Summary and Critical Appreciation of the Poem Break, Break, Break by Tennyson

Summary and Critical Appreciation of the Poem  Break, Break, Break by Tennyson
Summary and Critical Appreciation of the Poem  Break, Break, Break by Tennyson

Text of the Poem:

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's 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 the 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 came back to me.

Summary of the Poem:

The poet is sitting near his friend's grave on the sea-beach. He is in a mood of deep sorrow. He is thinking of the premature death of his dear friend, Arthur Henry Hallam. In this mood of grief, he looks at the sea-waves which are rising and falling and are striking against the rocky shore. Similarly, the sea of grief is rolling in his heart and is striking his mind again and again. The poet wishes to express the thoughts in words, but the thoughts which rise in the poet's heart cannot find expression in words.

The poet is profoundly shocked at untimely death of his dear friend, Arthur Hallam. He mourns at the death of his friend sitting near his grave at the sea-shore. He finds this world unchanged and unaffected of his personal sorrow. He sees the activities going on round him. He sees a fisherman's son who is playing with his sister joyfully and is crying to express his joy and happiness. For him life is full of joy like a play. He also sees a romantic sailor-boy who is happy and who is singing songs of joy in his boat on the sea. For the sailor-lad, the life is joyful like a song. The poet thinks that they are able to express their feelings.

Sitting near the grave of his dear friend, Arthur Henry Hallam at the sea-shore, the poet watches the tall, majestic ships sailing towards their resting place, namely harbour which stands at the foot of the hill. In this way, the trend of worldly life shows no signs of slackness or sadness. Only the poet is sad because his dear friend, Hallam is dead. He is deprived of his pleasureful company. The poet wishes for the delicate touch of his friend's hand, but now he can never feel that soft and consolatory touch of his friend's hand because he has gone from this mortal world i.e., he is dead. He feels utter sorrow and despair to think that he will never again be able to hear the soothing voice of his friend.

The poet is lamenting the death of his friend. He is watching the rise and fall of the waves in the sea. The waves are rising and are striking against the rocky coast. His mind then turns to his dead friend whom he would never see again. He thinks of the tender beauty of those days when his friend was alive. Those days will never return and the poet will never enjoy that tender beauty again.

Critical Appreciation of the poem:


The poem entitled Break, Break, Break is an elegy which is inspired by the death of Tennyson's dear friend, Arthur Hallam in 1833. It was composed by Tennyson walking at night in the lawns near Somersby, though in the poem, he imagines himself sitting near Hallam's grave and surveying the scene around. This poem was first published in 1842, nine years after the death of Arthur Henry Hallam, Tennyson's dearest friend. This poem is full of despair and grief. It reflects the author's heartfelt sorrow on the death of his friend. Simple but elegant, intensely subjective yet disciplined, it strikes Tennyson's most personal and poignant note. The poet expresses more eloquently than in any words the sense of desolation made yet more desolate by contrast with joys it cannot share. In the present poem, nature serves to mirror the author's intense feeling of grief. The scene of the poem is Clevedon Church, situated in a homely hill, overlooking the Bristol Channel. 


The poet mourns the death of his dear friend Hallam sitting near the grave at the sea beach. He is highly dejected at the premature death of his friend. He observes the scenes and activities happening around him. He sees the sea-waves rising and falling and striking their head against the rocky shore and breaking into water drops. It seems to the poet that the sea is restless. The waves of the sea lash against the rocks, but the poet himself remains helpless in conveying his grief. He sees the fisherman's boy happily shouting with his sister at play, and he sees the sailor-lad singing merrily in his boat. He watches the majestic ships sailing to the harbour, but he misses the company of his friend whose voice has become silent forever. He thinks that the beauty and grace of the days when the poet's friend was alive, can never come back. 

Element of Pathos: 

A feeling of pathos runs through this brief poem. The poem arouses a corresponding feeling of grief in the heart of the reader. The poem seems to come from the depths of the writer's being. It is a spontaneous expression of grief. The poet's heart is filled with deep grief. He is pained to think that his friend will never come back. His hands will never touch him. His voice will never be heard. The moments of joy which he had spent in the company of his friend will never return.

The poet is so much overwhelmed with grief that he feels tongue-tied. He is not able to express his intense grief into words. 

"And I would that my tongue could utter 
The thoughts that arise in me." 

Grand Imagination: 

The poet imagines the world of children where there are no sorrows and miseries. The children remain unaware of the ugly sides of the world. They have no least concern with others' sorrows. They, after being carefree, enjoy their games. He sees the fisherman's boy who is playing with his sister and is crying loudly to express his joy. He also sees the sailor-lad who is singing a song out of joy. He imagines that the sea-waves strike their head against the rocky shore and break into water drops. 

Philosophical Conception: 

The poet draws a contrast between man and his institutions and nature and phenomena. Man and his institutions are transitory but nature and her phenomena are fixed and permanent. The phenomena of nature can change but do not die, but man and his creation are decayable. Their existence on the earth remains for a short time. Nature repeats itself, but human joy once departed never returns. The ships go on their long voyages and return to get shelter under the hill in the harbour. But the barge of human soul having once left this shore of human life never returns. In the following lines, the poet enters into a sort of philosophical meditation. 

The Poem Abounding in Contrasts: 

The pictures of the fisherman's happy boy and the happy sailor-lad provide a sharp contrast to the poet's grief. There is a contrast between the waves dashing against the rocky coast and the poet's incapacity to express his thoughts. There is a contrast between the movement of a ship and the hushed voice of the poet's friend. There is a contrast between the waves striking against the rocks and the tender beauty of the days when the poet's friend was alive. 

The Use of Figures of Speech and Symbolism: 

In order to heighten the tragic effect, the poet has used the figures of speech Alliteration, Personification and Apostrophe: "Break, break, break...” (Alliteration) "On thy cold gray stones, O Sea..." (Personification and Apostrophe)

He uses symbolism also. The majestic ships are symbol of human soul. Haven is symbol of heaven. The stately ships tokens of a resolute maturity move on toward their haven of fulfilment. The sea is a symbol of all sound and movement. It encompasses the three ages of man in an endless cycle of energy. 

Form and Metre: 

The poem is in the form of an elegy for the poet writes it on the death of his friend, Hallam. It is a short and personal poem. It consists four stanzas. There are three accents in each line, except in the eleven and fifteen. The first line consists of three monosyllables and each one of them bears an accent. The rhythm in the poem is anapaestic. The rhyming scheme of the poem is following: abcb.



Saurabh Gupta

My name is Saurabh Gupta. I have designed this blog to help those students and people who are greatly interested to get knowledge about English Literature. This blog provides precious knowledge and information about English Literature and Criticism.

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