To a Skylark

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First page of the original manuscript to "To a Skylark" Houghton MS Eng 258.2 - Shelley, To a Skylark 1.jpg
First page of the original manuscript to "To a Skylark"
1820 publication in the Prometheus Unbound collection. Toskylark.jpg
1820 publication in the Prometheus Unbound collection.
1820 cover of Prometheus Unbound, C. and J. Ollier, London. Prometheuscover.jpg
1820 cover of Prometheus Unbound, C. and J. Ollier, London.

"To a Skylark" is a poem completed by Percy Bysshe Shelley in late June 1820 and published accompanying his lyrical drama Prometheus Unbound by Charles and James Ollier in London. [1]


It was inspired by an evening walk in the country near Livorno, Italy, with his wife Mary Shelley, and describes the appearance and song of a skylark they come upon. [2] Mary Shelley described the event that inspired Shelley to write "To a Skylark": "In the Spring we spent a week or two near Leghorn (Livorno) ... 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."

Alexander Mackie argued in 1906 that the poem, along with John Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale", "are two of the glories of English literature": "The nightingale and the lark for long monopolised poetic idolatry—a privilege they enjoyed solely on account of their pre-eminence as songbirds. Keats's Ode to a Nightingale and Shelley's Ode to a Skylark are two of the glories of English literature, but both were written by men who had no claim to a special or exact knowledge of ornithology as such." [3]


The poem consists of twenty-one stanzas made up of five lines each. The first four lines are metered in trochaic trimeter, the fifth in iambic hexameter, also called Alexandrine. The rhyme scheme of each stanza is ABABB. There are total 105 lines in this poem.


The skylark's song is a metaphor or symbol of Nature. [4] As in "The Cloud", Shelley seeks to understand nature, to find its meaning. This is his objective. The poem is infused with pathos because he knows that this is an illusive quest.

E. Wayne Marjarum argued that the theme was "an ideal being transcending common experience". [5] Irving T. Richards maintained that the poem represented "the ideal being's full isolation from mundanity" in which "rhetorical questions concerning the source of his ideal's inspiration" are addressed. [6]


A Eurasian skylark (Alauda arvensis) singing. Alauda arvensis vogelartinfo chris romeiks CHR3563.jpg
A Eurasian skylark (Alauda arvensis) singing.

Thomas Hardy wrote the poem "Shelley's Skylark" which referenced the work in 1887 after a trip to Leghorn or Livorno, Italy: "The dust of the lark that Shelley heard." [7]

The 1941 comic play Blithe Spirit by Noël Coward takes its title from the opening line: "Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! / Bird thou never wert".

In 1894, music by British composer Arthur Goring Thomas was set to verses from the work in the composition The Swan and the Skylark: Cantata orchestrated by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. [8]

The poem was quoted in the 1979 musical Shelley which was written and directed by Moma Murphy with music composed by Ralph Martell. [9]

In 2004, Mark Hierholzer set the lyrics to music in a score for chorus with keyboard accompaniment entitled "Ode to a Skylark". [10]

In 2006, American composer Kevin Mixon wrote a score for band with an eponymous title based on the poem. Mixon explained: "I wanted to capture the exuberance in Shelley's To a Skylark." [11]

The UK Royal Mail issued a postage stamp on April 7, 2020 commemorating Percy Bysshe Shelley's "To a Skylark" as part of a series of ten stamps on The Romantic Poets.

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  1. Sandy, Mark (21 March 2002). "To a Skylark". The Literary Encyclopedia. Retrieved 9 January 2006.
  2. Sandy 2002. Retrieved 2006-01-09.
  3. Mackie, Alexander (1906), Nature Knowledge in Modern Poetry. New York: Longmans-Green & Company, OCLC 494286564. p. 29.
  4. Marjarum, E. Wayne. "The Symbolism of Shelley's 'To a Skylark'." Modern Language Association, Vol. 52, No. 3 (Sep., 1937), pp. 911-913.
  5. Marjarum 1937 p. 911.
  6. Richards, Irving T. "A Note on Source Influences in Shelley's Cloud and Skylark," PMLA, Vol. 50, No. 2 (June, 1935), pp. 562-567.
  7. "'Shelley's Skylark', a poem by Thomas Hardy." British Library.
  8. The Swan and the Skylark: Cantata by Arthur Goring Thomas, Felicia Dorothea Browne Hemans, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford.
  9. Shepard, Richard F. "It's Lyrics by P.B. Shelley", 15 April, 1979. The New York Times. Shelley musical.
  10. 2004 Ode to a Skylark score.
  11. 2006 To a Skylark score.