What is the theme of "The Eagle" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson?

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Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Eagle” uses imagery to portray the king of the skies: the eagle.  Tennyson traveled in the Pyrenees where he often saw eagles circling overhead.  The beauty of the scenes inspired him to write this tribute to the great bird of prey.


The narration is third person point of view providing the information as though the reader were watching a documentary about the eagle. The theme suggested in the poem is the majesty of nature. Man cannot usually see the eagle because of the places that it chooses to build its nests.  Most of the time man can only imagine what the eagle’s movement and life are like. The freedom and beauty of this unparalleled bird is mother nature at its most pure.

This eagle’s masculinity represents the ideal male. The movements are described in  short, crisp phrases.  He clasps, he watches, he stands, and he falls.  None of these depict what the reader would image this aggressive bird would show.  All of these movements are passive.

The eagle is perched on a rock overlooking the blue ocean. The poem uses words that put the mountains out of human reach, words like "crag" and "walls." The entire mountain seems to belong to the solitary eagle.



The eagle grasps the rock with his talons.  His perch seems near to the sun in an isolated place. Surrounded by the blue of the ocean, he proudly stands.

The waved water beneath him continually moves. Alertly, he surveys the world from his his mountainous roost.  Without warning, the majestic bird drops into flight as quick as lightning strikes.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;

He watches from his mountain walls

To add to the theme of the natural world and nature glorified, the poet asks the reader to use his imagination. The eagle is of tremendous size and strength.

In the mind’s eye, one can see the eagle on his perch turning his head ever searching and alert.  The eagle remains motionless for most of the poem;  one can imagine him turning his head from time to time to look around always searching until he spies a fish or rabbit  The bird effortlessly glides with his toward his prey.

Not many people get to view this glorious spectacle of nature!

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What aspects of nature does Alfred, Lord Tennyson feature in his poem "The Eagle"?

Along with Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Shelley and Keats, Alfred, Lord Tennyson is considered one of the premiere English Romantic poets. Romantic poetry often focused on nature. For example, one of Wordsworth's most famous poems, "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" is simply the poet's recollection of what it was like to come upon a field of daffodils and the beauty they provided him.

Likewise, Tennyson focuses on an eagle, perched high on a mountain cliff, as the subject of this short, two stanza poem. He uses both personification and simile to describe the eagle as the bird watches from high above, and then dives to the sea below for his prey. The eagle is...

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personified in the first stanza: "He clasps the crag with crooked hands". In the second stanza, Tennyson uses a simile to express the eagle's hunt:

He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

In nature, the eagle is a king, very high on the food chain. The poem reflects this predominance. Nothing can touch the eagle on its lofty precipice. It has a complete view of the world below and hunts ruthlessly. The eagle is compared to a thunderbolt, and the extreme power that natural element brings to the world. Tennyson also describes the sky as "azure," defining its deep blue quality, and the sea as "wrinkled," taking into account the motion of the waves. 

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What qualities of nature are portrayed by Tennyson in the poem, "The Eagle"?

Nature is depicted as being quite beautiful due to the imagery Tennyson employs.  We can visualize a majestic eagle atop a "crag" -- a rocky and rugged mountaintop -- who is "Close to the sun" because he is up so very high in a cloudless sky that is described as an "azure world."  Then, the description of the "wrinkled sea" confirms the idea that the eagle is so high up that the sea's movements seem minuscule, like tiny wrinkles as seen from his "mountain walls" -- thus, there are many mountains around, and the sea, helping us to visualize the landscape further -- and we can see the bird's body streaking down, with such speed, when he strikes like a "thunderbolt."

Nature is also depicted as full of extremes: there's the very powerful eagle and the sea (or perhaps the fish in it), associated with powerlessness because of the verb "crawls." Moreover, a huge blanket of calm, uninterrupted sky blue lays atop a range of craggy, rocky mountains.  The peacefulness of the sky is also contrasted with the thunderbolt-like movements of the eagle when he dives.  

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What are the possible themes that Lord Tennyson wants to emphasize  in his poem "The Eagle"?

Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert were admirers of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poetry. Tennyson was named the national poet of Great Britain.  After his knighting, he became the most renowned poet in his own  time.

Lord Tennyson used traditional regular forms in his writing.  This poem "The Eagle" consists of two stanzas which have three rhyming lines, so the poem is written in rhyming triplets.  The rhymes are formed from simple, one-syllable words.  Tennyson employs two different tones to indicate the contradictory images. One of the beauty and fascination with the eagle, and the other a more bitter symbolic mood of man's ambiguous character.

The eagle is a powerful bird that has no natural enemies.  Eagles live near bodies of water to be close to their favorite food: fish. They have sharp talons on their toes for gripping slippery fish.  Always observant, the eagle will watch from a perch until he spies his prey;  then he will swoop down and grab the fish or other victim.  Eagles can see four to seven times better than man. Afterwards he returns to his nest and uses his powerful beak to rip the food to shreds. 

Dramatically, Tennyson poetically describes this solitary bird  who gazes down  from his perch atop a mountainous rock. His nest is out of reach of man or beast.  Using alliteration and powerful words, Tennyson paints the picture of this majestic bird that has no equal.  The blue water endlessly moves, yet the eagle keenly observes.Until like a flash of lightning, he swoops below to catch his food.  The eagle with its closeness to heaven appears omnipotent, representative of nature at its highest form.

Close to the sun in lonely land,

Ringed with the azure world, he stands.

Symbolically, Tennyson uses rhetorical devices to indicate the meaning either explicitly and implicitly.  The poem's meaning is ambiguous because much of the poetry of Tennyson's time portrayed aspects of society ironically.  Thematically, the poem represents the image of power and dominance over the inferior.

The ambiguity is manifested in the word choices.  It describes the eagle's talons as hands.  The hands are indicative of man.  The man's hands are not ordinary but crooked, suggesting that he has done something wrong or immoral.  Further a single man is represnative of society in general.  In the Victorian Age, society seemed genteel on the surface; but as in all historical times, corruption found it away into political issues.  Another theme is this man wrinkled in age, falls or plummets to an unknown place, possibly from the "God's grace."

Whether the eagle is representative of something other  than itself, the poem is a beautiful image of a a creature of nature.

He watches from his mountain walls

And like a thunderbolt, he falls.

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