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The Eagle (a fragment) -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

       
(Poem #15) The Eagle (a fragment)
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, Lord Tennyson
For sheer concentrated imagery this poem is hard to beat - I especially like
lines 2 and 3. Tennyson is reported to have said that while people have
written better poetry than he has, no one has written poetry that *sounds*
better, and I'm inclined to agree with him - for other lovely examples, read
'The Brook', 'Break, break, break' and 'The Lady of Shallott'. (The latter
two may be found online at
<http://library.utoronto.ca/www/utel/rp/authors/tennyson.html#poems> ; if
anyone knows where to find an online copy of the former do let me know.)

I have, incidentally, seen at least one version in which line 1 reads
'hooked hands', suggesting that Tennyson revised the poem at some time.
'Crooked' is by far the more accepted version, though.

Biographical Notes:

 Relevant extracts from
 <[broken link] http://mirrors.org.sg/victorian/tennyson/tennybio.html>

  Since Tennyson was always sensitive to criticism, the mixed reception of his
  1832 Poems hurt him greatly. Critics in those days delighted in the
  harshness of their reviews: the Quarterly Review was known as the "Hang,
  draw, and quarterly." John Wilson Croker's harsh criticisms of some of the
  poems in our anthology kept Tennyson from publishing again for another nine
  years.
  [...]
  The success of his 1842 Poems made Tennyson a popular poet, and in 1845 he
  received a Civil List (government) pension of £200 a year, which helped
  relieve his financial difficulties; the success of "The Princess" and In
  Memoriam and his appointment in 1850 as Poet Laureate finally established
  him as the most popular poet of the Victorian era.

  By now Tennyson, only 41, had written some of his greatest poetry, but he
  continued to write and to gain in popularity.

  [Prince Albert's] admiration for Tennyson's poetry helped solidify his
  position as the national poet, and Tennyson returned the favor by dedicating
  "The Idylls of the King" to his memory. Queen Victoria later summoned him to
  court several times, and at her insistence he accepted his title, having
  declined it when offered by both Disraeli and Gladstone.
  [...]
  Tennyson suffered from extreme short-sightedness--without a monocle he could
  not even see to eat--which gave him considerable difficulty writing and
  reading, and this disability in part accounts for his manner of creating
  poetry: Tennyson composed much of his poetry in his head, occasionally
  working on individual poems for many years. During his undergraduate days at
  Cambridge he often did not bother to write down his compositions, although
  the Apostles continually prodded him to do so. (We owe the first version of
  "The Lotos-Eaters" to Arthur Hallam, who transcribed it while Tennyson
  declaimed it at a meeting of the Apostles.)

Criticism:

   We still look to the earlier masters for supreme excellence in particular
   directions: to Wordsworth for sublime philosophy, to Coleridge for ethereal
   magic, to Byron for passion, to Shelley for lyric intensity, to Keats for
   richness. Tennyson does not excel each of these in his own special field,
   but he is often nearer to the particular man in his particular mastery than
   anyone else can be said to be, and he has in addition his own special field
   of supremacy. What this is cannot be easily defined; it consists, perhaps,
   in the beauty of the atmosphere which Tennyson contrives to cast around his
   work, molding it in the blue mystery of twilight, in the opaline haze of
   sunset: this atmosphere, suffused over his poetry with inestimable skill
   and with a tact rarely at fault, produces an almost unfailing illusion or
   mirage of loveliness.

   -- Edmond Gosse, "Tennyson," in the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia
   Britannica

Martin

49 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

POETPEAR said...

I have used this poem as an introduction to poetry for tenth graders for
about ten years. The marriage of sound and sense, especially imagery, can be
used to initiate students to the techniques of poetry. In asking the
students to respond to the poem, I ask them to create a word 'snapshot' of
each line, considering composition of the image, perspective of the viewer,
and suggested use of color. The correlation between the phonetic character
of the sounds and the quality of the students' perceived images is
remarkable. In each case, the 'harsh' lines beget harsh images; the ringing
R's of the third line elevate the eagle to regal status; the long vowels in
the final line sompel students to create 'active' two dimensional pictures.
A great poem.

kuchic 3 said...

I'm a 9th grader from Heritage Christian School and I went on the
internet to understand the last line in 'The Eagle' by Alfred, Lord
Tennyson. When I found a page it showed that you were a teacher and you
have read the poem. So I was wondering if you could help me understand
the last line when it says "And like a thunderbolt he falls" Does that
mean he's flying away? Or does he mean that he just falls and hits the
bottom? Thanks.

Martin DeMello said...

--- kuchic 3 wrote:
> I'm a 9th grader from Heritage Christian School and I went on the
> internet to understand the last line in 'The Eagle' by Alfred, Lord
> Tennyson. When I found a page it showed that you were a teacher and
> you have read the poem. So I was wondering if you could help me
> understand the last line when it says "And like a thunderbolt he
> falls" Does that mean he's flying away? Or does he mean that he just
> falls and hits the bottom? Thanks.

Tennyson was referring to the eagle's rapid, swooping descent (as, for
example, when diving upon its prey, though he doesn't say so
explicitly). The imagery is of power, speed and suddenness.

martin

jspanier said...

The poem also works as an allusion to Zeus (eagle and thunderbolt). Attributes of the impressive, and deadly, eagle are attributes of the King of Gods as well.

Drew Hood said...

I am currently in 1102 English at Indian River Community college. We were asked by our professor to determine the theme for this poem. Could you please help me?

Drew

Matthew LeSaint said...

I hate this poem and I hate poetry. Why is it so important that we have to learn about it. I am serious. people who right about what they feel but don't say it outright is just stupid.

Sarah Istead said...

i'm doing my homework and i'm just wondering when was this poem(eagle) wrote.

McGillicuddy Colin said...

To Matthew, who is irritated by the indirectness of poetry

When I was a younger man I shared your feelings and frustration. But I
found myself studying a lot of poetry in university when I was in a
hurry to finish a 4 year degree in 3 years - the poetry courses had less
reading than the others, so I could take 6 at a time instead of 4 or 5.
I found that the more I read it, the more I began to understand it.

Two things to bear in mind. First of all, poetry is about emotion and
ideas, much of which is extremely difficult (if not downright
impossible) to communicate in prose. Secondly, like all literature it
only makes sense in the context of other literature. Which is to say
that the more you read, the better reader you become. I think it was
Eliot that used the term "The Sacred Wood" - the metaphor that
individual works of literature are like individual trees in a forest. In
and of themselves they may "mean" little, but the relationships between
them all is a source of unnumbered meanings.

I hope you will not give up reading, because one day the light is going
to turn on and all of a sudden you will find that allusions come
unbidden to you everywhere you turn.

Colin McGillicuddy

Principal

St. Thomas Aquinas RCSS

124 Dorval Drive

Oakville, ON

L6K 2W1

PH:FAX:

tom said...

I think the theme is power or at least that is the most explicit theme I can
see. Im not sure im studying it now in year 9 to prepare us for the
techniques used in poetry at GCSE

Danielle Blynn said...

I like poetry!...............

Rosa A.Ojeda Ayala said...

I understand this is not a fragment of the poem; it is the poem itself.
I first read it like forty years ago, when working on my bachellor's
degree, and still remember it. It is really very powerful.

Dr. Rosa A. Ojeda Ayala
Professor
University of the Sacred Heart
San Juan, Puerto Rico

Brian Cotgrove said...

Whilst walking back home from the rail station this morning the poem "The Eagle" came back into my mind and I just had to look it up on the net.

As a boy of ten years of age, back in 1948, it was a task set by my teacher, to memorise this poem and recite it at assembly.

It just goes to show how ones brain can be like a computer with all of this stored on the harddrive.

Why the button should have been activated in my mind while walking home is anybody's guess.

Brian Cotgrove.

ScotiaBank Online Banking said...

Lord Tennyson is pretty cool.

Anonymous said...

In my used 12th grade English lit textbook someone had crossed out the last word (falls) and written in "farts". I've never been able to forget this, and I snicker whenever I read through this poem.

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