What is the poem "The Eagle" about?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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As the title indicates, this short poem is about an eagle. The eagle is depicted in nature, far from cities or human civilization. He seems to be at one with nature, for he clasps a crag high up a mountain wall, close to the sun and sky. The sea below him is "wrinkled" from waves. He is likened to an object of nature as he falls from his mountain wall. The poem is, in summary, a brief vignette about an eagle, first at rest and then in motion.
For all that it shows the eagle as a part of nature, it also personifies him. To personify an animal or object is to give it human attributes. This eagle doesn't have talons or claws but "hands," like a human's that "clasp" a crag. The poem also uses alliteration, putting words beginning with the same consonant close to one another. For example, "clasps," "crag," and "crooked" are alliterative, as are "lonely" and "lands." Emphasis falls on alliterative words, so through use of this literary device, Tennyson bring attention to the austere quality of the natural world in which the eagle lives.

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gbeatty eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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On the literal level, the poem is simply a description of an eagle who sits high on a rock above the water, then dives down. As a poem, it gains the power it has through the quality of its description, its structure and word choices, and what non-literal things it alludes to.

Tennyson personifies the eagle, making it "he" and more active and intentional than it might be. The rhyme and rhythm are markedly present. References like the eagle's presence near the sun links it to Icarus in Greek mythology, making it sound like an older human filling that position of mythic youth.

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