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An Analysis of the poem Eagle by Tennyson by R.C.

Fernando for more Notes


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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.

This poem reminds me about a recent incident where a group of men in our country had skinned an
eagle alive and even posted the gory picture of the same in the facebook. The shocked public wanted
the police to arrest the culprits which they did and later they were produced before the court and were
punished.
The poem Eagle by Tennyson is an amazingly powerful poem although it consists of just two stanzas.
The poem is about a lone eagle perched atop a steep rock in the sea.
Eagles are large, powerful birds of prey. They have large, hooked beaks and have excellent
eyesight. They also have powerful talons which help them catch prey. Eagles build their nests on high
cliffs or in tall trees. There are over 60 different species of eagle in the world.
The poem consists of two stanzas, each consisting of three rhyming lines of iambic pentameter. This
type of three rhyming lines is called triplets (couplets being more common).
In the first stanza, the poet describes the bird who is perched high up in rock with a sense of
admiration. The bird holds tightly to the rock with his iron like talons and stands still against the gusty
wind that sweeps against him. He appears close to the sun than to the earth due to the majestic
height of his position. He is circled by the blue sky.
In the second stanza the poet describes the sea as it appears to the bird. The huge rolling waves of
the sea are reduced to wrinkles from that great height. In the last line the bird falls like a thunderbolt
to the sea below in an awesome climax.
Now lets look at the poem more closely and analyse it line-by-line as usual.
The poem begins with a superb close-up.
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Just like our previous poem (A Bird came down the Walk), the poet tries to humanize the bird using the
words he and hands. Even the verb clasps has connotations of warmth and friendship as when
we shake hands with others. However, here it refers to the tenacious grip of the bird in his effort to

balance himself on the rock which is exposed to the unrelenting blasts of wind. Crooked means ugly
and deformed and it creates an unpleasant picture in our minds. The harsh alliteration of cr sound
heightens that effect.
The second line associates the bird with the realm of the sky:
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Suddenly, the close-up changes into a long shot like in a film. Now we see the bird against the sky, at
a superior height. The phrase lonely lands seems to suggest the eagles domination of the sky. The
prominent assonance of the o sound further accentuates the sense of loneliness and distance. The
alliteration of l sounds contributes to the musical quality of the line.
The third line of the first stanza further describes the sky:
Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.
The words azure world refers to the sky of the color of ocean blue. The bird is circled or ringd by
the blue sky. The passive action of stands which rhymes with hands and lands creates an effect of
stillness or inertness. This is like a still shot in cinema. The caesura or the comma before he further
heightens this stillness.
The second stanza begins with a birds eye-view of the sea which appears to be crawling beneath the
towering cliff:
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
The waves of the sea look like wrinkles of a cloth or skin from that great height. The rolling of the
waves is diminished to crawling. The word crawls also reminds us about the reptiles who are eaten
by eagles. In addition the word wrinkled reminds us of an old person while crawls reminds us of a
baby. Taken together, it might be suggestive of the life cycle of the humans or the nature.
The next line takes us back to the eagle who appears to be poised for action:
He watches from his mountain walls,
It is not clear what he watches from that great height. Eagle is a bird with a sharp vision and he may
be watching some prey (a fish for example) far below. The word also builds up some tension as it
prepares him for action. The words mountain walls suggest the sharp incline of the rock and its
inaccessibility.
The last line brings the poem to a superb climax:
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
Finally, the eagle dives of the cliff and swoops downward in a straight line in a graceful movement. It is
an effortless action which depends on the gravitational acceleration. The word thunderbolt suggests
the speed with which a thunderbolt strikes and thus the swiftness of the eagle. It also suggests Thor is
a hammer-wielding god associated with thunder, lightning and storms in the Norse mythology. The bird
may be diving at its prey which has very little chance of escape given the lightening speed at which
bird descends on him.

It is notoriously difficult to pin point the themes of this poem as it lends itself to multifarious meanings.
However, one of the themes may be the superiority of animals over man who prides himself as the
most intelligent being on the earth. It might also carry themes such as freedom, fate, power of nature
etc.
Alfred Lord Tennyson is considered to be the greatest of the Victorian poets and he is well known for
the craftsmanship in poetry. His greatest poem is In Memoriam which was dedicated to his friend
Arthur Hallam whose death left the poet heartbroken.