Saturday, May 25, 2013

Analysis of Tennyson's "The Eagle"

Unusual collocates signal the intention of the writer that there is more to text than what we see in the surface. In Tennyson’s “The Eagle”, he wrote, “The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls” which made use of unusual collocations “wrinkled” and “crawl”. Basically, when the word “sea” is used, adjectives like calm, stormy, misty, dangerous, blue, treacherous, salty, clear, icy, turbulent, peaceful, still, shallow, wavy, deep, cold, rough, warm or freezing can be used. Tennyson is describing the sea beyond literal. He might be describing it from a different perspective using personifications “wrinkled” and “crawls”.

Here, I chopped the parts of the line so each will be clearly analyzed:

The wrinkled sea

The use of a determiner “the” means Tennyson is referring to a specific sea. The modifier, an unusual collocate, “wrinkled” for the head, sea, could be his imaginative description of the big waves or even the land surfaces underneath this body of water. It might refer to the rocks, mountain ranges, hills, plateaus, canyons, or basins that can be seen clearly from the bird’s eye view when the water is clear. This could mean that underneath the water, there is irregularity of surfaces.

In addition, with “wrinkled” being a human quality, this could mean old age and the sea, representing a person rather than a body of water. Tennyson might be talking about old persons, having different attributes and struggles.


This qualifier, a preposition, describes the position of the eagle as represented by the pronoun, him. The eagle is flying directly over the sea. It might have been flying so high that the sea waves looked wrinkled rather than wavy or turbulent. This would mean, however, seeing only the over-all picture from above but not the smaller details when one is close to the water.


The usage of this pronoun to refer to the eagle can also mean that it was given an attribute of masculinity and with it comes the qualities power, superiority or strength. Tennyson might be referring to a leader or someone who belongs to a higher stratum, thus giving it the privilege to see things from above or be higher than the others.


The verb, “crawls”, means the movement of the waves to and from the shore. Since the sea is wide, the smaller movement of the waves can be seen as tiny lines from above. With the waves’ elongated shape, moving horizontally, they look like worms crawling sideways. As I have mentioned in the previous part, with the collocation “wrinkled” referring to old age or maturity, “crawls” might represent otherwise- the young or babies starting to move. With waves being part of the wider sea, it might mean the young among the aged. As the waves move to and from the shore, it could mean, the cycle of life or fulfillment of one’s duty. When some are done, some will have to take over.

Summing up, Tennyson might be referring to a leader who can see people beneath him as he is sitting on his throne. With his kingdom as wide as the sea, there are a multitude of individuals, old and young. He oversees them as they are taking turns in doing their duties or he might have been in power so long he has seen the changes in the cycle from above as I have mentioned about the waves to and from the shore representing the cycle of life. Being positioned above, he could get the general perspective but failed to understand what was happening when he is close to them. When the sea is turbulent, the waves are big and this might mean struggle among those who belong to the flock. This, however, can never be felt by the leader as he is far enough to hear the crashing waves or his subjects’ cry.

**** Submitted in compliance with my graduate class in "Literary Genre."
It pays to see what others are writing, but it is even more rewarding to crack the lines on your own so copy at your own risk. :)

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