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

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

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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.

Theme

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.

 

Paraphrase

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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