Discuss the use of imagery in the poem “To a skylark”
An image is a literal and concrete representation of a sensory experience or of an object that can be known by one or more of the senses. The image is one of the distinctive elements of the “language of art”, the means by which experience is often communicated. It is very nearly a mental picture. Imagery is mental pictures expressed through language. It conveys word pictures and evokes an imaginative, emotional response as well as providing a vivid, specific description. (P. B. Shelley’s poems are full of fine word paintings. At times he presents these pictures with details at once simple and sumptuous, and characterised by graphic certainty. The succession of splendid images in which the poet describes the skylark constitutes the charm of “To a Skylark”
Shelley has drawn mental pictures to describe the skylark. The skylark which is a spirit of joy has been presented as a concrete object-a bird, soaring high into the sky and simultaneously singing. It is a very beautiful image, providing a vivid, specific description of the skylark’s habit:
“That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.”
The image “like a cloud of fire” is used to describe the skylark’s springing upward almost like a flame rising into the sky. Shelley’s visual imagery is the product of an eye usually directed either up or down, or focussed on a distance”. The image as presented in the following describes the skylark taking rest in the air floating on its wings and darkening upward with a swift movement:
“Thou dost float and run
Like an unbodied joy who race is just begun”
The skylark is likened to a romantic poet “hidden/ In the light of thought,” to a high-born maiden singing “In a palace-tower”, to a glow-worm scattering its light and to a rose spreading its perfume in the neighbouring air. In the line “Until we hardly see-we feel that it is there”, Shelley employs what is called “synthetic imagery which seeks” an equilibrium and harmony of various impulses and brings all the faculties into play.
The imageries combine the abstract and concrete in a fashion very typical of Shelley. This concrete abstract duality is notably present elsewhere in Shelley’s poetry. Shelley does not tell us what manner of creature the skylark maybe) But by a series of creative imageries he is able to approximate his archetypal conception on it, as far as the resources of language will help The idea of the bird is a compound of many elements as the archetypal idea of perfection is So the skylark, being that image of Perfection and Truth, is significantly unseen and remote but it has to be conceived through the imagination.
The bird-song is brought home to us in this series of images conceived with an intensity of power, conjured with a vividness of colouring, and an apt suggestiveness hardly equalled anywhere else. The expression “on the twinkling grass” provides a very effective visual image, representing the grass that glistens with raindrops. The expression “Vernal showers” is an instance of an auditory image, creating a pictorial sensation, and representing a mental picture of light rain falling in the springtime. The music made by these light showers of rain is sweet and pleasant after the chilly rain of winter. The expression “Rain-awakened flowers” provides a very beautiful organic image, giving a picture of flowers that are refreshed by the falling rains.
Shelley’s imagery is rich and varied. We have in “To a Skylark” abstract and ethereal images so characteristic of Shelley’s poetic genius. Some of the images are colourful and sensuous. In this poem, we have a number of pictures of the aerial regions. The expression “blue deep” is an image of the blue depth of the sky. The expressions “golden lightning” and “sunken sun” provide the pictures of “the rays of the sun resembling flashes of light which seen to shine like gold” and the sun diving in the western horizon’ The image pale purple even’ represents ‘dim reddish-blue evening and the image “silvery sphere gives a picture of the shining moon. “Night is bare is the image of the cloudless sky, ‘A star of Heaven’, and ‘rainbow clouds’ are colourful pictures. All these pictures have a keen sensuous appeal.
The images that Shelley often gives in his lyric as in this poem are of light and wind, cloud and sky, moon and sun, star and rainbow, the bright and beautiful things of air and Nature. His images are highly daring, sweeping and drawn on a large scale. In the images as we trace in To a Skylark, in which beauty and mystery are perfectly blended the symbolic import of the bird has been captured and conveyed with a wonderful sense of parallelism. His imagery here gives evidence of his fertile and winged imagination.