How are the qualities of the eagle in the poem "The Eagle" similar to those of an efficient leader?

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coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The poem "The Eagle" by Alfred Lord Tennyson is often admired as much as the majestic bird itself. From the very beginning in the first line

"He clasps the crag with crooked hands"

readers see imagery suggesting strength and the language of leadership, courage and perseverance. They feel that they are looking at a master of bravery and skill. For example, the word "clasps" is a firm, secure and energetic word, suggesting power and control. Indeed, it is often said that when wanting to impress new people with a sense of professionalism and capability, a prospective employee should always be sure to employ a very firm handshake to prospective superiors. The word "crag" is also a solid and timeless one, suggesting strength, timelessness and bold bravery as crags are associated with breathtakingly high mountainous regions. Any creature that has effortless mastery of the skies and sharp mountain scarps must surely be worth following as an ideal. Alliteration underpins the impact of both these words, as the word "crooked" soon follows, and the poet personifies the eagle by giving him "hands."

Then readers see another example of the eagle being daring and brave, taking the risk of imagined burnt feathers as he flies

"Close to the sun in lonely lands,"

being unafraid both of the sun and of being alone far away in alien places. True leadership can often be a lonely business, as leaders often have to have the courage of their convictions and experience and make unpopular decisions. Then Tennyson puts the leader or eagle high up on a pedestal, standing way above the mere mortals of bureaucracy and commerce whom readers can imagine crawling beneath in their little humdrum lives.

"Ring'd with the azure world, he stands. The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls..."

Leaders must also be vigilant and constantly on the lookout for dangers. Citizens trust them to do that and to protect and defend a nation. So they see the eagle as

"He watches from his mountain walls,"

standing on guard from a safely defended position. Then, at the end of the poem, we finally see him move, but his "falling" is not that of a victim but of a ruthless predator.

"And like a thunderbolt he falls."

The imagery of storm and war is used in the simile to illustrate the sheer power of the eagle or of a true leader.