What does the speaker lament in Tennyson's "Break, Break, Break"?

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Tennyson's speaker laments the death of a close friend in the poem "Break, Break, Break."

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Tennyson's speaker expresses his grief over the death of an unnamed friend in the poem "Break, Break, Break."

A tone of loss and alienation from life's joys permeates these verses. The speaker shows his sorrow through his imagery: the stones the waves break on are "cold" and "gray," and the speaker does not feel able to express his thoughts in words.

The speaker feels distanced or alienated from the young boy playing happily on the beach with his sister and the "sailor lad" out at sea who sings happily in his boat. The speaker's bitter emotions are conveyed through the repetition of the words "well for"—meaning fine for you—which he mentally hurls at the innocent, contented people around him.

The speaker watches "stately ships" go by, symbolizing the way life goes on even while we personally may be suffering a great grief. The speaker can't get away from his sorrow and wishes he could hear and touch his departed friend.

As the speaker watches and listens to the waves breaking on the shore, he laments his loss and believes he can never be happy again in the way he once was.

The poem captures the hopeless and lonesome feelings that can accompany depression. While the person who died is not named, or described in any way, many believe Tennyson is speaking of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who passed away at the age of twenty-two.

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