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Like a rose embowered
In its own green leaves,
By warm winds deflowered,
Till the scent it gives
Makes faint with too much sweet these heavy-winged
Sound of vernal showers
On the twinkling grass,
All that ever was
Joyous, and clear, and fresh, thy music doth surpass.
Teach us, sprite or bird,
What sweet thoughts are thine :
I have never heard
Praise of love or wine
That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine.
Or triumphal chaunt,
Matched with thine would be all
But an empty vaunt,
A thing wherein we feel there is some hidden want.
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? 75
With thy clear keen joyance
Shadow of annoyance
Never came near thee :
Thou lovest, but ne'er knew love's sad satiety.
Waking or asleep,
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? 85
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. 90
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.
Better than all measures
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
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow,
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.
- PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY.
Many critics of fine taste consider this poem the best example of the lyric mood and movement to be found in the whole range of English literature. The exquisite music of the verse and the purely poetic spirit of this song give it a high place, if not the very highest, among the great lyrics of the world.
The skylark is found everywhere in Europe, and is noted for the sweetness of its song. Its name, "sky-lark," indicates its habit of mounting to the sky, singing as it goes, until it is almost, or entirely, lost to view. Mrs. Shelley has told us that this poem was composed during a mood of inspiration as the poet was "listening to the caroling of the bird, aloft in the azure sky of Italy," where the author was traveling. Many poets, including Shakespeare, have been inspired by the singing of the skylark, but it is safe to say that Shelley has surpassed them all.
The chief marks of "lyric poetry "are – the spontaneity, intensity, and subjectivity (personal quality) of the feeling; and the melody of the verse.
I. GENERAL EXERCISES
1. Of what human emotion or state of being is the skylark a symbol in this poem? Select passages from the poem which sustain your answer. What is the implied comparison or contrast between the bird's nature and human nature?
2. The poem has a definite structure. What stanzas give a poetic description of the bird's position as a sort of introduction? Then several stanzas (how many?) attempt to give the poet's feeling of the exquisite melody of the bird's song, by comparing it to other things. What stanza serves as a sort of transition from the thought of the bird's unalloyed happiness to the imperfect joys of human life? The stanzas following form the conclusion; what is the thought that runs through them all?
3. Study the similes used by the poet. Show the respects in which the second, or illustrative, element of each simile is like the bird's singing. Which of the similes do you like best?
4. How does the last stanza show the attitude of the poet toward the bird? Compare this feeling with that of Bryant in "To a Waterfowl."
II. SPECIAL EXERCISES
1. Why does the poet address the bird as a "spirit"? What feeling is expressed by the words "Hail to thee"? 2. Does this mean to deny the fact of the bird's existence? If not, what is the special meaning of the line? What word should be emphasized most in reading?
8. In the words "like a cloud of fire," there may be a sort of double comparison fire leaps upward continuously, swiftly, naturally; but the bird is high in the sky, and some plainer language, such as a flame" of fire, would not be so fitting as the word "cloud,” — for a cloud floats high in the air and is supported by the air, just as the bird is. Besides, does not the poet's language impress us as an effort to express the inexpressible; a bright fancy, caught as it flitted into his gifted mind, not something carefully studied out? Yet could it have occurred to him without an inspiring occasion, and a spiritual striving for an expression of his feeling? 10. What peculiar characteristic has this line?
11-13. What time is thought of? 11. What does "lightning" mean as used here? Why "golden" lightning? 13. How do you explain the word "O'er" here? 15. Compare the word "unbodied " with "spirit" in line 1.
16. "pale" compare this with line 11; why the changing of descriptive words? 20. Why do we not see the stars during daylight? Why is the comparison impressive? Is the word "shrill" too harsh? 21. What are meant here by "arrows ? 22. What is meant by "that silver sphere"? 23. What does "narrows" mean in this connection? Why speak of that silver sphere's lamp as "intense"? 23-25. How is this true to nature and human experience? With what thought of the previous stanza is this stanza connected? How do lines 23-25 make the comparison in line 18 clearer?
29. Why is such a scene more impressive when there is only one lonely cloud," instead of many clouds? 30. What is the implied comparison? In what respects are joy and sweet singing alike?
31. What is the relation of this line to the preceding stanzas? 32. How is this thought related to that of the preceding line, and to what follows? 33. What does the poet mean by "rainbow clouds"? There are several very beautiful elements in this comparison that the student may not apprehend at the first reading: the falling of the
raindrops is continuous, and so is the bird's song; the sun is the source of the light that is refracted and thrown back to the eye in beautiful colors through the medium of the water, and the bird's power of song, an instinct, is the means of expressing the feeling it receives from a higher source, the infinity of nature; again, the rainbow is the most beautiful effect that can be produced by light, so the singing of this bird is the most exquisite melody that mortals have ever heard. The poet's effort to express in words the nature and sweetness of joy is like a painter's attempt to paint a rainbow gleaming from a shower, while he is beholding its beauty. This is a good illustration of how a figure of speech affords mental pleasure by awakening many associated ideas. Notice also that sight and hearing, the two "noble senses" furnish the basis of the figure. Compare the imagery in lines 33-35 with that of the preceding stanza.
36. Refer to line 32. In what sense can any one be "hidden" in the "light" of thought? Poets have a better insight into Nature and human life than people of only ordinary gifts. Why must a poet also have a genius for beautiful and effective "expression" of thoughts and feelings that are derived from this genius of insight? 38. Are the poet's hymns always "unbidden"? 40. Show that this poem calls attention to things that usually attract little or no attention.
41. How is the bird like "a highborn" maiden? Why represent her as in a tower? Why the tower of a palace? 45. What is the most effective means of soothing a "love-laden soul? What is the usual theme of most of the popular ballads of the day? "bower" mean here?
46. What is a "glowworm"? Note that both "glow" and "golden" have the same open sound of "o"; is the effect pleasing? What word in line 48 contains the same sound? What does the phrase "of dew" express? 49. In what sense is the light of the glowworm "aerial"? 50. What is necessary on man's part in order that he may see and enjoy the gifts of nature?
53. Note how much thought is suggested by a word or two. 55. Who are the "heavy-winged thieves"? Does "too much sweet" imply that it is best for us to have some bitter in the experiences of life? The poet is reluctant to stop with these similes of incomparable beauty. How is the next stanza a sort of final effort to describe the bird's song? 57. Why say the "twinkling" grass? 58. What thoughts are suggested by the adjective "Rain-awakened"?