The Eagle

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 Eagle, Alfred Lord Tennyson

When I was in high school, I would read that poem over and over again, slowly (it has to be read slowly), dwelling on every syllable, marvelling at the alliteration and Tennyson’s ability to paint such a vivid scene with so few words. “The wrinkled sea….” Amazing.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 15 Comments

We did that one in school. Good stuff. One of the only really old ones I liked. I found it pretty amazing that it succeeds despite its aaa bbb rhyme scheme. Now I think it’s the caesura in the last lines of each stanza that make it work.

January 30, 2004 @ 11:59 pm | Comment

Nicholas, I know this is going to get you really mad at me, but I have to tell it to you straight — there is no caesura in the last line of Tennyson’s poem. I took the liberty, in defiance of all morality and ethics, to insert it myself because that is the way I used to read it to myself. Without that pause, which I know in my heart Tennyson wanted to be there, people might be inclined to read it in that sing-song “aaa bbb” manner [la la la la la la la lah], and we both know that isn’t what Tennyson wanted.

For its alliteration, it is a masterpiece: “clasps the crag with crooked hands.” Shit, why can’t I write like that.

January 31, 2004 @ 10:43 am | Comment

Wow. I totally couldn’t tell. I think your version is better. ;) More gravitas. Then again, that’s how I read it in my head, too, so I’m not exactly unbiased.

On the other hand, perhaps the suddenness is the point, and we’re both doing Tennyson a grave injustice.

January 31, 2004 @ 1:32 pm | Comment

To the contrary, he would probably be oozing with gratitude at our correction!

January 31, 2004 @ 1:47 pm | Comment

By: Bageri Hamidi
bageri_hamidi@hotmail.com
The two stanzas of the poem exhibit the grandeur and power of an eagle. The rhyme scheme of the two stanzas (aaa bbb) reinforces the rigidity of the structure in which the eagle dwells.
The use of alliteration on the sound /k/ in the words “clasps, crag, crooked, close” is well fitted to the harshness of the overall atmosphere that surrounds the eagle. The grandeur of the eagle is supported by the implication of its mythological origin. Eagle was the bird of Zeus. Zeus was Lord of the sky, the rain-god, who wielded the awful thunderbolt. The sky is implied by a metaphor: “The azure world” is spread out in a ring around the eagle. The metaphor enhances the loneliness of the eagle.
The second stanza reads from the eagle’s vantage point of view. Seen from far above, the waves give the appearance of wrinkles, and as they move, they seem to be snakes. Therefore, the verb “crawls” is properly employed, and it metaphorically identifies the sea with the snakes. The snakes are appropriate preys for the eagles. This concrete image motivates the lightening-like swoop of the eagle downward.
The eagle is also personified. The eagle has hands in the first line. It is referred to by the pronoun “he”. Nevertheless, the personification is completed in the 5th line. The eagle watches from his mountain walls. A wall is a fabric built by men, so it is a human word. The use of “his” is also very important. The animals do not own property. The emphasis on the personification of the eagle puts the eagle in a human context.
Thus, the poem “The Eagle” is a celebration of a lonely power and an independent grandeur. Can one think that the poem shows the release of spirit into a moment of insight in a thinking man?

March 21, 2004 @ 6:23 pm | Comment

Wonderful comment — thanks.

March 22, 2004 @ 12:41 am | Comment

We are proud of you

April 3, 2004 @ 12:39 am | Comment

LOL…

April 16, 2005 @ 6:00 pm | Comment

Im doing this poem too, thanks for the info. just what i needed.

April 16, 2005 @ 6:01 pm | Comment

Dear professor bageri,
Missing your classes

December 14, 2010 @ 4:33 am | Comment

How odd that, having come across an essay by the brilliant, anglophobic, poet and author John Dolan, I should be reading “The Hawk Roosting” by Ted Hughes, and then switch over to read this poem – one I have not read although I’m sure it’s famous. Surely the later poem was an homage to the former?

December 14, 2010 @ 6:12 am | Comment

FOARP, I think the link you gave isn’t working.

The Hughes poem is interesting, thanks for pointing it out. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tennyson influenced it.

The Eagle is very famous; I fell in love with the poem in high school.

December 14, 2010 @ 7:37 am | Comment

@Richard – Ooops, here it is:

http://exiledonline.com/sylvia-plaths-son/

December 14, 2010 @ 7:57 am | Comment

Although I guess I should say, both Ted Hughes and John Dolan are to some extent acquired tastes . . .

Here’s the poem:

Hawk Roosting

I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.
Inaction, no falsifying dream
Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.

The convenience of the high trees!
The air’s buoyancy and the sun’s ray
Are of advantage to me;
And the earth’s face upward for my inspection.

My feet are locked upon the rough bark.
It took the whole of Creation
To produce my foot, my each feather:
Now I hold Creation in my foot

Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly -
I kill where I please because it is all mine.
There is no sophistry in my body:
My manners are tearing off heads -

The allotment of death.
For the one path of my flight is direct
Through the bones of the living.
No arguments assert my right:

The sun is behind me.
Nothing has changed since I began.
My eye has permitted no change.
I am going to keep things like this.

Ted Hughes

December 14, 2010 @ 8:10 am | Comment

Interesting that this thread should make a comeback after masoud pakravan’s follow-up comment after a 6.5 year gap. I guess that’s the value of having an archive.

While we’re on a Tennyson kick, these were among his very best lines, IMO (excerpt from Ulysses – the last two lines get me every time.):

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breath were life. Life piled on life
Were all to little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

December 14, 2010 @ 2:25 pm | Comment

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