“Break,break,break” -By Alfred Lord Tennyson

Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.

O, well for the fisherman’s boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!

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

Break, break, break
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.

I love this beautiful elegy of Tennyson written in his friend Hallam’s memory. The poem is remarkable not so much for the imagery which is not much in the poem but for the sheer music of the lines achieved by repeat monosyllables. There is melancholy in the cold gray stones the sea repeatedly breaks its waves upon but the fisherman’s boy continues to play with his sister, the sailor lad continues to sing in the ship and the stately ships head for their haven under the hills.Everything seems alright but not quite.The touch of a hand is no longer and the sound of a voice that is now still.

The beauties of the sea continue unabated but the tender grace of a day that is dead will never come back.
Two things come to my mind:

1) The predominance of the mono-syllables lends a sombre tone to the poem setting the atmosphere of the poem.
2) Visual and auditory senses are invoked to contrast what is going on within the poet’s mind with the environment that continues to play upon the senses with the same vigor through the poet’s sense of loss.
Auditory:
(In the environment)
Boy shouts
Sailor lad sings
sea breaks,breaks,breaks
Auditory
(within himself)
A voice that is still
Visual:
(In the environment)
Sea breaks,breaks, breaks
Cold and gray stones (visual as well as tactile)
Stately ships
At the foot of thy crags
Visual
(within himself)
A vanished hand (can we see a vanished hand? But we can feel its touch!)
A day that is dead : perhaps a day when his friend died but more immediately the day that is slowly dying as the poet is introspecting on the beach and will soon be dead to never come back i.e. dusk .

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