Why does the poet ask the sea waves to break in Tennyson's "Break, Break, Break"?

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In this poem, written in the 1835, Tennyson expresses his inability to articulate grief for his close friend, Arthur Henry Hallam, who had died just two years before.

In the poem, the speaker contrasts the ability of the waves to move with his own frozen emotional paralysis. He would like to be able to break out and crash into grief, just as the waves break and crash on the rocks and sands.

The speaker also contrasts himself to the children playing on the shore. The boy shouts as he plays. Likewise, a "sailor lad" sings in his boat. Like the noise of the waves, these sounds bring home to the speaker his own silence and stasis. These young people can express emotion while the speaker cannot.

Finally, as the speaker notes in the last paragraph, the breaking of the waves represents the normalcy of ordinary life going on as it always has. This normalcy has been denied to the speaker since his good friend died, and he wishes it would return.

The speaker wants the waves to break because this symbolizes his own desire to break and crash into grief. He also wants to return to the regularity and normalcy that breaking waves represent to him, but he fears that is impossible.

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