What are the metaphors in Tennyson's poem "The Eagle"?

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are no obvious metaphors in the poem. Although there is a simile in the very last line, and similes are indeed a kind of metaphor in that they apply a word or phrase to an object to which it isn't directly applicable:

He watches from his mountain walls, 
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
Tennyson dedicated "The Eagle" to his dear late friend Arthur Henry Hallam. And many critics over the years have seen the figure of the eagle in the poem as a metaphor for Tennyson's deceased friend. The eagle is powerful, so much more so than the "wrinkled sea" beneath. Tennyson's description of the sea implies that it is old, in contrast to the youthful vitality of the eagle as it swoops below. Hallam died tragically young, so it's possible that Tennyson is using the poem to tell the story of his short life. The eagle's flight, like the poem, and like Hallam's life, is short. But in his all-too-brief appearance on this earth, Hallam soared to the very heights, dominating those around him as the eagle dominates the forces of nature, before suddenly falling to earth "like a thunderbolt," in a tragic, premature death.


mercut1469 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Alfred, Lord Tennyson is considered one the finest English Romantic poets. As with William Wordsworth, his contemporary and predecessor as Poet Laureate of England, Tennyson wrote many poems glorifying nature. His poem, "The Eagle" is about the majestic bird perching high on a mountain cliff in the first stanza and then diving powerfully toward the sea to hunt for prey in the second stanza. The eagle is admired as beautiful and mighty.

Technically speaking there are no metaphors in the poem, but there are comparisons using personification and simile. Personification is when a non-human object or an animal is given human qualities. In the first stanza the eagle is personified as Tennyson says, "He clasps the crag with crooked hands." and "Ring'd with the azure world he stands." Of course, he doesn't have hands, he has talons, and he doesn't stand, he perches.

In the second stanza, Tennyson uses a simile, much like a metaphor except it uses the word like or as in the comparison. Tennyson compares the eagle to a thunderbolt as he swoops down from the cliff. The association is meant to show the swiftness and awe-inspiring quality of the bird.