Shelley as a romantic poet

Discuss the use of imagery in the poem “To a skylark”

Shelley as a romantic poetAnswer:
P.B. Shelley, the highly intellectual poet of the Romantic Revival, was a dreamer and visionary. He had a great passion for reforming the world. He saw evils all around him. According to him, the world was full of corruptions, oppression, social injustice and tyrannies almost all of his poems are the expressions of his utter discontent with the existing social system. So to liberate mankind from this state of sufferings, he sought ideal beauty, ideal love and ideal liberty, and dreamt of a golden world. As a true romantic poet he found it convenient to express his ideals through symbols. The word, “symbolism” signifies an object or event which stands for something else and to a poet it means the imagery he uses to express his ideas.

“To a Skylark” is an expression of a romantic agony stirred by a passion for regenerating and reforming a society under outworn customs and conventions. The skylark is an invisible source of music symbolizing the romantic poet. The lark has all that the poet lacks supreme fluency, profuseness, an audience and an everlasting joy. Being in elemental contact with nature it has an elemental purity of joy that separates it from humanity and the poet alike. The skylark belongs to a world of perfection but the poet is chained to a world of hatred, pride, fear and pain. The poet has drawn a sharp contrast between the life of the skylark and that of man. The bird lives in a state of perfect happiness and joy, whereas a men is always troubled with a vague sadness.


To show the skylark as an ideal bird or a heavenly creature with all perfections the poet has drawn a number of images which are not only charming but also intellectually suggestive. The imagery of the skylark has been created by means of a series of similes and metaphors which suggest the sweetness of the bird’s music, its invisibility and the great height from which it sings. The skylark is unseen “like a star of heaven in the broad day light”. As for its intellectual quality it is like a poet hidden in the light of thought. As for its charming qualities it is like a high born maiden singing love songs in a palace tower, like a golden glowworm invisibly scattering its light among the flowers and grass, like a rose hidden by its own green leaves and filling the air with its scent, etc.

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Each of the similes brings before our mind a picture of the ideal bird and the melody of the verse hypnotizes the reader so much that it takes him to the heavenly world of the skylark Shelley seldom uses a firmly held developed image, but pours out a flood of images which the reader must grasp momentarily in one aspect and then release. He is fond of figures within figures. For example, in the third stanza the image of the setting sun “over which clouds are brightening”, and the image of the skylark, floating there” like an embodied joy” are fused together to carry a special meaning. Here the skylark is a happy soul that has shaken off its earthly joy and has set out on a journey toward heaven.

Shelley’s hope for redeeming a corrupt world through the power of human intellect has been revealed beautifully through his comparison of the skylark to a poet “hidden in the light of thought” w. hose singing converts the world to “sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not”. In other words, it is the poet who can bring about reconstructions in an outworn society by the noble expression of his Poetry.

Shelley’s transcendental philosophy finds a beautiful expression through the imagery of the skylark. The poet’s intensity of feeling imaginative flight, intellectual curiosity, a sense of mystery and wonder—all the romantic qualities find noble expression in his poem, “To a skylark”. Living in an age of orthodox belief and institutional tyrannies Shelley was beset with moral and spiritual problems. He found the existing society hostile towards him. So he wanted to go beyond this physical world and enjoy unlimited freedom as the skylark does. In fact the ‘skylark in this poem expresses his release and escape from this mundane world. Shelley seldom takes near-at-hand object from the world of ordinary perception. His gaze goes up to the sky and he starts with objects that are just on the verge of becoming invisible or inaudible or intangible, and he strains away even from there. So we can conclude that Shelley’s imagery is at its best when it transcends the concrete.