Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The Eagle - Alfred Tennyson

Composed in 1851, Tennyson's poem 'The Eagle' is a brief but vivid glimpse into the world of this powerful bird. In the initial three-line stanza, the eagle is pictured in a lofty position, on a crag 'close to the sun'. Tennyson uses alliteration in the first line: 'He clasps the crag with crooked hands', a hard 'c' sound recurring and then continuing in the word 'Close' at the beginning of the second line. The harsh consonant suggests the lack of comfort on this mountain top. Rather than using a word such as claws or talons, Tennyson likens the eagle to a person with the term 'hands'. The alliteration of the phrase 'lonely lands' in the second line emphasises the bird's solitude. In the final line of the third stanza, the eagle is seen is being 'Ring'd with the azure world”, in other words the sky, so once again his elevated position is focused on.

The opening line of the second stanza switches to the view below the mountain top in the personifying phrase 'The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls'. The waves are reduced to the size of wrinkles, again emphasising how far above the sea the eagle is. In the second line, the eagle is watching 'from his mountain walls', making his position sound secure, protected. In the final line, Tennyson uses a simile to create an image of the bird's swift and powerful descent on his prey: 'And like a thunderbolt he falls.'

The rhyming triplets used in each stanza give a feeling of harmony, where a creature is at one with its environment. The rhythm serves to reinforce this atmosphere. In the second and third lines of the first stanza, the stress falls on the first syllable – 'Close' and 'Ring'd' – again emphasising the eagle's position high up and in the centre of the sky.

In a mere six lines of poetry, Tennyson has constructed a masterly portrayal of the eagle in its natural surroundings.

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;

Close to the sun in lonely lands,

Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;

He watches from his mountain walls,

And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Alfred Tennyson


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