Symbolic significance of Shelley’s “Ode to a Skylark”
Q.S. Discuss the symbolic significance of Shelley’s “Ode to a Skylark”.
Ans. In “To a Skylark” the speaker addresses the skylark as a “blithe Spirit” rather than a bird, for its song comes from Heaven, and from its full heart pours “profuse strains of unpremeditated art”. The skylark flies higher and higher, “like a cloud of fire” in the blue sky, singing as it flies. In the “golden lightning” of the sun, it floats and runs, like “an unbodied joy”. As the skylark flies higher and higher, the speaker loses sight of it, but is still able to hear its “shrill delight”, which comes down as keenly as moonbeams in the “white dawn”. The earth and air ring with the skylark’s voice, just as Heaven overflows with moonbeams when the moon shines out from behind “a lonely cloud”.
Shelley idealizes the skylark and presents it as a unique creature. To him, it is not a creature of flesh and blood. By virtue of its celestial melody, it creates an aura of mystery. The speaker says that even “rainbow clouds” do not rain as brightly as the shower of melody that pours from the skylark. The bird is “like a poet hidden/In the light of thought,” able to make the world experience “sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not”. It is like a lonely maiden in a palace tower, who uses her song to soothe her lovelorn soul. It is like a golden glow-worm, scattering light among the flowers and grass in which it is hidden. It is like a rose embowered in its own green leaves, whose scent is blown by the wind until the bees are faint with “too much sweet”. The skylark’s song surpasses “all that ever was, / Joyous and clear and fresh”.
Calling the skylark “Sprite or Bird”, the speaker asks it to teach him its “sweet thoughts”, for he has never heard anyone or anything call up “a flood of rapture so divine”. Compared to the skylarks, any music would seem lacking. Calling the bird a “scorner of the ground”, he says that its music is better than all music and all poetry. He asks the bird to teach him “half the gladness / That thy brain must know”, for then he would overflow with “harmonious madness”, and his song would be so beautiful that the world would listen to him, even as he is now listening to the skylark.
To Shelley, the skylark is an immortal being symbolizing illimitable beauty. Its music is perfect embodiment of beauty and joy and hence an endless source of inspiration for the poet. It is Shelley’s natural metaphor for pure poetic expression, the “harmonious madness” of pure inspiration. The Skylark’s song issues from a state of purified existence, a notion of complete unity with heaven through nature; its song is motivated by the joy of the uncomplicated purity of being, and is unmixed with any hint of melancholy as human joy so often is. The skylark’s song rains down upon the world, surpassing every other beauty. Symbolically, the skylark’s song is an inspiration to the hearer to write poetry with the same properties — heavenly, harmonious, worth listening to.