Discussion Topic

Analysis of the poet's mood, tone, and contributing elements in "Break, Break, Break"

Summary:

In "Break, Break, Break," the poet's mood is melancholic and reflective, mourning the loss of a loved one. The tone is somber and wistful, underscored by the repetitive, rhythmic breaking of the waves, which symbolizes the relentless passage of time and the permanence of loss. Contributing elements include vivid imagery and the contrast between the poet's grief and the unaffected, ongoing life around him.

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What is the poet's mood in the poem "Break, Break, Break"?

In the famous poem "Break, Break, Break" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the poet observes waves breaking upon a stony shore while he contemplates the loss of a loved one. The poet is expressing his grief after the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam. Tennyson and Hallam were extremely close, and Hallam was engaged to Tennyson's sister Emily. Hallam died while on a trip to Italy with his father at the age of 22.

The poet manifests several moods in this poem. For instance, he is pensive as he watches the monotonous pounding of the waves. He is envious of the fisherman's boy who shouts with his sister while they play together and of the sailor lad that sings as he sails his boat. He is nostalgic as he longs to hear the voice and touch the hand of his deceased friend. Most of all, he feels a great sense of melancholy, sadness, and grief as he realizes that his friend is lost forever and will never return.

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What is the tone of the poem "Break, Break, Break"?

Tennyson's poem, "Break, Break, Break," is an elegiac poem with a mournful, longing tone. The speaker mourns and longs for "the touch of a vanish'd hand" and for "the sound of a voice that is still." The vanished hand and the stilled voice allude to the death of someone that the speaker loved, commonly believed to be Arthur Hallam, a fellow poet and close friend of Tennyson's.

In the final stanza, the tone of the poem is also reflective and despondent. The speaker concludes with the acknowledgement that his loved one "Will never come back" to him. The speaker recognizes the finality of his loss, which he refers to metaphorically as "the tender grace of a day that is dead."

The line, "Break, break, break," which begins both the first and last stanzas, also lends to the poem a tone of painful desperation. Ostensibly the speaker is referring to the sea crashing against the crags, but implicitly he is also referring to his own life and his own heart, both of which seem broken and beyond repair.

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What elements contribute to the construction of the poem "Break, Break, Break"?

In poetry, there is usually one controlling metaphor and a tension that is set up between two ideas.  Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem, "Break, break, break," sets up such a tension between the permanence of Nature and the transitory quality of human life.

In his typically melancholic tone, Tennyson recounts his grief for the loss of a loved one, set against the permanent and lasting images of the sea's waves that eternally "break, break, break." Yet, with the images of "cold gray stones" against which the sea breaks, there is a metaphoric connection between the speaker's heartbeat and grief with the sea's waves against the stone.

However, as the speaker watches the activities on the sea, he perceives more permanence in the fisherman's boy, the sailor, and the stately ships that will continue their activities though his friend has died.  Notice that Tennyson uses common nouns for these people, thus indicating that another boy will replace the "fisherman's boy," another sailor will replace "the sailor."  But, in contrast, there is no replacement for the "vanished hand/And the sound of a voice that is still!"

Interestingly, while there is a clear anapestic meter, which is predominately trimeter, (two weak stresses followed by one strong stress as in the phrase in a car, written 3 times) to this poem, some lines vary in meter.  These departures from a strict metrical norm contribute to the meaning by pointing to the sharp pangs of anguish that the speaker experiences.  In fact, the refrain, "Break, break, break," can be interpreted both as the sound of the waves and the sound of the speaker's broken heart.

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