What is the refrain of the poem "The Brook" by Lord Tennyson?

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Vikash Lata eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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A refrain can be a phrase, a line or a couple of lines repeated at regular intervals in a piece of music or verse. Poets often employ this literary device to enhance the musical effect in their work, and for the sake of emphasis. The repetition of specific lines helps in highlighting the important theme of the artistic work.

The refrain in the poem “The Brook” is:

To join the brimming river, 
For men may come and men may go, 
But I go on for ever. 

The poem is about a swiftly flowing perennial stream. It has been flowing since time immemorial and would continue to do so till eternity. Though many obstacles stand in its way to thwart its progress, it never stops. It moves on incessantly overcoming every hurdle until it “joins the brimming river.”

Man’s life has similarities to the brook. In the journey of his life, man, too, comes across many obstacles and difficulties. He continues through the ups and downs of life until death brings an end to his journey. So, we see that unlike the stream’s journey, the man’s journey is short and limited.

In the refrain, the poet juxtaposes the movement of the brook with that of man. Here lies the central theme of the poem – the eternal nature of the brook and the transient existence of man. Thus, by highlighting the central message of the poem, the refrain lends support to the thematic structure of the poem.  

Moreover, Tennyson was excellent at creating music with words. This particular poem illustrates how perfectly he creates verbal melody using mostly monosyllabic and disyllabic words. The poem is written in the ballad or common meter, comprising four lines that alternate between iambic...

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