What does the speaker wish for in the first stanza of the poem "Break, Break, Break"?

In the first stanza of the poem "Break, Break, Break," the speaker wishes he could express the thoughts that are troubling him. But because he's so overcome with grief at the loss of his close friend, he's unable to do so.

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In "Break, Break, Break," the speaker's grief at the loss of a close friend is generally thought to reflect Tennyson's own grief at the loss of Arthur Henry Hallam, his closest friend who died tragically young.

The speaker of the poem is so utterly crestfallen, so overcome with grief, that he is unable to put into words just how he feels about his recent bereavement. We can see this from the opening stanza, when he tells us that he is unable to articulate the thoughts that have been troubling him recently:

And I would that my tongue could utter

The thoughts that arise in me.

The speaker's predicament is by no means unusual. Many of us who've been plunged into grief at some point in our lives find it no less difficult to express our feelings in words. For the most part, grief is something to be shown, not told. Even so, the speaker clearly wishes that he could talk about his feelings.

What makes things all the more difficult for him is that he sees people—the fisherman's boy and his sister, and the singing sailor lad—who are unburdened by grief and are thus able to enjoy themselves.

What's more, the natural rhythm of the waves as they crash against the "cold gray stones" gives us an example of the complete indifference of the natural world to human suffering and loss. It thus cannot provide the speaker with much in the way of comfort for his bereavement. The speaker may well be in a slough of despond, but nature goes on as before without the slightest concern for anyone or anything.

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