Please explain the poem "The Eagle" by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

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

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This imagery poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson originates from his experiences while traveling as a young man in the Pyrenees.  The poem was written before Tennyson was respected as one of the great poets of his time. 

In his journals, Tennyson notes a valley, which he said was his favorite place in the world.  This valley was in the Pyrenees where he was able to view the great predator of the skies: the eagle. Inspired to write about his sightings of the bird, Tennyson creates a single precise image of the bird looking down at a body of water. 

The poet uses alliteration, personification, and a simile to enhance the reader’s experience of watching the bird.  A very short poem but a great example of literary devices---this is Tennyson’s “The Eagle.”

1st Stanza

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.

The poem begins by using alliteration to emphasize the stark and oddly shaped talons of the eagle: clasps, crap, crooked, and close.

The bird holds on to a rock with his oddly shaped claws. This would indicate that the eagle is high on a rocky mountain ledge.

The mountainous rock appears high up seeming to touch the sun. The place where the observer finds himself is far away from civilization: the lonely lands. The loneliness may also be a commentary on the life of the eagle as a solitary bird who lives and travels alone. The eagle magnificiently stands surrounded by the bluest sky.  


2nd Stanza

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

The observer must also be high enough to look down where he sees the water is moving and appears almost like it has wrinkles [both personification and a metaphor]. The water does not rush but rather crawls.  The eagle also looks down from his lofty mountain rock and watches the water.  He may be searching for a fish who is too close to the surface. Suddenly, just like a thunderbolt or lightning from the sky, he falls or soars into the sky [The perfect simile for the king of the skies]. 


The author encapsulates this tiny segment of nature: a majestic eagle diving from his lofty throne.  Tennyson’s youthful image is forever memorialized with complete exactness.