The Eagle by Alfred Lord Tennyson: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:02 Background
  • 0:46 Poem & Summary
  • 1:50 Analysis
  • 5:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Social Studies, and Science for seven years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

In this lesson, you will learn some background information on Tennyson in order to understand his poem 'The Eagle.' Then, you will analyze the poem to reach the deeper meaning behind the words.

Background

'The Eagle' is a poem written by the Englishman Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Tennyson lived during the Victorian Era, during the 1800s. In this era, a movement called Romanticism became extremely popular within the literary society. It was the reaction to the previous Age of Reason among the culture.

Romanticism focused on freedom instead of formalism, individualism instead of conformity, and imagination instead of reality. Romantic poets believed that nature was beautiful, and humans are the center of nature. They believed humans should get in touch with their inner soul by appreciating the beauty of nature. Tennyson's 'The Eagle' clearly shows an emphasis on appreciating nature.

Poem and Summary

Let's take a look at this poem:

'The Eagle'

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

The poem has a very simple concept. It focuses on one eagle alone in the wild. In the first line, the eagle is atop a mountain, poised to strike. He is high up where no other animal or human can go. He is alone in his grandeur, with the sun and the bright blue sky forming the perfect background scenery.

The second stanza shows the only action of the eagle. The first and second line show that, as he watches from his high perch, the sea moves below him. Then, in the final line, the eagle makes a grand dive towards the sea. The poem ends here, with the reader not quite sure why the eagle dived off his mountain roost.

Analysis

'The Eagle' is one of Tennyson's shortest poems. It is composed of only two stanzas, with three lines each. However, it is full of figurative language and deeper meaning. Let's look at the figurative language in each line.

Reread the first line of the poem. You should be able to detect alliteration (a repetition of similar sounds in the beginning of words) in the words 'clasps,' 'crag' and 'crooked.' Each of those words begins with a hard 'c' sound. Tennyson uses this technique to make emphasis and create a specific melody. The reader cannot breeze through these sounds; each hard 'c' makes the reader pause and enunciate.

In this way, Tennyson is ensuring the reader pauses to consider the eagle, high up on his perch. In addition, these lines have personification, which gives human traits to inhuman objects. Do eagles have hands? Of course not. Describing the eagle as holding on with hands makes the comparison to humans, which in turn, makes the eagle seem much more important than a simple bird.

Move on to the second line. Again, there is alliteration in the phrase 'lonely lands.' There is also hyperbole, which is an extreme exaggeration, in the phrase 'close to the sun.' Is the eagle actually close to the sun? Not really, the sun is millions of miles away from the Earth. Again, Tennyson uses these devices to emphasize how this eagle is sitting on top of the world, where no other living being could possibly be, even man.

Reread the third line. It contains imagery, or words that appeal to the five senses, that are extremely visual. Tennyson uses the color word 'azure,' which literally means bright blue, and this blue sky is 'ringed' around the eagle. This creates a very majestic image. Picture looking up at this tall, rocky mountain. The eagle sits on top, above all other life, with the sun blazing behind him, and the bright blue sky accentuating his silhouette. It's a pretty impressive visual.

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