The image of the breaking waves in Tennyson's poem "Break, Break, Break" conveys a sense of the pitiless march of time. The waves break on "cold gray stones," and the repetition of the word "break," together with the image of hard, cold stone, evokes a picture of a harsh world with no room for human emotion.
The word "break" refers primarily to the breaking of the waves but also makes the reader think of heartbreak. The poem is an elegy and contrasts the poet's grief for his lost friend with the happiness of children playing and the boy on the boat. However, the greatest contrast is between human emotion of any kind and the grim repetitiveness of the natural world, which goes on regardless of human suffering.
It is because the tides continue in their endless cycle that the final stanza begins with the same repeated words as the first. The "day that is dead" will never return to the poet. After the death of his friend, everything is different. For the waves crashing on the rocks, however, nothing has changed or ever will change. The breaking waves represent the uncaring consistency of the natural world, which Tennyson explores in great detail in his long elegy for the same lost friend, "In Memoriam A. H. H."