelings. Secondly is the concept of primitivism, in which it retracts the confined order of the society and civilization to promote the nature itself, untouched by any means of modernized (thus, perhaps equated to “corrupting”) technologies. Thirdly, is the love for nature for according to Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, that “God is in nature (pantheistic) so a man who loves and honors nature, loves and honors God.[5]” Lastly, the final earmark of romanticism is its interest in the remote past. On the other hand, the intrinsic tenets of romanticism centers on the themes of nature, idealization of rural life, sentimental melancholy, imagination over reason, and poetic diction.

Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley is born to an upper-class family, with Timothy Shelley as his father. As a son of aristocracy, he is promised of a good life when he reaches the appropriate age, as he is also next in ‘throne’ for baronetcy. During his childhood years, he received great education, primarily home education from Reverend Edwards through a Welsh education, garnering him the tongues of Greek and Latin. When he entered the Sion House Academy, (Syon in some references), he did not have a great memory there because he was bullied by the students, and worse, Shelley had poor fighting skills and poor temper management. He, however, lived greatly when he entered the Eton. Here, he began reading gothic fictions, as well as development for the love of sciences. He was bullied again here but he just lamented for it. He published his first fiction, Zastrozz, which is a romance.

He left Eton for Oxford where he published his second fiction. He was able to be friends with Thomas Jefferson Hogg, who have collaborated with him in the writing of the Necessity of Atheism. This work garnered a lot of negative reactions and created a rift with the Shelley household. Though Hogg retracted primarily because of filial issues, Shelley continued his advocacy for their work, sending pamphlets of university officials who were mainly devout churchmen. As a result, Shelley was expelled from Oxford, together with Hogg who admitted his collaboration in the end. Because Shelley had a hard time reconciling with his father, he wandered from place to place even when he was strictly summoned to go home at once. He eventually married Harriet Westbrook even though he was against the church orthodoxy of marriage. This was also the moment his best friend Hogg tried to seduce Harriet, leading them to flee to Keswick together with Eliza Westbrook, Harriet’s sister.

Shelley was reconciled with his father and his allowance returned because of the help of the Duke of Norfolk. However, the love of Shelley for Harriet waned, when he met Mary Wollstonecraft (the daughter) and they eventually eloped to Paris, riding the tide of many English tourists visiting the restricted city. However when they returned to London, Shelley and Wollstonecraft lost a lot of funds, including large debts. Also, a lot of friends and family members regarded Shelley as an immoral atheist[6]. Come the September 1815, the couple moved to Bishopsgate which pictured the romantic scene of Lechlade churchyard, influencing and inspiring Shelley’s poetic imagination. When they reached Geneva and finally met Byron, the couple received the news of Harriet’s suicide, which paved the way to the marriage of the couple.

The couple moved to Italy to resume their lives, but this became a stance of being a “social outcast” from the people, especially in London. As the thought of a good life came, both of their children died, causing a great distraught for Mary Shelley, that even another child, Percy Florence, couldn’t heal the pain she have incurred[7]. Amidst all the tragedies, however, Shelley still found time to write his great works especially when he settled in Pisa. However, another tragedy befell him when the boat he and his friend Edward Williams were sailing were overturned by a great squall, causing them to eventually drown to death. This led to the unfinished poem, “The Triumph of Life” which is one ironic poem that characterizes the life of Shelley[8].

Analysis: To A Skylark

A. Introduction

Music has been a part of our lives since the ancient antiquity. We had different types of instruments spanning from the indigenous to the postmodern. However, what is the real function of music? In order to answer this, it would be best to quote three classical figures that embraced music as a form of important element in the life of humans. Firstly, according to Plato, “music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” Is this music which is the gateway to the imagined world—idealistic, utopic. It gives soul to the universe in the sense that it emphasizes the hymn of the universe in its everyday galactic empowerment to its constellated space. It gives wings to the mind, for it is merging with the air we breathe and travel across distances which may or may not exist, factually or fictively. It enables the person to use music as a form of flight, though not escapist, to let the imagination flow and float to a lot of distances in order to construe a melody and a rhythm that speaks for the heart. Lastly, it is the imagination and life to everything, because music is the exponent of life—it is what characterizes the movement of life—every beat, rhythm, melody, tempo—all musical notes dance to us and to our society.

On the other hand, Victor Hugo asserts that “music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.” It is true that music is something just heard, even it is voiceless, that one is able to feel the emotions flowing from it. Music then is an avenue of expression, something that can transform words into musical notes and play it, swimming through the tides of the air, and eventually serenading the caves of the ears, until it strums the inner drum of our being with all its glorified tune. Lastly, Aldous Huxley quips that “after silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” Primarily, there is no complete silence, as silence itself is music, the music of plainness. Silence is an avenue of many meanings and metaphors that cannot be fully exclaimed through words, that the only resort is the vague utterance of silence, devoid of voice. There is another one, which is hymn-filled, the music, which is also the best avenue for expression that it expresses what can be said, that sometimes it’s best to express things into music.

Clustering all the concepts, the definition of music or the construction of music itself can be given a meaning of, “the coloring of silence with feelings and emotions, taking words into flight to the imagined landscapes.” After all, a lot of important musicians were categorized under the romantic age, namely Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner, Chopin, Verdi, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and Tchaikovsky because their music embodied a lot of emotions and feelings, or embodied what it means to be a romantic poem. As a chief influence, music is also transcribed into different poems, making it lyrical with its emphasis on Wordsworth’s “Preface to the Lyrical Ballads” as well as the poem of Shelley, which is musical in substance and surface value.

B. Poetic Structure

It is important to note primarily that this poem is an ode, which is a romantic avenue for many romantic poets to voice out the issues or the thoughts of their minds in form of a praise while incorporating their own surge of emotions. However unique a skylark may be, Shelley uses this bird as his subject for the ode which is just a natural being that many people do not even give importance to. It is this intrinsic characteristic of the bird that made Shelley to offer an ode because it knows no one will be able to know the secret he wants to share with the creature.

The poem has twenty one (21) stanzas chunked into five lines each, where lines are alternating between rhymed tetrameter of a trochee stress and a hexameter of an iamb stress. It is a tetrameter primarily because of its three-beat characteristic, while it is trochaically stressed because of its pattern of a stressed syllable, followed by an unstressed one. It is important to note that this trochee characteristic is like “singing” (SING is stressed, “nging” is unstressed) and therefore patterns itself like one is singing the lines. It is a hexameter of an iamb stress occurring on the fifth line of every stanza because of its six-beat characteristic, while it is iambically stressed because of the poetic reversal of the stress of the trochees, now an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable. The rhyme scheme ultimately falls into ABABB.

C. Tone Analysis

As emphasized earlier, the poem itself is like singing because of its rhymed trochaic tetrameters and eventually dies out during the fifth line, which is an iambic hexameter. In short, it is like an alternation of an introduction of a sound, but it eventually dies: an introductory sound only, not forming a complete melodic hymn. Perhaps because it is engraved using a text that it is not flying yet, and it would be able to mend its wings when it is transcribed into poetic music. Finally, the poem has qualities of calm and serenading music, emphasized by the use of its words, as well as colorful alliteration to suggest the romantic beauty of such poetry.

D. Poetic Analysis

The central core of the poem lies in its rich romantic imagery and musical relevance. It’s best to analyze the poem per stanza in order to extract properly the meaning of poem accompanied by a contextual (or milieu-based) and romantic analysis (or critique) though with the exception of the first stanza, being analyzed per line. For reference of the complete poem, please see the appendix after the paper.

The first stanza of the poem opens its invocation to the bird, which is an apostrophe. It is a happy calling to the bird which he refers to a “Spirit.” It is important to note that capitalization actually is an important matter, and that perhaps this “Spirit” is something of a very important being which could be expounded further on as the poem fluxes. The second line juxtaposes with the first one, where the speaker retracts that the bird is not a bird, perhaps this indicative that the skylark is more than a bird as he referred to it as a “Spirit.” Come the third line, he embodies the skylark into a being from Heaven, which is again capitalized that may give a hint of being sacred, or being a supernatural creature. As in the fourth line, the skylark is personified with emotions which is an important part of the romantic trend. Its emotions flows and flows together with its singing (welcomed in the fifth line) creating an art which is natural, which is again a core quality of romanticism—its interest in the “uncouth” (used in a romantic sense, to be uncivilized) or the “primitive.” This skylarks perhaps is one of the most important embodiments in the life of Shelley serving as an inspiration for his poetry.

The second stanza of the poem emphasizes on the flight of the skylark, in which it goes higher and higher. Typically, a skylark only sings during its flight, and perhaps that its higher flight resonates a better melodic hymn. It is characterized to be a “cloud of fire” for two things: (1) that fire emphasizes a burning sensation of emotions and in its physically scientific sense, that (2) the cloud of fire goes up and up for it has a light weight, just how the candle fire always reaching for the sky even though it is turned upside down. As the skylark flies higher, soaring, it merges itself with the sea-color of the sky. The stanza uses a lot of words of nature like the fire, the sea, the spring, and the sky as forms of emphasizing the emotions present in the stanza.

The third stanza somehow presents a shift in emotions where the golden lightning and the sunken sun presents a vivid picturesque of the sunset, shooting the beautiful rays of sunlight as its sets itself down the mountains. It uses the clouds to illuminate its rays to call for the ending of the day. But the skylark itself still soars and flies, ephemeral as it would be perceived, it continues to fly like a “Spirit,” bodiless, but embodying full ecstasy to energize itself in the race of life. The third stanza operates itself in the dawning of the sun, presenting the night which is of darkness that may befell the life of Shelley. Shelley’s life had constant darkness, that when he soars, there’ll be a moment where he’ll eventually fall. In this context, Shelley wishes to fly and soar while singing the hymn of happiness even though darkness prepares itself to wrap the world with its abysmal pastels.

The fourth stanza of the poem introduces finally the evening in which Shelley used the word “even,” which can be characterized as an “evener” or that which is equating or smoothening. The plum color of the night melts through the flight of the lark, scattering as it melts in the sky. Shelley compares the skylark into a star in the morning, which is present but can’t be seen, or in the case of Shelley, that even the skylark soars into the darkness of the sky as it continuously merges its wings in the flight to the evening, it can still be heard. This stanza focuses on the notion that what’s important is not what we could actually see, it’s what we could actually hear or feel as things may not be as what you see it as such. In the romantic sense, neo-classicism condemned imperfections and flaws and associated it with different magnanimous omens in the world. However, it is not the physical attributes to what should be seen, or the surface, it should focus on the substance. That, being naturally flawed does not equate to a flaw in overall, because what is ideally the best is that what it is inside—its internal music. The fifth stanza is almost the same with the fourth, but the fifth one focuses on the morning star, Venus, unable to be seen during the broad daylight though it infinitely shimmers and flickers. The skylark’s music is like a beam of light piercing through the air like bullets of light. Its “silvery” color characterizes a holy nature that its music is like the sunlight of the Heavens above.

The sixth stanza focuses on the hyperbolic analogy of the music of the skylark that transcends the global arena; that, the music of the skylark is like a meteor shower the spans the whole sea of the sky. It is just one lonely cloud that is able to illuminate its rays of music to the world through the moonlight with its essence overflowing against the currents of Heaven. Though the impossible reigns here, it is very normal in romanticism to use hyperbolic imagery, as it is a fictive product, a result of the meditative emancipation of the reality to connive a construction of imagination as a triumphant king. However come the seventh stanza, the speaker now wonders on the perfect or ideal descriptive comparison to the skylark, as it is so great he can’t compare it just to anything that goes beyond hyperbole. It is able to control the clouds to shower a rain of melody, which is then combined with the rainbow of the third line of this stanza. Here, there is a mixture of many elements of nature which is the same with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein where a monster is created using anything natural or just found on the way. This romantic sense emphasizes on the beauty of nature and its illuminated abundance come its mixture and merging with more vivifying elements.

The eighth stanza of the poem is one of the most important stanzas of the poem, as it is the intersection of nature and art. In this stanza, the speaker compares the skylark now to a poet who sings “unbidden” humans or humans that are just produced naturally without any coercive manifestations. The poem’s lines serve as an attention-grabber—that which clamps the people to pay attention to the nature itself, which has always faced degradation over the years. There are many feelings, realizations, and other thoughts existing in the world, yet they are unseen, unrealized. Through the power of the poet, however, he is able to create lines that is able to emphasize on the current situation of the world, or to address—like the music eternally serenading from the sky, showering its notes to the world. There is the poem, but it needs to be felt and heard to unveil its potential; else, it’s just good as a block or chunk of text. The ninth poem now transcends from poet to princess, in which the skylark is compared to a beautiful and unparalleled maiden in a tower. Noting here is the image of height in three forms: (1) the elevation of height as a form of aristocratic power, of being born in the high society; (2) the height as a form of physical landscape, in which the maiden is situated; (3) the height in figurative form, that the maiden is flying with all her beauty, and is hard to reach because a lover may not be adequate or deserving for her love. The third and fourth line characterizes a romantic longing for herself, that she soothes herself with romances in her aloneness, going to the fifth line where the music encages the whole room of the princess. This can be characterized with Shelley’s affinity for writing, that the music itself serves as his driving force to write. The tenth stanza compares now the skylark into a glow worm where it only glows at night. The stanza primarily intensifies the idea of things that are better felt and heard than seen; that there are many beautiful things in nature that we are unable to witness, but they are performing their wonderful miracles continuously even though no one is able to see it. It’s just like Shelley’s life when he is submerged into the darkness. Come his eventual downfall from his friends and family, no one is able to appreciate Shelley’s way with words as a poet.

The eleventh stanza compares the skylark into a rose which is surrounded by its leaves. It’s hard to set sight on the rose because of the jungle-like leaves alternating as a form of gate. The green leaves can also be extended to the thorns of the rose, which is hard to grab. It emphasizes that one needs not to hold things or to possess things just to appreciate its beauty; that, seeing it is already a pure form of appreciating nature. However, the dilemma lies on the gate-like feature of the leaves. In this sense, we do not need to see the rose, but instead, as the lines go on, we just need to smell the scent blown by the lovely wind as a form of thief in the night, stealing the smell of the rose and eventually scatter it in the sky. The twelfth stanza goes on to the comparison of the skylark’s music into a twinkling grass, in contrast with a dull grass; and into flowers awakened by the rain blossoming into a lovely view to form a wonderful music. Here, the speaker uses everyday natural things—grasses and flowers, which are just very plain. However, the music of the skylark goes beyond it, that it makes the grass even sparkle, and the flowers to have the personified sleep and woke up from it, blossoming in its full potential. The last lines of the stanza is very striking, for it exclaims again the wondrous nature of the skylark and its music: both are unparalleled and incomparable. This is equated to Shelley’s love for science and literature. We see that his passionate love for studying is like the skylark’s music, he feels it, hears it, is able to strum the notes of it, and yet, he is unable to compare it to something worth comparing and thus, unparalleled, paramount.

The thirteenth stanza is an obvious shift of tone, in which the speaker uses again an apostrophe to appeal to the bird, now he characterizes as a “sprite” or a magical fairy. He again uses the imagery of the supernatural (contrasted to earlier, “Spirit” and the recurring motif of “Heaven” with the capital “H”) to depict his doubt as he is nonplussed about the nature of the skylark for it sings so well that it can’t be just an earthly creature. The speaker problematizes now what makes the singing of the skylark so beautiful; that it is even beyond the historical appreciation for wines, or even the flood of rapture. Here are both biblical allusions; we have the wine which is the “blood of Christ” and the flood of rapture, which is the story of Noah’s Ark as a path to salvation. The wine and the ark incidents are both miraculous, and that which is being problematized—the miraculous singing of the skylark. The wine of emotions flood in this stanza. There is again a shift of comparison come the fourteenth stanza, which perhaps say that maybe, the music of the skylark is like the chants for victory or marriage—but the speaker finds it empty as both are occasional or thematic, in which the music of the skylark is universal and applicable to all, poetically transcending. Comparing this to such earthly poetries may instigate a lack, or a longing for something because it seems to be incomparable with the music of the skylark.

The fifteenth stanza is also one of the most amazing stanzas of the poem as it is the nonplussing thoughts of the speaker exposed. The speaker constantly wonders how the skylark is very happy in its life, or how it is able to be ecstatic in its flying? This dilemma of course corners the speaker into wondering, if the skylark sings for the nature and uses them as a subject or motif for the music, or perhaps the skylark sings its emotions instead? This could situate Shelley’s many dilemmas in life, where he is cornered into decisions of happiness. He is envious of the skylark’s happiness that he wants to know how the skylark is able to manifest such lovely music. The skylark’s music is absent of its pain, while Shelley experienced one. The last line of the stanza problematizes the world stripped from pain—that, is it possible to mend art without inflicting any pain? We are made aware that Shelley wrote Necessity of Atheism which garnered a lot of negative and snide remarks against him. Then he problematizes if it would be possible to write without even inflicting pain—or to musically sing it without suffering? The sixteenth stanza exposes the triumph of language over pain, or emotions over human reason. Here, the speaker asks how such a beautiful music could be indicative of pain, as well as how great works, product of study and research be characterized as an indicator of suffering. The bird is construes a barrier shielding from the pangs of suffering because of the ecstasy felt by the bird. The speaker exclaims now that the bird is full of love that it has no room for pain, that this speaker completely personifies the skylark as an embodiment of love which will never be presented with any kind of digression.

The seventeenth stanza performs quite a miraculous feat: of being a supernatural entity capable of governing its vision towards humans. The extremely elevated flight of the skylark enables itself to see the humans below it, to see beyond the normal perceptions of all people in the Earth. The speaker recognizes this feat because of the miraculous serenading effect of the skylark that it performs a miracle music that can only be associated with spirits of the supreme form, perhaps of angels. As the poem travels to the eighteenth stanza, the tone changes now into a more serious one; that as humans, we are always trapped by the chains of the past or we are paranoid about our future; we eventually forget the present. In the movie Kung Fu Panda, the wise tortoise exclaims, “you are too concerned with what was and with what will be. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.” The speaker exclaims that people are always concerned with something’s done. It’s done and getting stuck in the past will never get you anywhere. The future is a mystery—no one knows what will be happening. It is the present, God’s gift, we should focus on because it is what is happening, and the present itself shapes the mystery of the future as another eventual present (gift). Whatever we do now, even we laugh or sing happy tunes, we’ll eventually find tinges of sadness in it, that our mortality dictates our eventual rise and downfall. In the life of Shelley, he did not concern himself with the future, that he lamented on what to do with this and that, as he had a lot of quick-decision making in his life. He concentrated in the present because it’s the “here and now” (in the Elizabethan age, the humanist perspective) and it should matter. The happiest people are usually the saddest, for they have sacrificed a lot of things in order to achieve happiness. The nineteenth stanza problematizes the notion if a human can dehumanize himself and live like a lark, free from all negative notions in life. In this stanza, the speaker then poses questions of humanistic existence or of the existentialism trend. He poses the question what if we are not humans and we are instead, skylarks. But as humans, we are prone to suffering, that we can’t achieve the truest form of happiness by relying merely on wishing to be happy. If you want to be happy, then be. Just like in Archibald MacLeish’s Ars Poetica, “A poem should not mean, but be.” This again alludes to Shelley’s life that his works should just be, and not should mean anything. It should be free from any negative condemnation that even includes the poet himself.

The twentieth stanza emphasizes the greatness of the skylark again, in which the speaker compares it with all other music, or other literary treasures in books. The poet himself is unable to perfectly write about the skylark, or to characterize its music because it’s natural—that there are things bound to be higher than us or beyond description. In the romantic notion, it resists the perfection of writing and instead dives into the natural world to describe the skylark. The final stanza of the poem is very important though the theme is recurring from all other stanzas. This stanza closes the poem to its end, with the first two lines the speaker is seeking the skylark’s guidance on how to properly acquire happiness, even just a part of it. That, knowing even a part of the bird’s happiness would help the poet to sing and hum the happiness even it incorporates two opposing forces of harmony (order) and madness (disorder). The curtain of the poem ends sadly, that he wants the world to hear his lamentations—the art of his life, but then again, he shall never know the truest form of the skylark’s happiness, as a human, he is limited and confined to the humanly way of achieving happiness, that is, opening the gift of the present time and maximizing its fullest potential.

D. Conclusion

The poem is actually rich in the overflowing of imagination but it is actually a poem of longing and sadness. The poem dives into the longing of the poet’s happiness and his enviousness towards the skylark—on how a skylark can be so happy and devoid of any form of sadness, or how the skylark is an embodiment of an utopic world while the speaker’s can probably be a bit dysfunctional or dystopic. This is primarily a romantic poem because of its evoking of many themes of nature, its full comparison to many views of the land and the sky. It incorporates the tenets and earmarks of romanticism such as resistance to imperfection, catering to the primitive, overflowing feelings, sentimental melancholy (the poet’s longing, sadness), imagination over reason (the utopic ideals presented in the poem, which intersects with its hyperbolic images), and its rich poetic diction (that which is hard to decipher because of the complexity of the language).

The poem as well can be indicative of Shelley’s life because of his downfalls. Primarily, Shelley was sad because of the bullying he received and he laments how can he achieve happiness without all these bullyings. Secondly, he asks the guidance of the skylark to teach him to fully achieve happiness in his love for philosophy, even though his ideals are strongly opposed by the clergy in that time. His publication of the Necessity of Atheism garnered him a lot of hate, as well as his future elopement with Mary Wollstonecraft while having a wife garnering him as immoral and blasphemous. In his biography, it is evident that he experienced a lot of downfalls that is hard to transcend, and that’s why he uses the supreme figure of the skylark to help him outgrow the sadness he constantly experiences. And in the end, we can see that his death became an avenue to his bliss that he is now at peace, and in his death, he is one of the most celebrated poets of the romantic age and literature.



Percy Bysshe Shelley

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!                                                                                                Stanza 1

Bird thou never wert,

That from Heaven, or near it,

Pourest thy full heart

In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

Higher still and higher                                                                                           Stanza 2

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                                                                                          Stanza 3

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                                                                                            Stanza 4

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                                                                                         Stanza 5

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                                                                                               Stanza 6

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;                                                                                   Stanza 7

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                                                                                                           Stanza 8

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                                                                                        Stanza 9

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                                                                                      Stanza 10

In a dell of dew,

Scattering unbeholden

Its a real hue

Among the flowers and grass, which screen it from the view:

Like a rose embower’d                                                                                          Stanza 11

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                                                                                      Stanza 12

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,                                                                                       Stanza 13

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,                                                                                                            Stanza 14

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                                                                              Stanza 15

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                                                                                   Stanza 16

Languor cannot be:

Shadow of annoyance

Never came near thee:

Thou lovest: but ne’er knew love’s sad satiety.

Waking or asleep,                                                                                                Stanza 17

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,                                                                                     Stanza 18

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                                                                                            Stanza 19

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                                                                                        Stanza 20

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                                                                                  Stanza 21

That thy brain must know,

Such harmonious madness

From my lips would flow

The world should listen then, as I am listening now.

[1] De Vore, David, et. al., The Gothic Novel – University of California, Davis, (accessed September 13, 2013).

[2] Gothic: Origins – Melbourne High School, (accessed September 13, 2013).

[3] Klancher, Jon (ed), The Concise Companion to the Romantic Age (Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 57

[4] Lucas, Frank Lawrence, The Decline and Fall of Romantic Ideal (New York: Macmillan Co., 1936)

[5] Fowler, Thomas and Mitchell, John Malcolm, “Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of” in Encyclopædia Britannica 24 (11th ed.) ed. Hugh Chrisholm (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press), 763-765.

[6] Harold Bloom, Bloom’s Major Poets: Percy Bysshe Shelley (New York: Infobase Publishing, 2001), 15.

[7] Ibid, 16

[8] The short biography of Shelley’s life was lifted from both Harold Bloom’s work as cited in Footnote #6 and from the Poetry Foundation (, accessed September 13, 2013).

[9] Shelley, Percy Bysshe, To A Skylark, (Accessed September 13, 2013)


One thought on “Musing Aero Tones: A Romantic and Contextual Analysis of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “To A Skylark”

    […] Musing Aero Tones: A Romantic and Contextual Analysis of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “To A Sk… […]

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