Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Analysis of "Break, break, break" by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Original poem reprinted online here:  "Break, break, break" by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Originally read: July 19, 2013
More information about the Poet: Alfred Lord Tennyson



This is another poem that has a lot of analyses behind it.  I didn't know.  Anyway, here we go again. The poem is comprised of four quatrains with rhymes happening on the second and fourth line.  There's the play of connection and no connection here.  A sense of distance.  Furthermore, each stanza is end-stopped. Each one works as individual episodes that tie in together.

The first stanza starts of with repeating the verb, "Break, break, break"  what needs to break "O sea!" where "On thy cold gray stones"  However, there's an inversion of linguistics here, it's not subject verb object, rather verb object subject.  I was wondering why construct this way.  The verb, break, is imperative in the first line, "how" is not as important, but "what" is the end of the line which is another focus.  Linguistically, the construction foreshadows the arc of the poem -- verb (actions), object (how the speaker deals with the subject) and subject (judgement or envoy).

The second half of the first stanza, "And I would that my tongue could utter / The thoughts that arise in me."  plays  on the idea of sound. Past me wrote, "comparative metaphor: sound of waves crashing, utterance of sound."  The open versus the personal.

Past me wrote this about the second stanza, "Sonic imagery: shout, sing (all referring to water, the sea).  Also note that the visual image of the fisherman's boy and his sister, the sailor and the boat is a domestic ideal of a sea town -- there's a sense of harmony here.

Yet the third stanza transitions to something more metaphorical than the concrete scene in stanza two:

     And the stately ships go on
     To their haven under the hill;
     But O for the touch of a vanished hand
     And the sound of a voice that is still!

Yes, the first two lines is concrete, but the last two lines, connected, by the semi-colon, is a strong metaphor which refers to the speaker.   I feel the poem hinges on understanding what the "vanished hand" represents.  I don't know what vanished hand represents.

Well, not all the allusions and references to it.  Theoretically, the vanished hand could refer to fate, something divine but guides is the same as. "sound of a voice that is still" something that does not equivocate.     I was also thinking a vanished hand could represent memory as the poem has a dream like precision to it.

Regardless, the fourth stanza has a strong turn as well.  But the opening lines refer back to the beginning with, "Break, break, break / At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!"  The difference here is the "how" -- "at the foot of thy crags" -- more based on location.  The conjunction here of "but" turns the poem.  "But the tender grace of a day that is dead / Will never come back to me."  This is where I read the vanished hand as memory, and it seems like a nostalgic poem.

However, if the vanished hand is more of fate, then there could be a narrative about a tsunami taking away a village, and this is more of a eulogy than nostalgia.

So I'm not too sure, I feel both are effective.

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