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The Kraken -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

(Poem #896) The Kraken
 Below the thunders of the upper deep;
 Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
 His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
 The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
 About his shadowy sides; above him swell
 Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
 And far away into the sickly light,
 From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
 Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
 Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
 There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
 Battening upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
 Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
 Then once by man and angels to be seen,
 In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
-- Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Written in 1830.

Tennyson was only 21 years old when he wrote "The Kraken", but he already
possessed the mastery of image and phrase that was to become his trademark.
The fact that the poem remains known and loved to this day (unlike many of
Tennyson's later and, dare I say it, more reactionary pieces) belies its
usual classification under 'juvenilia'; indeed, I can think of few poets
(bar the incomparable Keats) who have achieved similar results at such a
tender age.

The poem itself is a wonderfully ominous one: Tennyson uses dense,
intertwined phrases to create an impression of ponderous weight and immense
size. You can almost feel the barnacles encrusting the middle third of the
poem: "sponges of millennial growth ... sickly light... unnumber'd and
enormous polypi". The finale, too, is most fitting: nothing less than the
last trumpet and judgement day will suffice to wake the monster from its
"ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep"... <shudder>.


[More on the Kraken]

kraken ("krA:k@n, "kreIk@n). Also 8 craken, cracken, kraaken. [Norw. kraken,
krakjen (the -n being the suffixed definite article), also called sykraken,
sjokrakjen sea-kraken. The name was first brought into general notice by
Pontoppidan in his Forste Forsog paa Norges naturlige Historie (1752).]
   A mythical sea-monster of enormous size, said to have been seen at times
off the coast of Norway.
   1755 tr. Pontoppidan's Hist. Norway ii. vii. 11. 211 Amongst the many
great things which are in the ocean, the Kraken.  This creature is the
largest and most surprizing of all the animal creation. 1770 Douglas in
Phil. Trans. LX. 41 to the existence of the aquatic animals,
called Kraakens. 1830 Tennyson Kraken 4 Far, far beneath the abysmal
sea,..The Kraken sleepeth. 1848 Lowell Ode to France 30 Ye are mad, ye have
taken A slumbering Kraken For firm land of the Past. 1862 Longfellow The
Cumberland vi, Like a kraken huge and black, She crushed our ribs in her
iron grasp!
        -- OED

[Minstrels Links]

"The Kraken" is very similar in theme and execution to Herman Melville's
"The Maldive Shark", Poem #775 on the Minstrels: both poems use wonderfully
dense, murky phrases to convey the sheer horror of the creatures they

Other poems by Tennyson:
Poem #15, The Eagle (a fragment)
Poem #31, Break, break, break
Poem #80, The Brook (excerpt)
Poem #121, Ulysses
Poem #355, Charge of the Light Brigade
Poem #653, Ring Out, Wild Bells
Poem #825, Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal, Now the White
Poem #852, Mariana in the Moated Grange

53 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

michelle gay said...

I am very disapointed. I have searched through all the poems and have notised that out of all the Alfred, Lord Tennyson poems you havn't put in 'Lady of Shallot', one of the best poems in histery. I understand that nearly everyone else on this website would know alot more about poems than I do, as I'm only in year 8, but I know enough that 'Lady of Shallot' is a brilliant piece of work and should be displayed on this website at least.

[annie] * said...

I'm not sure if I'm right but I saw the kraken as a gentle creature, and not
as evil as fabled by storytellers. The sea in which it lives is chaotic,
described with such words as "thunders" and "abysmal". However, in the next
line it is revealed that the kraken is merely sleeping. The word "sleep" is
repeated in the poem, emphasising the creature's calm nature -- in contrast
to the hellish motions of the sea. [Theme: the nature of good and evil]
But what I don't get is the part where he "rises and dies". It's lonesome
and spends its days "Battening upon huge seaworms" and sleeping. But when it
has the chance to wake up and haunt the oceans, it dies. Isn't it ironic?

Ian Baillieu said...

Michelle, I agree that's a wonderful poem, and worthy of
being in Minstrels, but let's spell it correctly 'Shalott'.

Ken Kennedy said...

Captures the terrifying mystique. Great stuff. Rocky the seagull would quak
his approval.

Dominic Doggett said...

I don't get it!

Anonymous said...

The Kraken is a mysterious creature, this poem captures it perfectly. A perfect picture in your mind...

Abraham Lincoln said...

ok im doing a story on the kraken give me some pointers..............................................................................................................................................................................................

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scott said...

wow what a poem.

Anonymous said...

The Kraken with its arms reaching, buried below the murmurs of the upper deep, growing and amassing age and wisdom until at last the fiery world above bequeaths it's heat to his propulsion.

Does anyone else see the obvious blow to society here?

Anonymous said...

Wow, the kraken is seemingly peaceful (Well of course he's SLEEPING) and then he wakes up, and comes to the surface and dies. Maybe he's allergic to air.

Anonymous said...

May be a stupid comment, but does anyone have an idea what 'battening' means in this context, according to Google it means attaching or fastening or hardening. None of these make sense in this context, any thoughts?

Thank You

Anonymous said...

Battening means to thrive or prosper at the expense of others. In this case the huge worms are thriving at the expense of the kraken.

Anonymous said...

This poem is awesome I'm doing my english project on it

Anonymous said...

this poem is the best that i ever readed

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Anonymous said...

Did it in year 7 but did not enjoy analysing it nearly as much as I am enjoyng analysing the Kraken in year 8

Anonymous said...

It means to feed greedily in this context

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I don't really like poems...this one...made me hate poems even more, I don't get whats so interesting about them...ugghh

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