To a Skylark

To a Skylark

Original Text

Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound (1820).

2           Bird thou never wert,
3      That from Heaven, or near it,
4           Pourest thy full heart
5In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
6      Higher still and higher
7           From the earth thou springest
8      Like a cloud of fire;
9           The blue deep thou wingest,
10And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.
11      In the golden lightning
12           Of the sunken sun,
13      O'er which clouds are bright'ning,
14           Thou dost float and run;
15Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.
16      The pale purple even
17           Melts around thy flight;
18      Like a star of Heaven,
19           In the broad day-light
20Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight,
21      Keen as are the arrows
22           Of that silver sphere,
23      Whose intense lamp narrows
24           In the white dawn clear
25Until we hardly see, we feel that it is there.
26      All the earth and air
27           With thy voice is loud,
28      As, when night is bare,
29           From one lonely cloud
30The moon rains out her beams, and Heaven is overflow'd.
31      What thou art we know not;
32           What is most like thee?
33      From rainbow clouds there flow not
34           Drops so bright to see
35As from thy presence showers a rain of melody.
36      Like a Poet hidden
37           In the light of thought,
38      Singing hymns unbidden,
39           Till the world is wrought
40To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:
41      Like a high-born maiden
42           In a palace-tower,
43      Soothing her love-laden
44           Soul in secret hour
45With music sweet as love, which overflows her bower:
46      Like a glow-worm golden
47           In a dell of dew,
48      Scattering unbeholden
49           Its æreal hue
50Among the flowers and grass, which screen it from the view:
51      Like a rose embower'd
52           In its own green leaves,
53      By warm winds deflower'd,
54           Till the scent it gives
55Makes faint with too much sweet those heavy-winged thieves:
56      Sound of vernal showers
57           On the twinkling grass,
58      Rain-awaken'd flowers,
59           All that ever was
60Joyous, and clear, and fresh, thy music doth surpass.
61      Teach us, Sprite or Bird,
62           What sweet thoughts are thine:
63      I have never heard
64           Praise of love or wine
65That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine.
66      Chorus Hymeneal,
67           Or triumphal chant,
68      Match'd with thine would be all
69           But an empty vaunt,
70A thing wherein we feel there is some hidden want.
71      What objects are the fountains
72           Of thy happy strain?
73      What fields, or waves, or mountains?
74           What shapes of sky or plain?
75What love of thine own kind? what ignorance of pain?
76      With thy clear keen joyance
77           Languor cannot be:
78      Shadow of annoyance
79           Never came near thee:
80Thou lovest: but ne'er knew love's sad satiety.
81      Waking or asleep,
82           Thou of death must deem
83      Things more true and deep
84           Than we mortals dream,
85Or how could thy notes flow in such a crystal stream?
86      We look before and after,
87           And pine for what is not:
88      Our sincerest laughter
89           With some pain is fraught;
90Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.
91      Yet if we could scorn
92           Hate, and pride, and fear;
93      If we were things born
94           Not to shed a tear,
95I know not how thy joy we ever should come near.
96      Better than all measures
97           Of delightful sound,
98      Better than all treasures
99           That in books are found,
100Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!
101      Teach me half the gladness
102           That thy brain must know,
103      Such harmonious madness
104           From my lips would flow
105The world should listen then, as I am listening now.


1] Written in 1820 near Leghorn and published with Prometheus Unbound in the same year. Mary Shelley, his wife, writes: "It was on a beautiful summer evening, while wandering among the lanes whose myrtle hedges were the bowers of the fire-flies, that we heard the carolling of the skylark which inspired one of the most beautiful of his poems." Back to Line
Publication Start Year
RPO poem Editors
M. T. Wilson
RPO Edition
3RP 2.576.