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Unhappiness in Human Beings

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In Thomas De Quincey's essay "Confessions of an English Opium Eater," the speaker discusses the problems associated with drugs. He suggests that his "dreams were accompanied by deep-seated anxiety and gloomy melancholy, such as are wholly incommunicable by words" (971). However, sadness and gloom do not belong exclusively to addicts as Shelley points out in his poem "To a Skylark." The everyday man also faces the same problem as De Quincey's opium eater as human beings have a tendency to focus on life's sadness. In his poem, Shelley uses the joyous skylark as a contrast to man in order to express the idea that human beings live a seeming unfulfilled life as any pleasure found in life also comes with unhappiness.


The speaker describes the skylark as a happy creature completely pure in its joy and unhampered by sorrow or misery. As the speaker watches the bird, he notes that it seems to soar through the sky "like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun" (ll. 15). The skylark seems to have an unending amount of "joy" as the bird's emotion has "just begun." Furthermore, it's happiness appears of extreme magnitude as it exists "unbodied" which suggests both the sense that nothing can restrain the lark's delight as well as the idea that mortals cannot feel such "joy." In addition, when the skylark flies out of sight the speaker can still "hear thy shrill delight" (ll. 20). Even though the speaker cannot physically see the joyful bird, he still can sense its "shrill delight." Because the lark possesses such intense happiness, the speaker does not need to see it to feel its pure, and thus powerful, emotions. Additionally, the speaker uses a series of metaphors, comparing the skylark with a poet, maiden, glow-...


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...rk appears to possess.


Thus, while the skylark experiences a pure happiness, untainted by any feelings of sadness or other negativity, the knowledge of mortality does not allow for human beings to have the same knowledge of joy. Happiness for mortals, invariably comes with melancholy or may manifest itself as a bittersweet form of joy. Just as De Quincey's opium eater suffers from a melancholy state, so does the speaker feel burdened by the fact that he will never feel pure joy and therefore envies the skylark. Human beings can never escape the knowledge that they live mortal lives and will one day face death, and therefore never feel full contentment as they always look for more ways to enrich or enhance their lives. Mortal beings can never experience true happiness, always discontent with their current standing and looking for what they do not have.



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