A lyric poetry is a short poem, usually divided into stanzas and directly expressing in melodious language the thoughts, emotions and feelings of the poet himself. Originally, the Lyric meant a song which was to be sung in accompaniment with a Lyre or Harp. The original sense of the lyric being a song is preserved in its melodious (musical) language and in the intensity of emotion or feeling expressed. But unlike ancient lyric, modern - especially Romantic - lyric possesses a purely personal character. It is the product of a swift, momentary, passionate and subjective impulse. It is unique in its spontaneity and sincerity, and possesses elements of reflection.

Percy Bysshe Shelley is regarded as one of the greatest lyricists ever. “In none of Shelley’s greatest contemporaries was the lyrical faculty so paramount and so poignant, he was the loftiest and most spontaneous singer in our language” says Arthur Symons. “To a Skylark” is one of Shelley’s finest lyrics. It turns on the single idea which is the contrast between the life of the skylark, an object of nature, and human life. This keen sense of contrast runs through the poem like a thread and lends pathos to the otherwise joyful lyric. The poem was inspired by the song of a real skylark. It opens with a lovely and skilled image:

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. 

The alliteration with the repetition of "p" sounds and the way that "heart" is made to rhyme with "art" links the song of the skylark to the very core, spontaneous inspiration that comes from the heart. The image of the bird pouring its very self into its music, its "unpremeditated art" is one that forces the reader to see the bird in a different way and to view it almost as some kind of genius because of the way that it is able to spontaneously produce such wonderful music without rehearsal or practice. Such images again testify to Shelley's great skill with words and his talent as a lyric poet.

Spontaneity is one of the remarkable features of Shelley’s lyrical poetry. His lyrics seem to have been written without the least effort, arising directly from his heart. Shelley is swept forward by a rush of poetic energy and goes on producing image after image, all inspired by the original thought. The imagery in these lyrics, therefore, give the impression of being the product of no laborious thought but of a spontaneous growth of poetic impulse. Nothing can be more spontaneous than the following lines, addressed to Skylark -
Better than all measures
Of delightful sound,
Better than all treasures
That in books are found,
Thy skill to poets were, thou scorner of ground!

Shelley’s lyrics always express an intensity of feeling, or a deep passion. There is too a note of desire and longing and also sadness through most of his lyrics. In “To a Skylark” Shelley’s imagination soars skyward like the skylark but he does not ignore the palpable facts of human life. His best lyrics are cries of pain and anguish –

“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 poet feels intensely that he does not have the ability to be as melodious as the bird or to acquire the state of bliss that the bird possesses. If he were to experience even “half the gladness” so natural to the skylark, he will be able to compose poems that would hold the world in thrall, just as the bird holds him enraptured now-“ The world should listen then, as I am listening now.”

Shelley’s lyrics are surprising musical and sweet. Some of Shelly’s lyric are highly embellished composition. They have a glittering quality because of the ornamental imagery in which they abound. The most striking example of this quality is “To a Skylark” the striking phrases are: “The golden lightening of sunken sun”, “A star of heaven”, “Rainbow cloud”. Although melancholy is found to be a dominant note in this lyric, Shelley’s melancholy is never depressing. Shelley never allows morbidity to overcome the enjoyment in his lyric. He has deep faith in future.

Last modified: Sunday, 7 June 2020, 12:19 PM