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To a Skylark

Percy Bysshe Shelley

(1792 - 1822 AD)

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This poem is not only my own favorite, but also my father's favorite one!

This version is collected from a compilation titled 'English Literature' by Edward J. Gordon, from Ginn Literature Series published by Ginn and Company, USA.

 

 

To  a  Skylark

 

Hail to thee, blithe spirit!

Bird thou never wert,

That from heaven, or near it,

Pourest thy full heart

In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

 

5

Higher still and higher

From the earth thou springest

Like a cloud of fire;

The blue deep thou wingest,

And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

 

10

In the golden lightning

Of the sunken sun,

O'er which clouds are brightning,

Thou dost float and run;

Like an unbodied1 joy whose race is just begun.

 

15

The pale purple even2

Melts around thy flight;

Like a star of heaven,

In the broad daylight

Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight,

 

20

Keen as are the arrows

Of that silver sphere,3

Whose intense lamp narrows

In the white dawn clear,

Until we hardly see, we feel that it is there.

 

25

All the earth and air

With thy voice is loud,

As, when night is bare,

From one lonely cloud

The moon rains out her beams, and heaven is overflowed.

 

30

What thou art we know not;

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.

 

35

Like a poet hidden

In the light of thought,

Singing hymns unbidden,

Till the world is wrought

To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:

 

40

Like a high-born maiden

In a palace tower,

Soothing her love-laden

Soul in secret hour

With music sweet as love, which overflows her bower:

 

45

Like a glowworm golden

In a dell of dew,

Scattering unbeholden

Its aërial hue

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

 

50

Like a rose embowered

In its own green leaves,

By warm winds deflowered,4

Till the scent it gives

Makes faint with too much sweet these heavy-wingèd thieves:5

 

55

Sound of vernal showers

On the twinkling grass,

Rain-awakened flowers,

All that ever was

Joyous, and clear, and fresh, thy music doth surpass:

 

60

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.

 

65

Chorus Hymeneal,6

Or triumphal chant,

Matched with thine would be all

But an empty vaunt,

A thing wherein we feel there is some hidden want.

 

70

What objects are the fountains7

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

Languor cannot be:

Shadow of annoyance

Never came near thee:

Thou lovest; but ne'er know love's sad satiety.

 

80

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 thoughts.

 

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.

 

95

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!

 

100

Teach me half the gladness

That thy brain must know,

Such harmonious madness

From my lips would flow,

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

 

105

Notes:

1. unbodied: disembodied.

2. even: evening.

3. silver sphere: the morning star.

4. deflowered: fully opened.

5. thieves: i.e., the winds.

6. Chorus Hymeneal (hī'mƏnē'Əl): wedding song.

7. fountains: sources.

 

 
   
   
 

 


More works by Percy Bysshe Shelley can be found at Online Literature Network website.

 

A Short Biography of Shelley

collected from Online Literature website

Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1792-1822, poet and husband of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.

The only mature portrait of the poet to be surely authenticated was painted by Amelia Curran, daughter of the Irish statesman John Philpott Curran, in 1819 when the Shelleys were living in Rome where she was in residence as a student still learning her basic craft. Although thus the product of an inexperienced portraitist and never thought very true by Shelley's intimate friends, the romantic cast of the painting has had a marked impact on the popular conception of Shelley as an otherworldly aesthete. It was first reproduced as an engraving in Finden's Landscape & Portrait Illustrations to the Life and Works of Lord Byron, Volume 2 (London: John Murray, 1832), which is the version included here. The original is in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

 

English Romantic poet who rebelled against English politics and conservative values. Shelley was considered with his friend Lord Byron a pariah for his life style. He drew no essential distinction between poetry and politics, and his work reflected the radical ideas and revolutionary optimism of the era. Like many poets of his day, Shelley employed mythological themes and figures from Greek poetry that gave an exalted tone for his visions.

Percy Bysshe Shelley was the heir of a rich estate acquired by his grandfather. He was born at Field Place, near Horsham in Sussex, into an aristocratic family. His father, Timothy Shelley, was a Sussex squire and a member of Parliament. Shelley attended Syon House Academy and Eton and in 1810 he entered the Oxford University College.

In 1811 Shelley was expelled from the college for publishing THE NECESSITY OF ATHEISM, which he wrote with Thomas Jefferson Hogg. They both refused to answer any questions about the pamphlet, which had been sent to the heads of the colleges and a number of bishops. Shelley's father renounced his inheritance in favor of a small annuity, after he had eloped with the 16-year old Harriet Westbrook, the daughter of a London tavern owner. The pair spent the following two years traveling in England and Ireland, distributing pamphlets and speaking against political injustice. Shelley tried to set up a small community of free spirits At Lynmouth in Devon. He moved to Wales after finding out, that he was watched by Home Office spies because of his radical activities and writings. While living at Tanyrallt in Carnarvonshire he was attacked by a shepherd who fired three shots at him. Shelley continued his nomadic living and published in 1813 his first important poem, the atheistic QUEEN MAB.

The poet's first marriage turned to be failure. In 1814 Shelley traveled abroad with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, the daughter of the philosopher and anarchist William Godwin (1756-1836). Also Mary's young stepsister Jane (Claire) Clairmont was in the company. During this journey Shelley wrote an unfinished novella, THE ASSASSINS (1814). The combined journal, SIX WEEKS' TOUR, reworked by Mary Shelley, appeared in 1817. After their return to London, Shelley came into an annual income under his grandfather's will. Harriet drowned herself in the Serpentine in 1816. Shelley married Mary Wollstonecraft and his favorite son William was born in 1816 - William died a few years later in Rome.

The poet's first marriage turned to be failure. In 1814 Shelley traveled abroad with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, the daughter of the philosopher and anarchist William Godwin (1756-1836). Also Mary's young stepsister Jane (Claire) Clairmont was in the company. During this journey Shelley wrote an unfinished novella, THE ASSASSINS (1814). The combined journal, SIX WEEKS' TOUR, reworked by Mary Shelley, appeared in 1817. After their return to London, Shelley came into an annual income under his grandfather's will. Harriet drowned herself in the Serpentine in 1816. Shelley married Mary Wollstonecraft and his favorite son William was born in 1816 - William died a few years later in Rome.

The summer of 1816 Shelley spent with Lord Byron at Lake Geneva, where Byron had an affair with Clairmont. Shelley composed HYMN TO INTELLECTUAL BEAUTY and MONT BLANC. Mary Wollstonecraft started her famous novel Frankenstein. In 1817 Shelley published his political pamphlet THE REVOLT OF ISLAM, a poem, where the principal characters, originally brother and sister, become lovers. Cynthna, a maiden, joins forces with revolutionary Laon. They are burned alive as a sacrifice to the famine and pestilence which follows the people's revolt. In the poem 'Ozymandias' (1818) Shelley commented the fleeting nature of fame and power. Ozymandias is the Greek name for Ramses II of Egyp. His ruined statue is in the desert. On the pedestal is written: "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" but there is nothing to see but sand.

In 1818 the Shelleys and Clairmount moved to Italy, where Byron was residing. In 1819 they went to Rome and in 1820 to Pisa. Shelley's works from this period include JULIAN AND MADDALO, an exploration of his relations with Byron, PROMETHEUS UNBOUND, a lyrical drama drawn from Aeschylus Prometheus Bound. "Peace is in the grave. / The grave hides all things beautiful and good: / I am a God and cannot find it there." THE CENCI was a five-act tragedy based on the history of a 16th-century Roman family, and THE MASK OF ANARCHY was a political protest which was written after the Peterloo massacre. "One by one, and two by two / He tossed them human hearts to chew."

In 1822 the Shelley household, which now included Jane and Edward Williams, moved to the Bay of Lerici. There Shelley began to write THE TRIUMPH OF LIFE. To welcome his friend Leigh Hunt, he sailed to Leghorn. As much as he was near and on the water Shelley never learned to swim or navigate. He also forecasted many times his death by drowning. During the stormy return voyage to Lerici, his small schooner the Ariel sank and Shelley drowned with Edward Williams on July 8, 1822. The fisheaten bodies were washed ashore at Viareggio, where, in the presence of Lord Byron and Leigh Hunt, they were burned on the beach - his heart was given to his wife, who carried it with her in a silken shroud everywhere she went for the rest of her life. Shelley was later buried in Rome. There is a rumor that an old Italian seaman confessed on his deathbed that he had been a crewmember on a boat that collided intentionally with Shelley's ship in order to steal money hidden on board.

 


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