The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Splendor Falls” was written in 1848 shortly after Alfred, Lord Tennyson visited Killarney in Ireland. The poem describes a sunset in mountainous country. The scene is glorious: The setting sun illuminates an old castle and the snow-capped peaks beyond. The surface of a nearby lake reflects the light, as does a waterfall seen tumbling from a cliff. In the scene, too, is a “scar,” or cleft in the rock face, from which the echoes of sounds emerge, first strongly, then with decreasing intensity.

Celebrating the joy of the scene, the speaker calls for bugles to blow, so that the echoes may set off a clarion call heralding the wonders of the day’s end. There is a magical quality about the scene, suggested by the castle and the mountains “old in story,” and further emphasized by a reference to the “horns of Elfland,” a fairy kingdom. Highly romanticized, the sunset scene evokes moods of elation, wonder, and even excitement. In the final stanza, the speaker says to an unidentified listener—clearly his own beloved—that, unlike the echoes from the fissure along the cliff wall, the echoes of their love will not diminish.

The poem succeeds on its own merits as a lyric by creating a mood and evoking powerful emotions in readers. However, its initial publication as one of the songs interspersed into a longer blank-verse narrative warrants some attention. In 1847, Tennyson published The Princess, a story focused on...

(The entire section is 487 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Splendor Falls” is a deceptively simple lyric. At first glance the poem appears highly structured. It consists of three stanzas, each containing a quatrain rhyming abab, followed by a rhyming couplet. Each line of the quatrain appears to have four beats and generally follows the pattern of an iambic tetrameter. The couplet contains one five-beat line followed by a six-beat line.

Upon examination, however, it becomes clear that hardly any line in the poem consists exclusively of regular iambic feet. Where regular lines occur, Tennyson almost always follows them with a variation. For example, the opening line is a regular iambic tetrameter: “The splendor falls on castle walls.” The second, however, contains an extra syllable, because of the feminine rhyme: “And snowy summits old in story.” The next two lines are both irregular: “The long light shakes across the lakes,/ And the wild cataract leaps in glory.” In the first of these lines, the words “long light shakes” all require a stress; in the second, two unstressed syllables precede two that require a stress. Readers will find this pattern repeated throughout the poem. The effect is that the individual lines strive to destroy the exceptionally tight structure created by the rhyme scheme and the stanzaic pattern of the lyric.

Tennyson uses the highly structured stanza pattern and rhyme scheme as but one means of creating a sense of regularity against which the...

(The entire section is 486 words.)