What are the possible themes that Lord Tennyson wants to emphasize  in his poem "The Eagle"?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert were admirers of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poetry. Tennyson was named the national poet of Great Britain.  After his knighting, he became the most renowned poet in his own  time.

Lord Tennyson used traditional regular forms in his writing.  This poem "The Eagle" consists of two stanzas which have three rhyming lines, so the poem is written in rhyming triplets.  The rhymes are formed from simple, one-syllable words.  Tennyson employs two different tones to indicate the contradictory images. One of the beauty and fascination with the eagle, and the other a more bitter symbolic mood of man's ambiguous character.

The eagle is a powerful bird that has no natural enemies.  Eagles live near bodies of water to be close to their favorite food: fish. They have sharp talons on their toes for gripping slippery fish.  Always observant, the eagle will watch from a perch until he spies his prey;  then he will swoop down and grab the fish or other victim.  Eagles can see four to seven times better than man. Afterwards he returns to his nest and uses his powerful beak to rip the food to shreds. 

Dramatically, Tennyson poetically describes this solitary bird  who gazes down  from his perch atop a mountainous rock. His nest is out of reach of man or beast.  Using alliteration and powerful words, Tennyson paints the picture of this majestic bird that has no equal.  The blue water endlessly moves, yet the eagle keenly observes.Until like a flash of lightning, he swoops below to catch his food.  The eagle with its closeness to heaven appears omnipotent, representative of nature at its highest form.

Close to the sun in lonely land,

Ringed with the azure world, he stands.

Symbolically, Tennyson uses rhetorical devices to indicate the meaning either explicitly and implicitly.  The poem's meaning is ambiguous because much of the poetry of Tennyson's time portrayed aspects of society ironically.  Thematically, the poem represents the image of power and dominance over the inferior.

The ambiguity is manifested in the word choices.  It describes the eagle's talons as hands.  The hands are indicative of man.  The man's hands are not ordinary but crooked, suggesting that he has done something wrong or immoral.  Further a single man is represnative of society in general.  In the Victorian Age, society seemed genteel on the surface; but as in all historical times, corruption found it away into political issues.  Another theme is this man wrinkled in age, falls or plummets to an unknown place, possibly from the "God's grace."

Whether the eagle is representative of something other  than itself, the poem is a beautiful image of a a creature of nature.

He watches from his mountain walls

And like a thunderbolt, he falls.