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Last Updated November 3, 2023.

In "The Splendor Falls," Alfred, Lord Tennyson employs a vivid, lyrical, and emotive narrative to explore the themes of transience and the relentless passage of time. As is typical of lyric poetry, which aims to convey the speaker's emotions, the poem delves into the speaker's profound and often melancholic reaction to a splendid and idyllic scene. Tennyson's skillful use of language and poetic devices invites readers to join the speaker in this introspective journey.

Tennyson masterfully uses symbolism to convey the central message of the poem. The "splendor" that falls on "castle walls" and "snowy summits" represents not only the fleeting beauty of nature but also the grandeur of human achievements and aspirations. The cascade of a "wild cataract" is symbolic of the magnificent yet ephemeral moments in life.

The literary devices in the poem contribute to its evocative and contemplative tone. Tennyson's use of short alliteration in phrases like "long light… lakes" and "blow bugles" enhances the sensory experience and rhythm of the poem. The repetition of "dying, dying, dying" in each stanza echoes the theme of decay and loss, effectively emphasizing the progression of time.

Tennyson had a talent for making his poems sound just like what they describe. In this poem, for instance, the repetition of the words at the end of each stanza mimics the echoing of the bugles that the speaker describes. Through alliteration, repeated words, and rhythmic sounds, he creates an actual sense of the echoing sounds in the mind of the reader.

Although the poem is a peaceful contemplation of mortality, it unfolds at a rather quick pace. With just three relatively short stanzas and repeated phrases, it takes only a minute or so to read. Even more, the frequent use of enjambment, in which lines abruptly end, causes the reader's eye to move quickly from one line to the next.

For example, in the lines, "O, sweet and far from cliff and scar / The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!" the poet allows the thought to flow seamlessly from one line to the next, without a pause at the end of the first line. The swiftness caused by this enjambment mirrors the quick passage of the "horns of Elfland" as they faintly blow.

Tennyson’s choice to encourage a swift reading of the poem aligns with the poem's themes of transience and fleeting beauty. It is as if Tennyson is urging the reader to grasp the moment before time slips by forever. Splendor, like the reading experience, is momentary and should be cherished in its passing.

The meter of "The Splendor Falls" primarily follows a regular pattern of iambic tetrameter. In iambic tetrameter, each line typically consists of four metrical feet, with each foot containing an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (iambic). This metrical structure introduces a rhythmic, flowing quality to the poem.

However, the poem is not entirely uniform in its meter. While most lines stick to iambic tetrameter, there are variations in some places. These variations can include lines with different numbers of feet or the use of trochees (a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable) instead of iambs. Note how the second line of the poem contains nine syllables whereas the first line has the standard eight.

The splendor falls on castle walls

And snowy summits old in story;

This skillful use of meter in the poem contributes to its musical and evocative quality. Furthermore, the distortion of the meter mirrors the way that echoes distort sound, integrating the sound of the reverberating bugle call into the very structure of the poem itself.

This poem also employs...

(This entire section contains 836 words.)

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an intricate rhyme scheme. Each stanza follows the same rhyme scheme, akin to its uniform meter, which is structured as A/A, B, C/C, B, D, D. The letters, A/A and C/C, highlight the presence of internal rhymes in the first and third lines of each stanza. Internal rhymes, as the name suggests, occur within a single line, rather than at the end of lines. An example of this can be found in the third line of the second stanza:

O sweet and far from cliff and scar

These internal rhymes contribute to the poem's musicality, enhancing its lyrical quality. This musicality aligns with the poem's original context, as it was intended to be a part of a longer narrative poem, The Princess. It is meant to be read between two longer narrative sections of the work, rather like a musical interlude.

With these poetic elements, Tennyson delves into the concept of splendor, an elusive and subjective notion. In this context, splendor transcends the physical and ventures into the ethereal realm, allowing an exploration of its emotional impact. This exploration of the intangible resonates with the references to Elfland within the poem, a place where the boundaries between reality and fantasy blur. Here, the enchantment and emotional impact of splendor merges with the mystical, intensifying the poem's contemplation of the personal experience of splendor in connection with mortality.