He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed 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 Lord Tennyson (1850 - 1892)
When I first started taking an interest in poetry this poem was given to me as an entry point to define poetic expression in terms of a simple text. It certainly did that and looking at it again today it still invokes admiration.
L1 … Rhyme, rhythm, and alliteration and then personification as claws are transformed into hands. We have become the eagle. Clasps give strength to the fact of maintaining a strong hold. It gives a sense of safety. The many times I go to a lookout I make sure I am safe as I look down.
L2 … Of course, the Eagle is not close to the sun. We know the sun and moon appear to be the same size though the sun is millions of miles away. But this is where the eagle lives and it is not our world, another lonely world. Hopefully, a world far away from the flight path of planes. But lonely suggests the eagle has the sky space to itself.
L3 … He is now standing rather than perched and he is ringed with the azure (bright blue cloudless sky). And we immediately have a picture of dominance against a perfect sky background. Of all birds the eagle is the lion of the sky.
L4 … You will not get a better word than wrinkled to describe the sea from a great height on a quiet day. And the fact that it crawls gives emphasis that it is below and subservient to the eagle.
L5 … This is his lookout where he spends time watching. This is his nature and way of living. So you have a still set in the mind of the reader. A waiting and that comma is so important at the end of the line. When reading it give a pause!
L6 … The thunderbolt dynamism of the last line. The contrast from being still and the crawling sea as we become the falling eagle (not diving or swooping) but falling. I am told birds do close in their feathers tight to provide greater speed in movement at the start of their dive. Therefore, falls may have a factual element as well.
Some time ago my daughter took a photograph of a sea-eagle. When she zoomed the image it had a fish in its claws. You must hand it to the eagle for such fishing skill.
2 thoughts on “The Eagle – Alfred Lord Tennyson”
Reblogged this on penwithlit and commented:
It seems to me that some aspects of this poem prefigure The Imagists that came along a little later-especially as it is so short.
It is a perfect example Richard. Would that we could all achieve such imagery in so few words!