Discuss the poem "The Eagle" by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The master of the skies! “The Eagle” has no equal in his domain.  Alfred Lord Tennyson portrays this magnificent bird of prey with its great vision, powers of flight, and powerful talons.  Tennyson in his travels through the Pyrenees in France watched this scene and shared it with his readers.  .

In only eight lines, Tennyson paints a portrait of this majestic scene.  His imagery perfectly captures the essence of a part of nature not often seen by man.  The point of view is the poet’s as he imagines the view of the eagle.  The high cliff and the sky are depicted as part of another world, one that is nearer to the heavens than to earth.

The form of the poem is neat and easy to follow. There are two stanzas with three lines each.  Both stanzas are a series of three rhyming lines.  The rhymes are formed from simple, one-syllable words. His word choice, though exceptionally easy, effortlessly depicts the eagle's world.

The poet aptly uses alliteration to create the sharply, crafted scene.  In the first line of the poem, Tennyson uses clasps, crag, crooked, and close to describe the talons of the eagle.  Then to describe the scene his word choice includes wrinkled, watches, and walls.

The poem produces strange visual effects. Employing personification, at one point the ocean looks like a person crawling on his hands and knees, and the eagle holds onto the rocks with his crooked hands much like an elderly person clutching onto his cane.   Finally, the poet compares the quickness of the eagle as he begins his flight to Zeus casting his thunderbolt down on the earth. The eagle remains motionless for most of the poem; the reader imagines the eagle moving his head observing the world below him. Then, suddenly he soars toward the ocean. 

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;

He watches from his mountain walls,

And like a thunderbolt he falls.


The eagle clamps onto the rock with his curved talons.  He seems to be as high as the sky in this isolated place.  Encircled by the blue skies, the majestic bird stands.

The sea shaped with the waves beneath him slowly; the eagle observes the world from his mountainous perch—and shockingly quick, he dives off the cliff into the sky.

What a joy to read this well-crafted poem depicting a scene often hidden from man’s view.


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