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Have you ever felt yourself burning bright inside? Brimming with curiosity and excitement and tragic love? Whether you're 18 or 80, you'll find that Shelley is the poet for those moments when you feel totally alive. We can't think of anyone who does a better job of rolling up the pure spirit of life into a poem.
"To a Skylark" is just that kind of poem, too. It's packed with joy and sorrow and sounds and sights and all the things that make life beautiful and challenging and wonderful. It's about nature, for sure, and like the title says, it has a lot to say about a particular bird. But really it's about what it's like to be a human being on this amazing planet. If we could make it required reading for the human race we would. Sadly, we here at Shmoop just don't have that kind of pull—but we're pretty sure you'll love it.
Percy Shelley, like his buddy and fellow Romantic poet John Keats, was kind of a boy wonder. He wrote a ton of amazing poetry in his twenties, and then drowned tragically just before his thirtieth birthday. This particular poem was published in 1820, just two years before he died, in a book called Prometheus Unbound. Since Shelley's death, his legend has only grown bigger, and "To a Skylark" has remained one of his most popular poems.
Before you jump in, you might want to know that this kind of poem, where you talk about how great a particular thing or idea is, is called an ode. The Romantic poets were crazy about odes. Often, like this one, they were all about nature and art. If you're into the odes, you should check out another one of Shelley's poems: "Ode to the West Wind". And if that's not enough ode for you, don't worry, Shmoop's got you covered. Check out Keats' poems "Ode to a Nightingale" and "Ode on a Grecian Urn". Good—no, great—stuff.
We here at Shmoop have definitely had those moments where we see something in nature, like a sunset, or a waterfall, or fresh snow on the ground, that's so beautiful it takes our breath away. Maybe you have too. You don't even have to be standing on the top of Mt Everest or sailing to Tahiti to get that kind of feeling. Sometimes you're just walking home from school, or waiting for the bus, and you see a rainbow, or a bird, or a perfect red leaf that's fallen off a tree.
Wouldn't it be cool to be able to tell someone else exactly how you felt in that moment, to write a song or paint a painting that would fill someone else's heart with that same excitement? That's part of the reason we love poetry here—not because it's old and famous, but because it can make beautiful feelings last forever.
Instead of letting the song of a bird just pass him by, Percy Shelley turned it into a legend. He made sure that his feelings about that little bird would last forever. Okay, so maybe that sounds cheesy, but think about it. How sad would it be if we could never let anyone else know exactly how we felt? If you've ever felt something that was just burning to get out of you, this is the poem for you!
An Online Gallery of Shelley's Stuff
Here's a really cool website full of info about the author and his life. It has copies of letters he wrote, pictures of him, even an image of his baby rattle! Definitely worth a look.
All About Glow-Worms
Everything you ever wanted to know about glow-worms but were scared to ask! This is actually a really cool page about the critter that makes a cameo in this poem in lines 46-50.
Isn't It Romantic?
If you mean that poem, it sure is! But not in the way you're thinking. Check out this helpful overview of the Romantic movement in literature, in which Shelley was a key player.
An Actual Skylark
Once you've read all about Shelley's skylark, take a look at this short video of the real thing. It's actually a lot cuter than you might expect.
Shelley, In Brief
Check out this short, but intense documentary.
Aretha Franklin Singing "Skylark"
Okay, you caught us, this doesn't have anything to do with Shelley's poem—it just has the same title. Still, it's a great video of a classy lady, so we think you oughta check it out!
Glenn Close Reads "To a Skylark"
We're not really sure why she read this poem, actually. But she's awesome, and this poem is awesome. So, naturally this recording is awesome.
The Song of the Skylark
Since it's such an important part of the poem, it's fun to listen to the complex and beautiful song of the skylark. Here's a long recording with some good pictures tossed in as a bonus.
A Famous Portrait of Shelley
This is one of just a few portraits of Shelley. It was painted just before he died by an art student named Amelia Curran.
The Shelley Memorial
A beautiful (and maybe slightly creepy) sculpture at University College Oxford, dedicated to the memory of PBS (the poet, not the Public Broadcasting System).