(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.
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>. thomas. [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,..is the Kraken. This creature is the largest and most surprizing of all the animal creation. 1770 Douglas in Phil. Trans. LX. 41 Enquiry..as 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 describe. 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