Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "The Eagle" is a six line poem. It is written using two tercets (stanzas containing three lines). For the most part, the meter of the poem is iambic tetrameter. An iamb is a metric foot which contains an unstressed (represented by "du") then stressed ("DUM") syllables (du-DUM). Tetrameter means that there are four sets of iambs in the poetic line (du-DUM / du-DUM / du-DUM / du-DUM).
At two points in the poem Tennyson diverges from the iambic tetrameter. Both lines two an three begin with a trochee (the opposite of an iamb--"DUM-du"). The meter of these two lines looks like this: DUM-du / du-DUM / du-DUM / du-DUM.
The rhyme scheme of the poem is in triplets. What this means is that the last word in each line (of each individual stanza) rhyme. This results in an aaa bbb rhyme scheme. (To explain further, the last word each of the first three lines are hands, lands, stands. All three lines rhyme with one another. Likewise, the last word in each of the three lines in the second stanza are crawls, walls, and falls (which all rhyme).)
Tennyson applies both personification and alliteration to the poem as well. He personifies the eagle by giving him "crooked hands" and allowing the sea to crawl. Alliteration, the repetition of a consonant sound within a line of poetry, is seen throughout. For example, the repeated "k" sound of clasps, crag, and crooked signal alliteration.
This poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, is structured very simply. It has two stanzas, each consisting of three lines. A three-line stanza is known as a tercet. Each tercet rhymes within itself on all three lines, so these can also be called rhymed triplets. Thus the rhyme scheme of the poem is aaa bbb.
The two stanzas of the poem give it a satisfying symmetry, reminding the reader of the eagle's two wings. The use of threes is reminiscent of the bird as well. One can think of the bird's body and two wings creating a triad; three of the bird's claws face forward on the branch or perch. This combination of twos and threes, although an unusual poetic structure, seems appropriate when describing the eagle.
The lines of the poem hold together nicely with a fairly consistent rhythm and meter as well as sound devices. Most lines are iambic tetrameter: eight-syllable lines where every other syllable is accented, beginning with the second syllable. The second and third lines, however, deviate from this rhythm. By starting on an accented syllable, the rhythm takes on the effect of dactylic rhythm (three syllables with the accent on the first) for a moment and then goes into trochaic (two syllables with the first accented), and then an extra accented syllable at the end. You could divide each of these two lines into three-and-a-half feet represented like this: DAH-duh-duh, DAH-duh, DAH-duh, DAH. The effect of this rhythm is to create an unstable, wavering feeling as the eagle, perched high, rocks and becomes still.
Tennyson's liberal use of sound devices provides further cohesion to the poem. Alliteration is prominent in lines 1 and 2 with the repetition of the hard /c/ and softer /l/ sounds. There is a great deal of assonance (repeated vowel sounds) as well. In line 1, the short /a/ sound repeats. In line 2, the long /o/. In line 4, a long /e/ repeats in sea and beneath, and in line 5 the /ah/ sound in watches and walls repeats. Consonance, repetition of internal or ending consonant sounds, occurs with the /r/ sound in line 3 and the /l/ sound in line 6.
In this short poem, Tennyson provides a great deal of structure by using two sets of rhymed triplets, repeated rhythms, and sound devices.