Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 500
Because this poem is often published apart from the longer narrative in which it originally appeared, it is possible to develop both a general and a specific interpretation for it. Like many lyrics, “The Splendor Falls” is not constructed principally to tell a story, but rather to evoke particular feelings in readers. Many poets equate the passing of the day with the passing of a life, or of some bond between individuals, such as love. In fact, Tennyson himself used both daybreak and sunset to suggest certain human emotions. In stanza 7 of his most renowned work, In Memoriam (1850), he expresses his speaker’s pain at the loss of a good friend by describing sunrise in stark terms: “ghastly through the drizzling rain/ On the bald street breaks the blank day.” In “Crossing the Bar,” an often-reprinted lyric written late in his life, Tennyson gives readers clear indication that the “sunset and evening star” referred to in the poem represents the end of his life.
In “The Splendor Falls” the suggestive visual and auditory imagery, repetition and variation of key words and phrases, and linking rhyme scheme all work to create a vivid picture of the setting sun’s effect on the landscape. Colors change on the walls of the castle, sounds echo from the cataract, all heralding the passing of the day. Tennyson does not suggest, however, that the end of the day is a time of sorrow or loss, as is the case in many poems. Rather, this is a glorious time when nature is both active and triumphant: The “wild cataract leaps in glory,” bugles set “the wild echoes flying.” The poet contrasts the glorious dying of the day with the enduring love of the speaker and his beloved. While the echoes from the bugles eventually fade away and the day slips into evening, the “echoes” of the lovers who witness the splendor of the sunset “roll from soul to soul,/ And grow for ever and for ever.” The implication is that human love can outlast even the death of lovers, who may live forever in the “echoes”—that is, the stories—told about them.
Such a theme was common among Victorian poets and has been borrowed almost directly from the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Suggestions that love lives beyond death are present in the works of Dante, whose La divina commedia (c. 1320; The Divine Comedy, 1802) contains a beautiful passage about the lovers Paolo and Francesca, who, even in hell, exhibit the passion that drove them to their illicit affair. In more than one of the sonnets in his famous sequence, Shakespeare celebrates the immortality his friend will achieve by being commemorated in his verse. It is not surprising, then, that Tennyson chose to use the image of the echo as a means of suggesting not only the general premise that love may outlast death, but also the specific notion that the newfound love of the Prince and Princess Ida will be celebrated for all time.