“To A Skylark”-A poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

In the golden lightning
Of the sunken sun
O’er which clouds are bright’ning,
Thou dost float and run,
Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.

The pale purple even
Melts around thy flight;
Like a star of Heaven
In the broad daylight
Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight:

Keen as are the arrows
Of that silver sphere,
Whose intense lamp narrows
In the white dawn clear
Until we hardly see–we feel that it is there.

All the earth and air
With thy voice is loud.
As, when night is bare,
From one lonely cloud
The moon rains out her beams, and heaven is overflowed.

What thou art we know not;
What is most like thee?
From rainbow clouds there flow not
Drops so bright to see
As from thy presence showers a rain of melody.

Like a poet hidden
In the light of thought,
Singing hymns unbidden,
Till the world is wrought
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:

Like a high-born maiden
In a palace tower,
Soothing her love-laden
Soul in secret hour
With music sweet as love, which overflows her bower:

Like a glow-worm golden
In a dell of dew,
Scattering unbeholden
Its aerial hue
Among the flowers and grass, which screen it from the view:

Like a rose embowered
In its own green leaves,
By warm winds deflowered,
Till the scent it gives
Makes faint with too much sweet these heavy-winged thieves.

Sound of vernal showers
On the twinkling grass,
Rain-awakened flowers,
All that ever was
Joyous, and clear, and fresh, thy music doth surpass.

Teach us, sprite or bird,
What sweet thoughts are thine:
I have never heard
Praise of love or wine
That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine.

Chorus hymeneal
Or triumphal chaunt
Matched with thine, would be all
But an empty vaunt–
A thing wherein we feel there is some hidden want.

What objects are the fountains
Of thy happy strain?
What fields, or waves, or mountains?
What shapes of sky or plain?
What love of thine own kind? what ignorance of pain?

With thy clear keen joyance
Languor cannot be:
Shadow of annoyance
Never came near thee:
Thou lovest, but ne’er knew love’s sad satiety.

Waking or asleep,
Thou of death must deem
Things more true and deep
Than we mortals dream,
Or how could thy notes flow in such a crystal stream?

We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

Yet if we could scorn
Hate, and pride, and fear;
If we were things born
Not to shed a tear,
I know not how thy joy we ever should come near.

Better than all measures
Of delightful sound,
Better than all treasures
That in books are found,
Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!

Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow
The world should listen then, as I am listening now!

As I read this under-grad poem once again, what has struck me most is the use of the negative prefix “un” to suggest the ethereal as distinguished from the physical:

Unpremeditated art
Scattering unbeholden
Singing (hymns) unbidden
Unbodied joy

Everything about the skylark is ethereal, with no interference from the sensory perceptions of a human being.Its song is art but with no premeditated music scheme.Its light scatters like a glow-worm,unbeholden(by the human eye) in the grass and flowers. It sings hymns like a poet hidden, without being bidden by a church priest. It is pure “unbodied joy”,the result of an ecstacy pure in its form, unconnected with the pleasures of the senses. Everything about it is moving away from the body, from the drossness of a carnal being.

Remember it is not non-bodied joy ,but unbodied joy which means a calculated human effort to move away from the physical.

Another nice negative prefix used is in “deflowered” , a beautiful sensory term used for the rose temporarily hidden behind the leaves as a result of the wind’s blowing.Here the wind is the molester ,who deflowers the rose.

Of course ,the most memorable lines are:

We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

The allierated “s” (sincerest,some,sweetest,songs,saddest) lends a soft tonality to the lines as they are recited.

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“The world is too much with us”- By William Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I’d rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathéd horn.

The sonnet, written in the Petrarchan form, speaks of the poet’s concern for humankind moving away from nature in the pursuit of material gains, the latter acquired at the expense of our innate powers to see ourselves in nature. Kinship being lost with nature is a familiar theme of Wordsworth’s poetry.

The first line “The world is too much with us, late and soon” is epigrammatic. “A sordid boon” is an image that recalls Faust’s boon of supernatural powers acquired by exchanging his soul with the devil. The one image that I personally like in the poem is the winds that are upgathered now like sleeping flowers”, an exquisite image indeed.

Wordsworth feels out of place in a world obsessed with the material prosperity and rather prefers to be a “pagan suckled in a creed outworn”-another interesting image, notable for its graphic quality. A pagan from aboriginal tribes is more in tune with nature, although “suckled in a creed outworn”.

Her eyes are nothing like the sun

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;.
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare

(Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare)

Apparently Shakespeare is pulling somebody’s legs. May be, Petrarch’s imitators in England, whose conventional love sonnets were probably the rage of the day, where the beloved is “falsely” compared with roses, snow, perfumes,angels etc. and hyperbole and cliche ruled the poetry of the day.

Or was he pulling the legs of his own beloved,probably the dark lady ,who had luckily none of the roses-and-peaches complexion and yet seemed to have the attitude of somebody who had the charms of a typical Elizabethan belle, with a pout on her lips.

May be , he thought she was acting the la belle dame sans merci,someone who thought highly of herself,worthy of a better lover. The debunking of the contemporary love sonnet form is no doubt there at the back but was he poking fun at the idea of romantic love itself? Well, it looks like that if we observe the poet’s use of absolutely “unchivalrous” words to describe the lady’s physical attributes ,more particularly in use of words like ‘reek’(breath),dun(breasts) etc.

Interestingly Shakespeare describes the lady in terms of what she is not and does not say a single thing about her positive attributes.