The belief in a Higher Spirit Percy Shelley a romantic poet and practicing Atheist wrote The Necessity of Atheism which was published in the year eighteen eleven. His main focus in this work was to argue that there is no proof of god, only cause and effect for all the things that happen in the world. In contrast, in the year eighteen twenty he wrote To a Skylark, a poem about a bird so magnificent in its flight and song it was like a spirit “that from heaven,” could not be compared to anything on earth (Skylark 402).
Through Percy’s experience with the skylark he found a higher power- a god-like spirit. His experience with the skylark was proof that he believed there was something else in this world beyond humankind-a spirit. Shelley’s belief in a god in The Necessity of Atheism was nonexistent. He believed there was an explanation for everything that happened in the human existence. The knowledge one had was all that was needed have a good life. There were three degrees of excitement one needed to have a complete life without belief in god.
He explained “The evidence of the senses,” “reason,” and “testimony” are all the ways in which he could prove there was no god: From this it is evident that having no proofs from any of the three sources of conviction: the mind cannot believe the existence of a God, it is also evident that as belief is a passion of the mind, no degree of criminality can be attached to disbelief, they only are reprehensible who willingly neglect to remove the false medium thro’ which their mind views the subject.
It is almost unnecessary to observe, that the general knowledge of the deficiency of such proof, cannot be prejudicial to society: Truth has always been found to promote the best interests of mankind. Every reflecting mind must allow that there is no proof of the existence of a Deity (Forman). Shelley writes, “The senses are the source of all knowledge to the mind, consequently their evidence claims the strongest assent” (Forman). He said that the evidence of the senses is when god appears to someone and convinces them that he exists.
Although Shelley did not believe God will appear the skylark is representative of a god-like spirit that appeared to him. To a Skylark was written in the romantic period by Shelley. In this poem he used the skylark as a sort of spirit. He used the most magnificent images and the song of the bird as a metaphor for the god-like spirit. He praised the spirit of the skylark, “hail to thee, blithe spirit! Bird thou never wert, That from Heaven, or ear it purest thy full heart in profuse strain of unpremeditated art” (402). Even though he was Atheist, he saw the skylark as a spirit that soared to the heavens and was beyond the capabilities of a human, a god like symbol. The skylark is a bird that soars high into the air farther than humans can see and only sings while in flight “Higher 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” (402).
He saw the bird soaring higher into the sky and hearing its wonderful song was like, “the star of heaven, in broad daylight” and as the voice took over the earth and air he saw that “heaven is overflowed” (402). He thought about the spirit of the bird and wondered “what thou we know not,” about the skylarks spirit. In this moment Shelley realized that there must be something else in this world beside just humans. The bird was part of a higher power. The same sort of characteristics one would call a gift from God. The skylark possessed spirit like qualities.
He wanted the skylark to teach him the ways in which he too could be a free spirit. The skylarks’ song was so beautiful that could not possibly have come from this earth. Shelley is convinced that god does not exist. In Necessity of Atheism he writes, “The decision of the mind founded upon our own experience derived from these sources, claim the next degree” (Forman). Reason is the logic for Shelley’s views on Atheism. There is a reason like that of cause and effect for everything that happens in the world. There is a beginning and an end with every human life.
The knowledge men have of their own existence in evolution proves that there is no god only cause and effect. There is scientific proof of our existence but no proof of God existing. There no reasoning or cause and effect to the existence of God. In the Skylark he questions the reason of how magnificent that bird looks and sounds and wonders how something that amazing could be part of this world. He is questioning the reason for its existence. He believes it is a spirit that has no reason for its existence. This contradicts his earlier statements regarding an existing Deity.
Shelley used the reality beauty of the earth, which was so fascinating to him, and compared it to the song of the skylark. The beauty on this earth which is real and tangible could not compare to that of the skylark song. Shelley talked about the song of the skylark “With music sweet as love,” the skylark is “like a glow worm of dew,” “like a rose embower’d in its own green leaves” like the “sound of a vernal shower”(403). As beautiful as these things are in nature they still cannot compare to the flight and the song of the skylark.
In this moment, he reasoned that with all the beautiful things around him. This experience with the skylark could not compare to reality. Shelley was convinced that even the birds’ song was too beautiful to have come from earth. He referred to a religious song the “Chorus hymeneal” and the “Triumphal Chaunt” a military song, both emotional songs that did not compare to the song of the skylark. The music of this bird was so powerful that these songs left him feeling empty in comparison to the skylark’s song.
This spirit of a higher power possessed in the skylarks’ song gave him faith. It made him feel like a free spirit as well. Because the skylark’s song reached a point of rapture it did not experience pain and suffering. Shelley longed for that feeling of rapture, freeing him from the realities of human suffering. The last of his argument is about the testimony of the existence of god. The only way that god exists is through men believing it to be true. However, with this belief there are consequences. The testimony is what man feels which has no tangible proof.
If men believed in this God they could reap high rewards for their faith. They were convincing themselves of something that did not exist. Yet in the Skylark, Shelley gives testimony to the birds’ spirit. He was convinced that there had to be something more to that creature than man can see. Shelley’s To a Skylark is a strong testimony to his belief in something greater than himself. The Necessity of Atheism was written in eighteen eleven. At that time Shelley was only eighteen years old. This is an age when people are still questioning their beliefs.
They are not fully matured and don’t have their minds made up about the existence of god or a higher power. Shelley did not believe in god and wanted to rebel against the norm of society and religion. With the influence and help of Thomas Jefferson Hogg he made an excellent argument about the non-existence of God. People were offended with his views on Atheism and he was expelled from school and even moved away from the town he was living. Once he had matured and began to have more experiences in his life, things changed for Shelley.
He was married twice and had only one child that survived adulthood. When Shelley lost his son William at age three and a half he was devastated. This tragedy may have led him to the peace he found in the song of the skylark. Shelley described the skylark as a spirit that knows no pain and suffering as humans do and is able to soar high above the rest of the world. Shelley admired and envied the skylark and wanted this spirit to be reflected in his poetry and his life. Shelley was searching for the creative inspiration that often comes from a hidden unseen source.
The skylark’s spirit was so beautiful and amazing that it could not have come from anything human. Needing a place of comfort when there is a traumatic event in your life is what Shelley found in the song of the skylark. The skylark’s message to Shelley was more powerful, inspirational and healing than that of any mortal. The skylark represented a new meaning for Shelley. The bird changed his perspective and may have even given him faith. It may not have convinced him that God exists but it definitely brought him closer to a belief in a higher power.