Skylark poems

This page contains the full texts of:

The Skylark, John Clare
Skylark Researcher, Diana Hendry
The Caged Skylark, Gerard Manley Hopkins
Returning, we hear the larks, Isaac Rosenberg
The Ecstatic, C. Day Lewis
Skylarks, Ted Hughes
The Skylark, Richard Watson Dixon
The Skylark, Peter Fairbrother
The Lark, Gabriela Mistral
The Sea and the Skylark, Gerard Manley Hopkins
Aubade, Sir William Davenant
The Lark Ascending, George Meredith
To the Skylark, William Wordsworth
To a Skylark, William Wordsworth
The Skylark, James Hogg
lines from Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
To a Skylark, Percy Bysshe Shelley
The Skylark, Christina Georgina Rossetti
and
passages from Shakespeare
    

The Skylark, John Clare (1793–1864)

Above the russet clods the corn is seen
Sprouting its spiry points of tender green,
Where squats the hare, to terrors wide awake,
Like some brown clod the harrows failed to break.
Opening their golden caskets to the sun,
The buttercups make schoolboys eager run,
To see who shall be first to pluck the prize -
Up from their hurry see the Skylark flies,
And oer her half-formed nest, with happy wings,
Winnows the air till in the cloud she sings,
Then hangs a dust spot in the sunny skies,
And drops and drops till in her nest she lies,
Which they unheeded passed – not dreaming then
That birds, which flew so high, would drop again
To nests upon the ground, which anything
May come at to destroy. Had they the wing
Like such a bird, themselves would be too proud
And build on nothing but a passing cloud!
As free from danger as the heavens are free
From pain and toil, there would they build and be,
And sail about the world to scenes unheard
Of and unseen, – O were they but a bird!
So think they, while they listen to its song,
And smile and fancy and so pass along;
While its low nest, moist with the dews of morn,
Lies safely, with the leveret, in the corn.

Eurasian Skylark drawing

Skylark Researcher, Diana Hendry, from Making Blue, 1995

I am the skylark researcher.
I am keening my ears for them,
eyeing people in the street,
asking ‘Do you believe in skylarks?’
 
Nobody has seen one.
They look at me as if I’ve spoken
an exiled word.
I worry that skylarks have been expelled,
become dissident birds.
 
I try to pretend they are simply out
of fashion, like Shelley,
but secretly I am afraid
they have been hushed up,
or that something has happened to our hearing,
or that the hinge has broken on heaven’s gate
and there’s nothing to sing at,
or that they’ve worn themselves to a frazzle
singing their hearts out
at the blank sky.
 
Perhaps there’s a change in our climate.
Perhaps the fluttering of cash cards
keeps them silent.
Perhaps they can’t be heard above the din
of Help lines ringing through the night.
 
Possibly it is not yet dark enough
to set them off
and they are up there, arrowed
and waiting to wing from the bow.
 
Sometimes I imagine
a mass dawn vigil
and skylarks rising
up over the inner cities,
lifting the low skies of England.
 
I romanticize.
I have nothing uplifting to say.
I am here to record
the comings and goings of the common lark.
I keep the word fresh for them.
 
I am the skylark researcher.
Bulletins fly from my fingers.
I airmail the news.
It is my job to report
on what is beyond reach,
out of sight,
not spoken about
 
there.

Eurasian Skylark drawing

 The Caged Skylark « Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89), from Poems, 1918.
 
AS a dare-gale skylark scanted in a dull cage
  Man’s mounting spirit in his bone-house, mean house, dwells—
  That bird beyond the remembering his free fells;
This in drudgery, day-labouring-out life’s age.
 
Though aloft on turf or perch or poor low stage,         
  Both sing sometímes the sweetest, sweetest spells,
  Yet both droop deadly sómetimes in their cells
Or wring their barriers in bursts of fear or rage.
 
Not that the sweet-fowl, song-fowl, needs no rest—
Why, hear him, hear him babble and drop down to his nest,         
   But his own nest, wild nest, no prison.
 
Man’s spirit will be flesh-bound when found at best,
But uncumbered: meadow-down is not distressed
  For a rainbow footing it nor he for his bónes rísen.

Eurasian Skylark drawing

Returning, We Hear the Larks « Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918)

Sombre the night is.
And though we have our lives, we know
What sinister threat lies there.

Dragging these anguished limbs, we only know
This poison-blasted track opens on our camp -
On a little safe sleep.

But hark! joy – joy – strange joy.
Lo! heights of night ringing with unseen larks.
Music showering our upturned list’ning faces.

Death could drop from the dark
As easily as song -
But song only dropped,
Like a blind man’s dreams on the sand
By dangerous tides,
Like a girl’s dark hair for she dreams no ruin lies there,
Or her kisses where a serpent hides.

[Isaac Rosenberg wrote this while serving in the British Army at the Somme during World War I. He was killed there in 1918. The occasion of the poem is the return from a night patrol into the "no-man's-land" between the two opposing forces.]

Eurasian Skylark drawing

Skylarks
 « Ted Hughes (1930-1998)

I

The lark begins to go up

Like a warning

As if the globe were uneasy -
Barrel-chested for heights

Like an Indian of the high Andes,
A whippet head, barbed like a hunting arrow,
But leaden

With muscle

For the struggle

Against

Earth’s centre
And leaden

For ballast

In the rocketing storms of the breath.
Leaden

Like a bullet

To supplant

Life from its centre.

II

Crueller than owl or eagle
A towered bird, shot through the crested head

With the command,
Not die

But climb
Climb
Sing
Obedient as to death a dead thing.

III

I suppose you just gape and let your gaspings

Rip in and out through your voicebox

O lark
And sing inwards as well as outwards

Like a breaker of ocean rolling the shingle

O lark
O song, incomprehensibly both ways – 
Joy! Help! Joy! Help!

O lark

IV

You stop to rest, far up, you teeter

Over the drop.
But not stopping singing
Resting only for a second
Dropping just a little
Then up and up and up
Like a mouse with drowning fur

Bobbing and bobbing at the well-wall
Lamenting, mounting a little -
But the sun will not take notice

And the earth’s centre smiles.

V

My idleness curdles

Seeing the lark labour near its cloud

Scrambling

In a nightmare difficulty

Up through the nothing
Its feathers thrash, its heart must be drumming like a motor,

As if it were too late, too late.
Dithering in ether

Its song whirls faster and faster

And the sun whirls

The lark is evaporating

Till my eye’s gossamer snaps

and my hearing floats back widely to earth.
After which the sky lies blank open

Without wings, and the earth is a folded clod.
Only the sun goes silently and endlessly on with the lark’s song.

VI

All the dreary Sunday morning

Heaven is a madhouse

With the voices and frenzies of the larks,
Squealing and gibbering and cursing
Heads flung back, as I see them,

Wings almost torn off backwards – far up
Like sacrifices set floating

The cruel earth’s offerings
The mad earth’s missionaries.

VII

Like those flailing flames

The lift from the fling of a bonfire

Claws dangling full of what they feed on
The larks carry their tongues to the last atom

Battering and battering their last sparks out at the limit – 

So it’s a relief, a cool breeze

When they’ve had enough, when they’re burned out

And the sun’s sucked them empty

And the earth gives them the O.K.
And they relax, drifting with changed notes
Dip and float, not quite sure if they may

Then they are sure and they stoop

And maybe the whole agony was for this
The plummeting dead drop
With long cutting screams buckling like razors
But just before they plunge into the earth
They flare and glide off low over grass, then up

To land on a wall-top, crest up,
Weightless,

Paid-up,

Alert,
Conscience perfect.

VIII

Manacled with blood,

Cuchulain listened bowed,

Strapped to his pillar (not to die prone)

Hearing the far crow

Guiding the near lark nearer

With its blind song
“That some sorry little wight more feeble and misguided than thyself

Take thy head

Thine ear

And thy life’s career from thee.”

Eurasian Skylark drawing

The Ecstatic
 « Cecil Day-Lewis (1904-1972)

Lark, skylark, spilling your rubbed and round

Pebbles of sound in air’s still lake,
Whose widening circles fill the noon; yet none

Is known so small beside the sun:
Be strong your fervent soaring, your skyward air!
Tremble there, a nerve of song!
Float up there where voice and wing are one,

A singing star, a note of light!
Buoyed, embayed in heaven’s noon-wide reaches—
For soon light’s tide will turn—Oh stay!

Cease not till day streams to the west, then down
That estuary drop down to peace.

Eurasian Skylark drawing

The Skylark « Richard Watson Dixon (1833-1900) from Mano: a Poetical History. I.

THOU only bird that singest as thou flyest,
Heaven-mounting lark, that measurest with thy wing
The airy zones, till thou art lost in highest!
Upon the branch the laughing thrushes cling,
About her home the humble linnet wheels,
Around the tower the gather’d starlings swing;
These mix their songs and weave their figur’d reels:
Thou risest in thy lonely joy away,
From the first rapturous note that from thee steals,
Quick, quick, and quicker, till the exalted lay
Is steadied in the golden breadths of light,
’Mid mildest clouds that bid thy pinions stay.
The heavens that give would yet sustain thy flight,
And o’er the earth for ever cast thy voice,
If but to gain were still to keep the height.
But soon thou sinkest on the fluttering poise
Of the same wings that soard’d: soon ceasest thou
The song that grew invisible with joys.
Love bids thy fall begin; and thou art now
Dropp’d back to earth, and of the earth again,
Because that love hath made thy heart to bow.
Thou hast thy mate, thy nest on lowly plain,
Thy timid heart by law ineffable
Is drawn from the high heavens where thou shouldst reign;
Earth summons thee by her most tender spell;
For thee there is a silence and a song:
Thy silence in the shadowy earth must dwell,
Thy song in the bright heavens cannot be long.
—And best to thee those fates may I compare
Where weakness strives to answer bidding strong.

Eurasian Skylark drawing

The Skylark « Peter Fairbrother

As high as a reverie
As small as a speck
To glimpse it at all
One must lie on the deck

As brief as an inkling
As fleet as a fawn
Everlasting, yet new
Aspiring since dawn

It sings ‘All is well’
So far above ground
It sang ‘All is well’
Even when it looked down

To the huge armoured lizard
Tearing thigh from the bone
While the previous owner
Crept crippled for home

It’s as bright as a bell
And it rings in this sky
It’s as light as a breath
And it sings us alive

As perfect as marble
As fertile as earth
As maudlin as gravestones
As healing as mirth

The bird has a vision
Sustaining it so
And contrasts with the frenzy
We witness below

The peculiar version of
‘Staying alive’
Of the bull dinosaurs
On the M25 [see note]

It sings ‘All is well’
Even when it looks down
It sang ‘All is well’
And never a frown
It sang ‘All is well’
Wherever it flew
It sings ‘All is well’
Because up there, it’s true.

* The M25 or London Orbital Motorway is the longest city bypass in the world, 117 miles long. This “ring road” has in some areas six lanes going each way, and is one of the busiest highways in Europe.

Eurasian Skylark drawing

The Lark « Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957)

You said that you loved the lark more than any other bird because of its straight flight toward the sun. That is how I wanted our flight to be.
Albatrosses fly over the sea, intoxicated by salt and iodine. They are like unfettered waves playing in the air, but they do not lose touch with the other waves.
Storks make long journeys; they cast shadows over the Earth’s face. But like albatrosses, they fly horizontally, resting in the hills.
Only the lark leaps out of ruts like a live dart, and rises, swallowed by the heavens. Then the sky feels as though the Earth itself has risen. Heavy jungles below do not answer the lark. Mountains crucified over the flatlands do not answer.
But a winged arrow quickly shoots ahead, and it sings between the sun and the Earth. One does not know if the bird has come down from the sun or risen from the Earth. It exists between the two, like a flame. When it has serenaded the skies with its abundance, the exhausted lark lands in the wheatfield.
You, Francis, wanted us to achieve that vertical flight, without a zigzag, in order to arrive at that haven where we could rest in the light.
You wanted the morning air filled with arrows, with a multitude of carefree larks. Francis, with each morning song, you imagined that a net of golden larks floated between the Earth and the sky.
We are burdened, Francis. We cherish our lukewarm rut: our habits. We exalt ourselves in glory just as the towering grass aspires. The loftiest blade does not reach beyond the high pines.
Only when we die do we achieve that vertical flight! Never again, held back by earthly ruts, will our bodies inhibit our souls.

Translated by Maria Giachetti. From A Gabriela Mistral Reader, published by White Pine Press. Gabriela Mistral was the pseudonym of Lucila de María del Perpetuo Socorro Godoy Alcayaga, a Chilean poet, educator, diplomat, and feminist who was the first Latin American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1945.

Eurasian Skylark drawing

The Sea and the Skylark « Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89), from Poems, 1918.

On ear and ear two noises too old to end
Trench—right, the tide that ramps against the shore;
With a flood or a fall, low lull-off or all roar,
Frequenting there while moon shall wear and wend.
Left hand, off land, I hear the lark ascend,
His rash-fresh re-winded new-skeinèd score
In crisps of curl off wild winch whirl, and pour
And pelt music, till none ‘s to spill nor spend.

How these two shame this shallow and frail town!
How ring right out our sordid turbid time,
Being pure! We, life’s pride and cared-for crown,

Have lost that cheer and charm of earth’s past prime:
Our make and making break, are breaking, down
To man’s last dust, drain fast towards man’s first slime.

Eurasian Skylark drawing

Aubade « Sir William Davenant (1606–1668)

THE lark now leaves his wat’ry nest,
And climbing shakes his dewy wings.
He takes this window for the East,
And to implore your light he sings—
Awake, awake! the morn will never rise
Till she can dress her beauty at your eyes.

The merchant bows unto the seaman’s star,
The ploughman from the sun his season takes,
But still the lover wonders what they are
Who look for day before his mistress wakes.
Awake, awake! break thro’ your veils of lawn!
Then draw your curtains, and begin the dawn!

Eurasian Skylark drawing

To the Skylark « William Wordsworth (1770–1850)

ETHEREAL minstrel! pilgrim of the sky!
Dost thou despise the earth where cares abound?
Or while the wings aspire, are heart and eye
Both with thy nest upon the dewy ground?
Thy nest which thou canst drop into at will,
Those quivering wings composed, that music still!

To the last point of vision, and beyond
Mount, daring warbler!—that love-prompted strain
—’Twixt thee and thine a never-failing bond—
Thrills not the less the bosom of the plain:
Yet might’st thou seem, proud privilege! to sing
All independent of the leafy Spring.

Leave to the nightingale her shady wood;
A privacy of glorious light is thine,
Whence thou dost pour upon the world a flood
Of harmony, with instinct more divine;
Type of the wise, who soar, but never roam—
True to the kindred points of Heaven and Home.

Eurasian Skylark drawing

The Lark Ascending « George Meredith (1828–1909)

HE rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake,
All intervolv’d and spreading wide,
Like water-dimples down a tide
Where ripple ripple overcurls
And eddy into eddy whirls;
A press of hurried notes that run
So fleet they scarce are more than one,
Yet changingly the trills repeat
And linger ringing while they fleet,
Sweet to the quick o’ the ear, and dear
To her beyond the handmaid ear,
Who sits beside our inner springs,
Too often dry for this he brings,
Which seems the very jet of earth
At sight of sun, her music’s mirth,
As up he wings the spiral stair,
A song of light, and pierces air
With fountain ardor, fountain play,
To reach the shining tops of day,
And drink in everything discern’d
An ecstasy to music turn’d,
Impell’d by what his happy bill
Disperses; drinking, showering still,
Unthinking save that he may give
His voice the outlet, there to live
Renew’d in endless notes of glee,
So thirsty of his voice is he,
For all to hear and all to know
That he is joy, awake, aglow,
The tumult of the heart to hear
Through pureness filter’d crystal-clear,
And know the pleasure sprinkled bright
By simple singing of delight,
Shrill, irreflective, unrestrain’d,
Rapt, ringing, on the jet sustain’d
Without a break, without a fall,
Sweet-silvery, sheer lyrical,
Perennial, quavering up the chord
Like myriad dews of sunny sward
That trembling into fulness shine,
And sparkle dropping argentine;
Such wooing as the ear receives
From zephyr caught in choric leaves
Of aspens when their chattering net
Is flush’d to white with shivers wet;
And such the water-spirit’s chime
On mountain heights in morning’s prime,
Too freshly sweet to seem excess,
Too animate to need a stress;
But wider over many heads
The starry voice ascending spreads,
Awakening, as it waxes thin,
The best in us to him akin;
And every face to watch him rais’d,
Puts on the light of children prais’d,
So rich our human pleasure ripes
When sweetness on sincereness pipes,
Though nought be promis’d from the seas,
But only a soft-ruffling breeze
Sweep glittering on a still content,
Serenity in ravishment.

For singing till his heaven fills,
’T is love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup,
And he the wine which overflows
To lift us with him as he goes:
The woods and brooks, the sheep and kine
He is, the hills, the human line,
The meadows green, the fallows brown,
The dreams of labor in the town;
He sings the sap, the quicken’d veins;
The wedding song of sun and rains
He is, the dance of children, thanks
Of sowers, shout of primrose-banks,
And eye of violets while they breathe;
All these the circling song will wreathe,
And you shall hear the herb and tree,
The better heart of men shall see,
Shall feel celestially, as long
As you crave nothing save the song.
Was never voice of ours could say
Our inmost in the sweetest way,
Like yonder voice aloft, and link
All hearers in the song they drink:
Our wisdom speaks from failing blood,
Our passion is too full in flood,
We want the key of his wild note
Of truthful in a tuneful throat,
The song seraphically free
Of taint of personality,
So pure that it salutes the suns
The voice of one for millions,
In whom the millions rejoice
For giving their one spirit voice.

Yet men have we, whom we revere,
Now names, and men still housing here,
Whose lives, by many a battle-dint
Defaced, and grinding wheels on flint,
Yield substance, though they sing not, sweet
For song our highest heaven to greet:
Whom heavenly singing gives us new,
Enspheres them brilliant in our blue,
From firmest base to farthest leap,
Because their love of Earth is deep,
And they are warriors in accord
With life to serve and pass reward,
So touching purest and so heard
In the brain’s reflex of yon bird;
Wherefore their soul in me, or mine,
Through self-forgetfulness divine,
In them, that song aloft maintains,
To fill the sky and thrill the plains
With showerings drawn from human stores,
As he to silence nearer soars,
Extends the world at wings and dome,
More spacious making more our home,
Till lost on his aërial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

Eurasian Skylark drawing

To a Skylark « William Wordsworth (1770–1850)

UP with me! up with me into the clouds!
For thy song, Lark, is strong;
Up with me, up with me into the clouds!
Singing, singing,
With clouds and sky about thee ringing,
Lift me, guide me till I find
That spot which seems so to thy mind!

I have walked through wildernesses dreary
And to-day my heart is weary;
Had I now the wings of a Faery,
Up to thee would I fly.
There is madness about thee, and joy divine
In that song of thine;
Lift me, guide me high and high
To thy banqueting-place in the sky.

Joyous as morning
Thou art laughing and scorning;
Thou hast a nest for thy love and thy rest,
And, though little troubled with sloth,
Drunken Lark! thou would’st be loth
To be such a traveller as I.
Happy, happy Liver,
With a soul as strong as a mountain river
Pouring out praise to the Almighty Giver,
Joy and jollity be with us both!

Alas! my journey, rugged and uneven,
Through prickly moors or dusty ways must wind;
But hearing thee, or others of thy kind,
As full of gladness and as free of heaven,
I, with my fate contented, will plod on,
And hope for higher raptures, when life’s day is done.

Eurasian Skylark drawing

The Skylark « James Hogg (1770–1835)

BIRD of the wilderness,
Blythesome and cumberless,
Sweet be thy matin o’er moorland and lea!
Emblem of happiness,
Blest is thy dwelling-place—
O to abide in the desert with thee!

Wild is thy lay and loud,
Far in the downy cloud,
Love gives it energy, love gave it birth.
Where, on thy dewy wing,
Where art thou journeying?
Thy lay is in heaven, thy love is on earth.

O’er fell and fountain sheen,
O’er moor and mountain green,
O’er the red steamer that heralds the day,
Over the cloudlet dim,
Over the rainbow’s rim,
Musical cherub, soar, singing, away!

Then, when the gloaming comes,
Low in the heather blooms,
Sweet will thy welcome and bed of love be!
Emblem of happiness,
Blest is thy dwelling-place—
O to abide in the desert with thee!

Eurasian Skylark drawing

from Faust « Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Alas! that when on spirit-wing we rise,
No wing material lifts our mortal clay.
But ‘tis our inborn impulse, deep and strong,
Upwards and onwards still to urge our flight,
When far above us pours its thrilling song
The skylark, lost in azure light,
When on extended wing amain
O’er pine-crown’d height the eagle soars,
And over moor and lake, the crane
Still striveth towards its native shores.

[lines 1090+]

Eurasian Skylark drawing

To a Skylark « Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

HAIL to thee, blithe spirit!
Bird thou never wert—
That from heaven or near it
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art. 5

Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest,
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest. 10

In the golden light’ning
Of the sunken sun,
O’er which clouds are bright’ning,
Thou dost float and run,
Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun. 15

The pale purple even
Melts around thy flight;
Like a star of heaven,
In the broad daylight
Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight— 20

Keen as are the arrows
Of that silver sphere
Whose intense lamp narrows
In the white dawn clear,
Until we hardly see, we feel that it is there. 25

All the earth and air
With thy voice is loud,
As when night is bare,
From one lonely cloud
The moon rains out her beams, and heaven is overflow’d. 30

What thou art we know not;
What is most like thee?
From rainbow clouds there flow not
Drops so bright to see,
As from thy presence showers a rain of melody:— 35

Like a poet hidden
In the light of thought,
Singing hymns unbidden,
Till the world is wrought
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not: 40

Like a high-born maiden
In a palace tower,
Soothing her love-laden
Soul in secret hour
With music sweet as love, which overflows her bower: 45

Like a glow-worm golden
In a dell of dew,
Scattering unbeholden
Its aërial hue
Among the flowers and grass which screen it from the view: 50

Like a rose embower’d
In its own green leaves,
By warm winds deflower’d,
Till the scent it gives
Makes faint with too much sweet those heavy-wingèd thieves. 55

Sound of vernal showers
On the twinkling grass,
Rain-awaken’d flowers—
All that ever was
Joyous and clear and fresh—thy music doth surpass. 60

Teach us, sprite or bird,
What sweet thoughts are thine:
I have never heard
Praise of love or wine
That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine. 65

Chorus hymeneal,
Or triumphal chant,
Match’d with thine would be all
But an empty vaunt—
A thin wherein we feel there is some hidden want. 70

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? 75

With thy clear keen joyance
Languor cannot be:
Shadow of annoyance
Never came near thee:
Thou lovest, but ne’er knew love’s sad satiety. 80

Waking or asleep,
Thou of death must deem
Things more true and deep
Than we mortals dream,
Or how could thy notes flow in such a crystal stream? 85

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. 90

Yet, if we could scorn
Hate and pride and fear,
If we were things born
Not to shed a tear,
I know not how thy joy we ever should come near. 95

Better than all measures
Of delightful sound,
Better than all treasures
That in books are found,
Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground! 100

Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know;
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow,
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.

Eurasian Skylark drawing

The Skylark « Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894)

The earth was green, the sky was blue:
I saw and heard one sunny morn,
A skylark hang between the two,
A singing speck above the corn;

A stage below, in gay accord,
White butterflies danced on the wing,
And still the singing skylark soared,
And silent sank and soared to sing.

The cornfield stretched a tender green
To right and left beside my walks;
I knew he had a nest unseen
Somewhere among the million stalks:

And as I paused to hear his song,
While swift the sunny moments slid,
Perhaps his mate sat listening long,
And listened longer than I did.

Eurasian Skylark drawing

Here are some of Shakespeare’s larks, with comments, from The Birds of Shakespeare site.

Shakespeare makes this bird a rival to Chanticleer in the honor of setting the day agoing. He calls it “the morning lark,” “the herald of the morn,” specially associated with the brightness and glory of dawn.

“Lo, here the gentle lark, weary of rest,
From his moist cabinet mounts up on high,
And wakes the morning, from whose silver breast
The sun ariseth in his majesty;” [Venus and Adonis]

And…

“The busy day,
Waked by the lark, hath roused the ribald crows.”
[Troilus and Cressida – IV, 2]

The blithe sound of the bird’s carol is commemorated in the line…

“And merry larks are ploughmen’s clocks.” [Love’s Labour’s Lost – V, 2]

How joyfully does this feeling find expression in the exquisite song in Cymbeline:

“Hark, hark! the lark at heaven’s gate sings,
And Phoebus ‘gins arise,
His steeds to water at those springs
On chaliced flowers that lies;
And winking Mary-buds begin
To ope their golden eyes:
With every thing that pretty is,
My lady sweet, arise:
Arise, arise.” [II, 3]

The bird-melodies of night and morning were never more delicately commingled than in the garden scene where Juliet, from her window above, would fain persuade her lingering lover that it was not yet near day:

JULIET: “Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day:
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear;
Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate-tree:
Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.”

ROMEO: “It was the lark, the herald of the morn,
No nightingale: look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east:
Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.
I must be gone and live, or stay and die.”

JULIET: “Yon light is not day-light, I know it, I:
It is some meteor that the sun exhales,
To be to thee this night a torch-bearer,
And light thee on thy way to Mantua:
Therefore stay yet; thou need’st not to be gone.”

ROMEO: “Let me be ta’en, let me be put to death;
I am content, so thou wilt have it so.
I’ll say yon grey is not the morning’s eye,
‘Tis but the pale reflex of Cynthia’s brow;
Nor that is not the lark, whose notes do beat
The vaulty heaven so high above our heads:
I have more care to stay than will to go:
Come, death, and welcome! Juliet wills it so.
How is’t, my soul? let’s talk; it is not day.”

JULIET: “It is, it is: hie hence, be gone, away!
It is the lark that sings so out of tune,
Straining harsh discords and unpleasing sharps.
Some say the lark makes sweet division;
This doth not so, for she divideth us:
Some say the lark and loathed toad change eyes,
O, now I would they had changed voices too!
Since arm from arm that voice doth us affray,
Hunting thee hence with hunt’s-up to the day,
O, now be gone; more light and light it grows.”

ROMEO: “More light and light; more dark and dark our woes!”
[Romeo and Juliet – III, 5]

8 responses to “Skylark poems

  1. I’m really pleased to find all these skylark poems put together.
    I wrote one of my own some years ago called ‘Skylark Research’ which was published in a book called ‘Making Blue’.

  2. Ted Hughes’ poem ‘Skylarks’ is in his Wodwo collection. With its references to struggle and leadenness it could almost be a riposte to Shelley.

  3. Hello from England. I came across your blog after looking up skylark poems. I live near Croydon, which is just south of London, and there is a pub there in an area called South End which is named The Skylark, after Hopkins’ poetry. Hopkins visited Croydon and stayed at his grandfather’s house (Blunt House, now demolished) near the pub. Sad to say, neither the pub nor its location are now very poetic, unlike the beaches at Rhyl in Wales which inspired him to write “The Sea and the Skylark” and which are still inspiring today (out of the tourist season, at least). I very much enjoyed reading your blog/site, thank you for sharing your interests and experiences so eloquently.

  4. There’s also “The Skylark” by Ralph Hodgson pub Macmillan1959. It’s quite long.

  5. Hello from Bangladesh. It’s really heartening to see these Skylark poems together. The collection will help me for academic purpose. Thanks.

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