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To a Skylark -- Percy Bysshe Shelley

Guest poem submitted by Firdaus Janoos:
(Poem #1495) 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.

      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.

      In the golden light'ning
        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
        Melts around thy flight;
      Like a star of heaven,
        In the broad daylight
 Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight-

      Keen as are the arrows
        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
        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;
        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
        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
        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
        In a dell of dew,
      Scattering unbeholden
        Its aërial hue
 Among the flowers and grass which screen it from the view:

      Like a rose embower'd
        In its own green leaves,
      By warm winds deflower'd,
        Till the scent it gives
 Makes faint with too much sweet those heavy-wingèd thieves.

      Sound of vernal showers
        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,
        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,
        Or triumphal chant,
      Match'd with thine would be all
        But an empty vaunt-
 A thin 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?

      With thy clear keen joyance
        Languor cannot be:
      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?

      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.

      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
The best poetry is what Shelley terms "unpremeditated art". This is
almost in line with the Zen philosophy of effortless achievement. This,
perhaps the loveliest of Shelley's poems, is a tribute of art born of
pure understanding. But there is also an acknowledgement that the
frailties of humans -- hate, pride, fear, sorrow -- are essential
ingredients of the human experience, however flawed that might be. Quite
paradoxical.

The lines:

     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.

are some of the best lines in English poetry -- a tribute to his muse,
something like Kubla Khan, or Wordsworth's 'Highland lass' -- inspiring
them to heights of poetry.

50 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

joolee said...

Thank you for sharing this poem. It has always been a
favourite poem but I realise that it has been a decade
since I last read it. Where has the time gone?

Regards,

Joo Lee

Suresh Ramasubramanian said...

[4/14/2004 1:01 AM] Abraham Thomas :

> Guest poem submitted by Firdaus Janoos:
>
> "To a Skylark"

Jeez. I'd have thought there isn't one "famous" poem that hasn't been
run on minstrels so far, and here comes this one, which is a fixture in
just about every high school poetry textbook from panorama onwards.

Any more well known poems left?

srs

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