Global Poet
(Jan.2001)
 

Buddha Frog Awaits

TO A SKYLARK

In Defense of the 'Poetic Edge'
And the restoration of the humanoid

The Tale of Buridans Ass

 

Otium sine litteris mors est et hominis vivi sepultura

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Shelley Biography

(1792-1822)

Silver Sphere
The Greeks
The Poem

Confused.....?
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The GoldFish Bowl of Confusion

Life, Philosophical Ramblings
& Other Shelley Poems

My Home Page

Shelley & Byron @
The Casa Magna

GOTHIC

 

Alastor - TSoS

 

Leonard Cohen

 

Life Is ....
Love Is ...

Pensive Times

Pensive Reflection

Love Quotes

Mary Shelley - My One Love

Death Quotes

Shelley On Death

 Byron        

Byron - The Darkness
The Skylark home page is a tribute to P.B. Shelley's work and his place in the realms of literary history. The 'importance of being Shelley' and his position in the literary 'hall of fame' still promotes healthy debate. John Murphy (1) for example describes him as a "Sad genius who tried to live a happy life" . Richard Holmes (2) in his definitive biography of Shelley puts it conciseley (he..) "moved everywhere with a sense of ulterior motive, a sense of greater design, an acute feeling for the historical moment and an overwhelming consciousness of his duty as an artist in the immense and fiery process of social change of which he knew himself to be part." Let the sparks begin! I chose the Skylark even though the poem is not heralded as his greatest poetical achievement. If one one puts the poem into its historical and social context there is much to be gleaned not only from the political and cultural climate of the time but also the hegomonic influences and experiences of Shelley himself. There are also volumes of literature dissecting the poetical construct itself. The charismatic constitution of the stanzas. The interplay between the oscillating (trochaic) trimeter as 'from the earth thou springest' followed by the sweeping hexameter (Alexandrine) "And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest". The intention is not to promote or demote the poem in terms of intellectual discourse or confront the bastions of intelligensia. It is a personal excursion permeating the cerebral matter, quivering unequivocally until the final keystroke of expression. A return perhaps to the oft neglected but very essence of what the appreciation of poetry (and art in general) should be; a personal exploration of the creative imagination .



Indeed Shelley, in 'Defense of Poetry' (3) realises that "even the greatest poetry will, through time, become nothing more than signs for classes of thought, loosing its poetic edge as a result". Art by definition is subjective. It is determined by the artist's individual meaning systems based on experience with an inner desire to mould its construction. For the observer it involves a deconstruction of its material form in an attempt to make meaning out of artist's expression. The process of construction and understanding is therefore a personal propagation of inner thought patterns. The result of this may be spectacular giving immense emotional pleasure. If the pleasure is heightened by adding more ingredients, for no other reason than personal aesthetic preference, that addition consolidates the appreciative process. If, however, the ingredients are added for a more functional (mechanical) reason it begins to err on the side of constructed design / appraisal . Where the demarcation exists is beyond the scope of this page. It does, however, open a debate as to validity of literary criticism. Ooops, I hear the bastions of literary academia rattling their crate at this very moment. But, for example, have you ever wrote a literary critique in the form of an essay. ? Has this resulted in the comment "I don't think this is what was intended". Yes, I have too (my apologies to the 'no's') . I once wrote an essay on D.H. Lawrence's 'The Rainbow'. Incidentally, a book I thoroughly enjoyed. I took a stance (as I nearly always do !) totally antithetical to the mainstream (and teacher's ) viewpoint. This was (as it should be) considered ok; as long as "you justify your viewpoint". I think I did but nevertheless the comments were "I don't think that is what Lawrence intended at all'. Point taken miss, but I did !!! I perhaps blew my credibility at one point when I wrote "Ursula, lays prostrate awaiting the ultimate connection". To which was commented "An egg presumably". Bless her ! At least she had a sense of humour.

Generally , I believe if it is what you perceive then it is what was intended. Good poetry , in my opinion , provokes a reaction in coexistence with an overabundance of confusion. By this supposition, it promotes a non conformist state of mind; ideas and feelings do not run in a linear fashion. I suppose a state of cognitive anarchy and thus subsequent (at least initial) unintelligibility. A 'Molotov Cocktail' made of flammable ideas exploding into a heated ball of contention. Would we want it any other way ?


I first read 'To A Skylark' at my comprehensive school in Scunthorpe ( I make no apologies here and I have heard all or perhaps most of the jokes ) , North Lincolnshire. Back in the early eighties Skylarks were a common occurrence on the heath nearby. I remember the fascination of watching this 'majestic bird as it soared to its commanding position over us . At the time I was an hyperactive teenager complete with acne and a tri-demsional mind that consisted only of playing football, watching football and reading about football. The skylark's beauty manifested itself only in its natural simplicity. No meandering traits of inner significance ever tinged my brow.

As the tenor of my page hopefully exhibits the beauty of 'To A Skylark' is in the eye of the beholder. I make no apologies for my thoughts on its intention as my (like your) thoughts are its intention. For me this intention is an unyielding excursion down the deepest caves , through the most beautiful valleys and up the highest mountains of inner discovery. So , in the words of the gallant Noah - All aboard the Skylark'


The skylark, however, is not a ship in Noah & Nellie's realm nor is it Shelley's biblical ark. Indeed Shelley's atheistic views are well documented (4) and led to his expulsion from Oxford. The inspiration may, as Mary Shelley observed "we heard the carolling of the skylark, which inspired one of his most beautiful poems" (5) , have come from this summer evening walk. But Shelley is using the skylark both rhetorically and metaphorically. The Skylark transcends the ordinary; it is a nexus of idealism and Shelley's own radical thought. Its message has the power to raise the political consciousness and promote the change that the poet desires. The 'unbodied joy' of 'that silver sphere' contains centuries of philosophical thought. The influence of Plato et al (see 'The Greeks' above) had a large impact on Shelley and he believes 'the world should listen' with the intensity of the poet himself. The poet knows that freedom is not only physical and asks the skylark to tell him its "sweet thoughts," for never has he heard anything with "a flood of rapture so divine." The poet's dilemma is how to transpose the idyllic tones of the skylark's theory into a plethora of practice.

Whether Shelley looked into the sky and witnessed a form of UFO (see 'the silver sphere') or whether he constructed his vehicle of visionary thought is irrelevant to the nature of its contents. This ghostly object obscured from the eye "thou art unseen", also hides like "a rose embowered" or a "high-born maiden in a palace tower" its beauty and therefore its significance from the physical world below. The essence lies in the ability to rescue the meaning 'from one lonely cloud' and not 'look before and after and pine for what is not' but to encompass the skylark as it is 'scattering unbeholden its aerial hue", only then will the human spirit be free from the oppression it endures. Shelley knows 'teach us, sprite or bird' that the apparatus for this propulsion is somewhere between Plato's idealistic 'sprite' and Aristotle's material 'bird'. He also knows that with only 'half the gladness that thy brain must know' the seed of life itself could awake from its dormant state of inactivity; rejecting human suffering and promoting the outer beauty of collective harmony.

Still, the skylark flies "higher and higher" its song surpasses "all that ever was". What ? The poet asks, are "the fountains of thy happy strain?" Is it, as was the esoteric world of the Greek nobility, "love of thine own kind" or "ignorance or pain" or never knowing "love's sad satiety" ? The skylark must know "things more true and deep" than mortals could dream" or "how could thy notes flow in such a crystal stream ?" Here we contrast Plato's 'picture of joy' (6). This spiritual 'joy' is not contaminated by 'pain' and "langour" it is vibrant like "a star of heaven" not corrupted by guilt "pine for what is not" but runs pure like a "crystal stream". Shelley's skylark is a 'sphere' of joy, undulating hope and an overflowing propensity to instill belief. The skylark touches the essence of existence, it knows that "life" and all its "pleasure" and "beauty" is achievable. The poet also emphatically reminds us, however, that "The world should listen then, as I am listening now".......................

Whatever emotions "To A Skylark' invokes, Shelley was , as he himself believed , a philosopher first and a poet second. As we find in the words of Leonard Cohen "Like a bird on a wire like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to free". Shelley, tried in his way to be free. Free from the complacency of his contemporaries and free to express his observations through his poetical message. The bellowing tones of the 'skylark' echo this message resonantly almost two hundred years from the date it was written. It is a testimony to those of us who, through creative expression, try to carve our own niche of freedom. It is ironic then that in a world with a more open forum for political expression the 'dead poets society' of past generations is fast becoming one of the last vestiges of radical thought. Or maybe Shelley was just a 'happy genius who tried to live a sad life' and consoled himself in the beauty of nature as an end itself. The babbling brooks , the rustling trees, the smiling flowers thus devoid of radical significance. Innate objects flourishing in their natural habitat and fueling his poetic expression. A 'romantic' poet foremost , a dreamer , his head lost in a cloud of aesthetic surrealism.....

Imagination is the soul itself !

 
 
 
Loves Philosophy

Now where did I leave that absent centre ?

"A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth."
Percy Byshhe Shelley (What is Poetry ?)


 
 
 


Selected Bibliography


 

1. Murphy's Law 1999, Modern Documents - J.P.M. Murphy
2. Shelley The Pursuit 1974 - Richard Holmes
3. A Defense Of Poetry - 1822
4. Necessity Of Atheism - 1811
5. Shelley The Pursuit - Page 599
6. Plato The republic www.classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.html
7. RSPB news, 18 March 1996, 2p.

   
 
 
 
 

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Trivia


Shelley was a good shot with a pistol and used to enjoy shooting 'Sprites' at Field Place Pond in St Leonard's Wood.

He was also a good shot with a fork by all accounts as he re-collects skewering the hand of a fellow school boy. No wonder he was known as 'Mad Shelley' by his school friends.

A favourite quote of Shelley's (Sophocles): "Man's happiest lot is not to be: And when we tread life's thorny steep Most blest are they who earliest free Descend to death's eternal sleep"

For the purist: The melodic , five-line, twenty-one stanzas, 105 lines, five hundred and seventy-four words of "To a Skylark" follow the same pattern. The first four lines are metered in trochaic trimeter, the fifth in iambic hexameter. The rhyme scheme of each stanza is ABABB.

"To A Skylark" was also the title of a poem written by William Wordsworth in 1827 (it also appears in 26 other Wordsworth poems). Wordsworth is consoled by the natural splendour of the skylark. Shelley, in contrast, is beckoning fuel for his political furnace.

The Skylark is often used by poets as a symbol of spiritual enlightenment. The male skylark particularly noted for it's mating song during flight IE: John Clare 'The Skylark' 1835 and Thomas Gray's 'Ode on the pleasure arising from vicissitude' 1775 "But chief, the skylark warbles high, His trembling thrilling ecstasy;"

For a bird that has given so much, not only in terms of poetic discourse, but also in terms of melodic delight it faces a future of uncertainty. The 'Skylark population crashes' every year due to intensive farming and the subsequent loss of natural habitat (7).

 Global Poet 2001


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