What is a crtical appreciation of "Break, Break, Break" by Alfred Tennnyson?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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A "critical appreciation," or critical analysis, consists of a discussion of themes, thesis, structure, literary devices including elements, which are common to all specimens of the literary type, and techniques, which are available at the author's or poet's choosing. A brief analysis of some points of interest about "Break, Break, Break" by Lord Alfred Tennyson follows.

"Break, Break, Break" is an elegy, which is a lyrical poem of lamentation. A lyrical poem is short and tells the thoughts, state of mind, perceptions, and feelings of the persona of the poem, who may or may not be the poet her/imself. It does not tell a narrative story like Browning's short narrative poem "My Last Duchess." Lyrical poetry was originally accompanied by a lyre in ancient Greece.

"Break, Break, Break" is written in four quatrain stanzas (four lines, four stanzas). The meter is built on the triple syllable beat of "Break, break, break." However the meter varies throughout the poem as it switches between the triple beat of anapests (^^/) and the double beat of iambs (^/) as in evident in this line: " On^ thy^ cold' / gray^ stones', / O^ Sea!'" and this: "O^, well' / for^ the^ sai' / -lor^ lad'," The rhyme scheme in all stanzas is abcb.

Some striking literary devices are the two apostrophes in which the sea is addressed in lines 1 and 2 and then again in lines 13 and 14. Of course, since the sea is addressed, that indicates personification of the sea. Line 15 has the elegant and moving metaphor "the tender grace of a day that is dead," descriptively referring, as does the poem, to his deceased friend and well-wisher, poet Arthur Hallam.

The tone moves from sorrowful in stanza one to bitter in stanza two with Tennyson's "O, well for fisherman's boy ...," which implies that it is not well with the poet/persona. The tone of the third stanza shifts to mournfulness as the poet paradoxically yearns for the "touch of the vanquished hand" and the "sound of the voice that is still." The final stanza speaks of the unchangeable finality of his loss in ironic juxtaposition to the ever eternal "Break, break, break" of the sea "At the foot of thy crags."

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