6/03/2019

Shelley's myth-making power in To a Skylark.




By 'myth' we usually mean a purely fictitious narrative involving supernatural persons etc. and embodying popular ideas on natural phenomena or such other things. The origin of myth lies in the ancient days when people, unable to form abstract conceptions, described the phenomena of nature in terms applicable to their personal actions. The introduction of myth in poetry is a much later development.

Shelley's greatness as a myth-maker lies in his ability to keep himself detached from the older implications of the myths and make new myths out of forces of nature. His myths are refreshing because they come in a spontaneous, natural way, and not out of a conscious and laborious effort on the part of the poet.

In To a Skylark the poet has idealized the skylark and its song. The idealization gains greater strength because it is contrasted with man. Shelley calls the skylark, not a bird, but a spirit of joy. He sees the bird soaring into the sky and listens enraptured to a flood of spontaneous melody that it pours out from above. It sings and soars higher and higher like a cloud of fire. It is an unbodied joy which remains unseen star of Heaven in the broad daylight. It pours "a rain of melody". It surpasses "Chorus Hymeneal" and "Triumphal Chant". It knows no "sad satiety". Shelley has personified the skylark as having a mind. The poet addresses it as a Spirit and requests it to teach him its sweet thoughts:

What objects are the fountains
Of thy happy strain?
What fields, or waves, or mountains?
What shapes of sky or plain?
What love of thine own kind? What ignorance of pain?

The skylark knows no pain, languor and shadow of annoyance. It knows more than mortal human beings. It is the embodiment of
perennial joy and happiness. The skylark's song is very pure and joyous because its ecstasy is derived from a source which is deeper than the knowledge that can be derived from books:

Better than all measures
Of all delightful sound
Better than all treasures
That in books are found.

In the poem Shelley contrasts the skylark's perennial happiness with the life of man on earth. In the pure atmosphere of the skythe skylark soars and sings and pours its love and joy in divine rapture. But man cannot sing so well because he looks back at the past but the past fills his heart with regrets for the loss of something glorious. He is also dissatisfied with the present which holds no charm to him. He looks forward to the future but it offers him no certainty. Therefore, when he sings his songs are songs of sorrow. The poet says:

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.

Thus Shelley's myth-making power in To a Skylark is a bit different from that in Ode to the West Wind. The skylark, unlike the West Wind, is the symbol of joy and happiness. In To a Skylark the poet tries to find his intellectual beauty and truth, but in Ode to the West Wind we find his myth making quality which is related to his soaring idealism.

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