To the Skylark A Poem by William Wordsworth
Table of Contents
The poem, To the Skylark was written in 1825, five years after the composition of Shelley’s To a Skylark and published in 1827. It was classed as a “poem of the imagination”. The second stanza of the poem was transferred by the poet in 1845 to another poem A Morning Exercise.
Wordsworth has himself written of this poem:
“Written at Rydal Mount, where there are no skylarks but the poet is everywhere”.
He means to say that the poet can find skylarks everywhere. He has an earlier poem on the skylark, but so far as this poem (i.e. To the Skylark) is concerned, he has obviously been influenced by Shelley’s poem To a Skylark.
Summary of To the Skylark
The poet addresses the skylark as a traveler in the sky and singer in the upper air. Though it soars high in the air, it does not despise the earth which is full of cares. As it flies high, it has its heart and eyes fixed always on the nest below into which it can drop down at will by folding its wings and stopping its song.
It soars to the last point of vision and even beyond, and is lost to sight. Even then it keeps on singing. Its song is inspired by its love for its mate and young ones that are left in the nest below, and it rejoices the plains below. Although its song is related to the earth, it seems to be independent of the inspiration which other birds derive from the spring season when trees are covered with green leaves.
The song of the skylark is more melodious than the nightingale’s. The skylark needn’t envy the covert from which the nightingale sings mournful songs, invisible to man, for it too sings from the invisible, solitary regions of the upper air when they are lit up with sun-light. From that height it pours down a rain of melody which is prompted by impulse nobler than the nightingale’s. The skylark is the symbol of the truly wise men of the earth who soar into the lofty sphere of thought but at the same time attend to the humbler duties of the ordinary life.
Theme of To the Skylark
The concluding couplet embodies the central theme of the poem. The skylark is the symbol of the truly wise man of the world. It soars so high in the sky that it gets invisible to the people on earth. Though it soars high, it does not lose sight of its nest (home) where it leaves its mate and young. When it feels they need its help it folds its wings and returns to the nest. Likewise, a truly wise man soars into the lofty sphere of thought, but at the same time attends to the lowly duties and obligations he has to his family. Highest wisdom of life consists in plain living and high thinking-in a combination of a life of sublime thoughts with the performance of domestic duties.
Analysis of To the Skylark
To the Skylark is a very characteristic product of Wordsworth’s poetic genius. Here Wordsworth, a faithful observer of nature, describes the habits of the singing bird skylark with perfect fidelity. Unlike Shelley he does not lose sight of the bird in its upward flight and song. The skylark is to him a creature of flesh and blood, and not a metaphysical abstraction that Shelley’s is. It is true to the everyday life of the bird. It does not “despise the earth where cares abound.” Even when it soars to the highest region of the sky, it has its heart and eyes fixed on the earthly nest where it leaves its mate and young.
It drops to its nest stopping its song to see how its mate and young are. It is of the earth, earthly. Wordsworth has thus humanized the bird. He has turned it into a symbol of the truly wise man who soars in the lofty regions of sublime thought, but do not neglect the humbler duties of life. It is true “to the kindred points of Heaven and Home”, (while Shelley’s skylark is true only to the point of Heaven). Through his skylark Wordsworth “bids us observe that it is not the distance from the earth but the nearness to it which inspires the celestial joy.” (Hutton)
To the Skylark is a romantic poem. It reveals not only the poet’s naturalism but his ideal of wisdom also. It takes us to the cloudland of the skylark’s song-the highest point in the sky, and not to the shady haunt the nightingale signs from. The suggestive and sensuous phrases such as ‘dewy ground’, ‘quivering wings’, ‘daring warbler’, ‘leafy spring’, ‘a privacy of glorious light’, etc. add to the romantic charm of the poem. The poem “embodies Wordsworth’s ideal of wisdom, in which heaven and home are allied together in a common appeal, a combination of steadiness and sublimity, heaven being a reproduction of home from a loftier point of view, a sublimation of domestic virtues.” (Dr. S. Banerjee)
The poem strikes a deep moral note. The great moral lesson it seeks to inculcate is that fidelity to the kindred points of heaven and home makes the earth more joyous and heaven more sublime. This moral note tells upon the artistic excellence of the poem.
The poem illustrates Wordsworth’s theory of poetic diction. He proposes to write in the language really spoken by men. The style of To the Skylark has the austere simplicity which brings it to the level of the language of real life. Though Wordsworth’s style is bald and pedestrian we sometimes come across a line or two of rare beauty, such as the following:
“Leave to the nightingale her shady wood
A privacy of glorious light is thine.”
“True to the kindred points of Heaven and Home”
Such lines have the felicity of expression which is almost Shakespearean. The diction of the poem is graceful. The slow and stately movement of the verse is in perfect consonance with the meditative mood of the poet. The concluding couplet is remarkable for the concentration of thought. It has become a classic quotation.
To the Skylark Line by Line Analysis
Ethereal: Of ether (upper regions) beyond clouds. Primarily it means heavenly, of unearthly substance, character or appearance. minstrel- Medieval singer or musician who sang or recited (often his own) poetry. Ethereal minstrel: The skylark is called so, because it sings in the upper regions beyond clouds. pilgrim of the sky: a traveller in the sky. Pilgrim bears the suggestion of a pious man. The skylark is attracted to the sky by the same. feeling as attracts a pious man to a place of pilgrimage. Webb explains ‘pilgrim of the sky’ as a lone traveller up into the sky. The skylark cannot perch on a tree because its claws are straight, and has therefore to sing in the air. Cf. Shelley’s To a Skylark, St. 2. thou: you who soar and sing so far above the earth. despise: scorn. Dost thou…..abound?: The poet means that the skylark does not scorn the earth which is full of cares and worries: Shelley’s skylark, on the other hand, is a “scorner of the ground”. abound: exist in great numbers. aspire: soar upwards. heart: affection. eye: attention. with: fixed upon. thy: your. dewy ground: This expression gives two interesting facts about the skylark. First, when the skylark soars in the sky, the ground remains covered with dew. Perhaps it begins its flight before sunrise. Secondly, it builds its nest on the ground, and not on a tree, because it cannot perch on the branch of a tree because of its straight claws. drop: fly straight down, at will: whenever it likes. Whenever the skylark feels strong longing for its mate and young in the nest, it flies straight down to it. quivering: flapping. composes: folded. that music still: stopping (i.e.; stilling) its music.
[Note: This stanza is omitted in some editions of Wordsworth’s works, because he himself transferred it to his another poem, A Morning Exercise. Dr. S. K. Banerjee and A. Mukherjee omit this stanza in their anthology of poetry called “Leaves from English Poetry.” ] To the last point of vision: as far as the eye can see, beyond: beyond the range of vision. To the last…. beyond: The skylark flies so high in the sky that it becomes invisible to the eye. In his To a Skylark Shelley has emphasized the invisibility of the skylark by means of a series of dazzling images. mount: fly up. daring: bold. warbler: a bird that warbles (sings in a continuous gentle trilling way). that love- prompted strain: song inspired by love. ‘Twixt: between. thee: you (the skylark), thine: your (skylark’s) dear ones (your mate and young). that love…..bond: the song of the skylark serves as a lasting connecting link between it and its mate and young ones in the earthly nest. The skylark sings in its upward flight so that its mate and young can know where it is in the sky and can call it down to the earth when they need it. N.B. Here is a point of contrast between Wordsworth’s skylark and Shelley’s. The inspiration of the song of Shelley’s skylark is its knowledge of the mysteries of life and death, and not its love for its dear ones. thrills: gladdens, Thrills….plain: gives joy equally to men who live on the plain below, and hear that song. the bosom of the plain: minds of those who hear the song from the ground. Yet might’st……privilege: Yet it might seem that it is your proud privilege that you, unlike other birds, sing not only in spring but all the year round. proud privilege: glorious prerogative. to sing….spring: The skylark’s song has nothing to do with the spring season when trees put forth green leaves. leafy spring: the spring season which adorns trees with fresh green leaves. N.B. Wordsworth considers the skylark a better singing bird than the nightingale because its song is independent of vernal inspiration.
Leave to the nightingale her shady wood: You needn’t bother about the song of the nightingale which sings from her shady wood. N.B. The poet compares his skylark with the nightingale, because poets including himself (in The Solitary Reaper) have always celebrated the nightingale’s song in their poetry. privacy: a place of retreat or concealment. A privacy……thine: While the nightingale hides itself in the shady wood, the skylark hides itself from view in the dazzling light of the sun towards which it soars. A. Ellis remarks, “An example of the exact and simple truth combined with the most poetic language and beautiful simile. His solitude is a lofty one attained, not by burying himself in darkness, but by mounting into strong light whose very intensity prevents our seeing him.” Cf. the following lines from Shelley’s To a Skylark:
“In the broad daylight
Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight”
Whence: antecedent is ‘privacy’, pour upon…..harmony: showers on the earth a rain of melody. Cf. “As from thy presence showers a rain melody.” (To a Skylark). a flood of harmony: a stream of sweet song. instinct: innate impulse/intuition. with instinct more divine: The skylark’s impulse to sing is said to be more divine than that of the nightingale, because the latter does not leave the earth while the former soars heavenwards, though it always thinks of its near and dear ones in its flight. Type of the wise……..roam: The skylark flies heavenwards, but does not stray from the right path. So it is the representative of the truly wise who move in the sphere of sublime thoughts, but do not neglect the common duties of life. True: faithful. kindred: related. points: ends. Heaven: the sky (with reference to the skylark)/lofty thoughts (with reference to the wise). Home: nest (with reference to the skylark)/ common duties and obligations of life (with reference to the wise). Heaven and Home are called kindred, because one cannot do without the other.
“To the last point…leafy spring.” (II. 7-12)
These lines are from Wordsworth’s poem To the Skylark. Here the poet describes the heavenward flight of the skylark and the nature of its song.
The skylark flies higher and higher till it is lost to sight in the dazzling sunlight. Though it soars very high, it does not cease singing. The poet addresses it as a daring singer and discovers the inspiration of its song in its love for its mate and young it leaves in the nest below. The song of the skylark serves as a never-failing connecting link between it and its near and dear ones, because it sings in its upward flight, so that its mate and young can know where it is in the sky, and call it down to the nest when they need its help. Though its song is meant for its near and dear ones, it regales the ears of the people who listen to it from the ground below. Wordsworth considers the song of the skylark superior to that of any other song-bird. Other birds sing only in spring when trees are adorned with new green leaves. But the skylark’s song is independent of the vernal inspiration. It sings all the year round irrespective of seasons for the sake of its love for the earth (i.e. the near and dear ones. in the earthly nest).
Comment: This stanza shows how Wordsworth humanises the skylark- how he invests it with the attributes of father and husband. It illustrates one of the points of contrast between Wordsworth’s skylark and Shelley’s. The inspiration of the song of Shelley’s skylark is perhaps its knowledge of the mysteries of life and death, and not its love for its near and dear ones, as in the case of Wordsworth’s skylark.
Wordsworth thinks the skylark a better and a more gifted singer than other birds, because it sings in all seasons to thrill the people on earth with joy, and not in spring only as other birds do.
“Leave to the nightingale……divine.” (II. 13-16)
In these lines from To the Skylark Wordsworth emphasizes the superiority of the skylark to the nightingale as a song-bird.
It is the proud privilege of the skylark that it sings all the year round, and not merely in spring when the nightingale warbles under the inspiration of vernal beauty. So it has no reason to envy the lot of the nightingale. Moreover, the nightingale sings from the shady retreat in the forest, so that none can see it. The poet thinks that the skylark may envy this privilege of the nightingale. But he assures the skylark that it has its own privacy in the dazzling sunlight which prevents it from being seen. While its privacy is of glorious light, that of the nightingale is of depressing darkness. Though the skylark sings high up in the sky, it deluges the earth below with its spontaneous burst of song. Its impulse to sing is more divine than that of the nightingale. The latter is always pinned to the earth while the former soars heavenwards, though it has its heart and eyes fixed on the nest below. The skylark is bound to the heaven and the earth. The nightingale is bound only to the earth. The heaven is beyond its reach.
Comment: These lines are clearly reminiscent of the thoughts of Shelley whose wonderful poem influenced Wordsworth. They recall in particular the following lines of that poem (i.e. To a Skylark):
“In the broad daylight
Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight.”
The second line of the passage, “A privacy of glorious light is thine” is “one of rare felicity that sometimes emerges out of Wordsworth’s bald, pedestrian style.”
“Type of the wise….Home” (II. 17-18)
This is the concluding couplet of Wordsworth’s poem To the Skylark. Here the poet moralizes over the behaviour of the skylark.
It soars very high in the sky, but has its heart and eyes fixed on the nest where it has left its mate and young. Whenever necessary, it stops its song, flies straight down to the nest and is reunited with its near and dear ones. It never strays from this course. It is faithful equally to the heaven above and the home below. Indeed the two different conditions are bridged by the skylark. Its behaviour is the symbol of that of the truly wise man. The truly wise man moves in the sphere of sublime thoughts, much beyond the reach of ordinary men, but does not neglect the ordinary duties of life-the obligations he has to his family and society. There is really no opposition between heaven and earth-they are like two ends of a magnetic needle. One implies the other. A happy home is an image of heaven on earth. That is why the truly wise are faithful to both heaven and home..
Comment: This couplet “embodies Wordsworth’s ideal of wisdom, in which heaven and home are allied together in a common appeal, a combination of steadiness and sublimity, heaven being a reproduction of home from a loftier point of view, a sublimation of domestic virtues.” (Banerjee and Mukherjee) It has become a classic quotation.