To a Skylark
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Analysis: Sound Check
We think the lines in this poem go off like firecrackers. Little concentrated bursts of sound and feeling that explode and then die away. In part, that comes from the unit of meter that dominates the poem—the troche. In a troche, just to review, the stress falls on the first syllable, like in the word "singing." Hear that? SINGing. DA-dum. (Be check out the "Form and Meter" section for more on that.) So right out of the gate, each line leaps up into to air. The sound doesn't build; it just pops on your eardrum. Check out the first line:
Hail to thee, blithe Spirit
Do you hear how the sounds in that line kind of lean forward, as if they were struggling to escape?
Sometimes this connects with the meaning of a word, too, like in line six, where he opens the stanza with the word "Higher." Can you hear how that pops, how the sound of the birds song taking off gets echoed in the sound of the opening word? Cool, huh? We think that explosive, excited firecracker sound is reinforced by the short lines, too. They jump up into the air and then die away, the sounds chopped up into little bursts. Then that long last line in each stanza kind of anchors everything, like the rumble that you hear after the first crack of thunder.
You might also have noticed how often alliteration crops up in this poem, like when the speaker talks about the "sunken sun" (12) or the "silver sphere" (22) or the "dell of dew" (47). We think that helps to balance out the firecracker excitement of the rest of the poem. The sound of those repeated consonant is soothing and calm, reminding us that this whole poem is motivated by the pure beauty of the world.