AD's English Literature : Break, Break, Break : a sea elegy written by Lord Tennyson on the death of his university friend Arthur Henry Hallum

Friday, October 28, 2011

Break, Break, Break : a sea elegy written by Lord Tennyson on the death of his university friend Arthur Henry Hallum

Lord Tennyson
Break, Break, Break is a sea elegy written by Lord Tennyson on the death of his university friend Arthur Henry Hallum. Here, the ever-breaking sea, the fisherman's boy, the stately ships, etc. all show the permanence of the world around and yet they remain unaffected by the poet's personal grief. However, the thoughts contained in this elegy are not so elaborate and high as in In Memorium but the Current of thoughts is not less pathetic.

In this short lyric, Nature serves as a mirror of poet’s intense feelings of sorrow. The poem has reference to a watering place on the Bristol Channel where his friend is buried. Simple and lucid, the poem regards the poet’s intense grief which is shared by Nature. In the opening lines, the impression of an unpleasant face is being hammered into the poet’s consciousness. The poet wishes, he could give his voices to his humbled and anguished feelings just as sea breaks on the story surface. Farther, the cold gray stones could be interpreted as gravestones, as well as the cliff walls.

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

In the next stanza, the dead past and sea both create a feeling of soft melancholy. The friendship between the children and the contentment of the sailor boy make him feel the loss of his friend more acutely:

“  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!”

Life goes on as usual, once the poet is miserable and solitary and longs for his company of his dead friend. The stately ships of life are taking its voyage towards the domain of death- under the hill. Thus in the description of Nature there goes the image of deceased Arther Hallum who has been silenced for ever by the hidden hand of death. The following lines seem to indicate the poet in a melancholy mood. He is missing his dear friend who was a source of comfort. In fact, in "In Memoriam" the image of touching hands is repeated frequently and almost becomes a motif for Tennyson's grief for his friend. He always wants to touch his hands once more and it is similar in this poem, he longs to be able to touch Hallam again because he knows he never will:

        “  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”

Life flows on uniformly in Nature, only the poet will not be able to recover the joy of his early life when Hallum was alive. The melancholy notes of breaking the sea waves remain Sophoclean eternity in the concluding lines:

            “But the tender grace of a day that is dead

            Will never come back to me”.

 Ardhendu De  

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