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To a Skylark

bird, shelleys and exquisite

TO A SKYLARK. Shelley's perhaps the most famous of English lyrics, was written at Leghorn, Italy, and published with (Prometheus Unbound) in 1820. It is com posed of 21 five-line stanzas, each of which ends with a long line that represents the brief pause of the bird on the wing as it prepares for yet higher flight. Mrs. Shelley says: gIn the spring we spent a week or two at Leghorn, borrowing the house of some friends who were absent on a journey to England. It was on a beautiful summer evening while wandering among the lanes, whose myrtle hedges were the bowers of the fireflies, that we heard the carolling of the skylark which inspired one of the most beautiful oi his poems.)) This exquisite lyric has been used in generations of school •read ers)) and uselections,) but even such familiar handling has not served to tarnish the peculiar qualities in which it still remains matchless and unapproachable. Shelley's skylark, unlike Wordsworth's, loses itself in the empyrean; it is a spirit not a bird, an embodied voice, an aspiration. It is beside the mark to urge that

the poem has defects of its qualitiesio; for, from the standpoint of what the poet meant to do, it has no defects. It is a perfect work of art, having a worthy purpose which it perfectly attains. The poem pursues the flight and the song of the bird swtftly up to the blue; four exquisite similes liken the lark to the poet, to the maiden, to the glow-worm and to the rose; the song of the bird sings itself in the heart of the poet; at the end comes the pathos of the infinite and unsatisfied desire never absent from Shelley's nature lyrics. The criticism of almost a century has applied to the 'Skylark' the epi thets which have long since become banal but which seem inevitable: it is melodious, exquisite, ethereal, ecstatic. As such it is unsurpassed and is probably unsurpassable. Wordsworth's (Sky lark' represents a more human point of view; Keats' (Ode to a Nightingale,' an equally con summate achievement of a different kind.