Ode to a Skylark

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Ode to a Skylark
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
"To a Skylark," by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), is usually assigned to "grammar grades" of schools. It is included here out of respect to a boy of eleven years who was more impressed with these lines than with any other lines in any poem:


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

First page of the original manuscript

      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 brightening,
        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 aërial 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-wingéd 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!

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.