Break, Break, Break Essay

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The rhythm and meter of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “Break, Break, Break” sets the stage for the conflicting, unstable, and erratic emotions of grief the speaker is feeling and expressing. The poem starts out with the sharp and stressed words “Break, break, break” which jar and call to attention what the speaker is saying. Tennyson could have simply wrote, “Break on thy cold gray stones, O Sea!” but he did not write break just once, he wrote it three times to emphasize it and startle the reader. The sea is breaking, perhaps like his heart? In comparison to the rest of the poem, the first line feels jilted and disjointed. Though the first line repeats again as the first line of the last stanza, it still does not bring about a uniformity or rhythm and has much the same effect (an exclamation) towards the end as it does in the beginning. Our text refers to the way in which lines 2-4 are metered (7 syllables, 9 syllables, 7 syllables) and how they resemble the ebb and flow of waves in the sea (Kennedy and Gioia p. 180). With the imagery of the sea and the feelings of grief which come and go and rise and fall we can expect that there may be more high and low points to follow. While the first stanza is the only one which adheres to that syllabic meter and the syllabic meter fails to be consistent throughout the poem, the stresses are consistent for the first two stanzas. There are 3 stressed syllables for each line of the first stanzas. Therefore the rhythm remains fairly steady for the first half of the poem. As we enter the last two stanzas, lines 9-16, a new meter is introduced with the third line of each stanza now containing 4 stresses. What does this shift do to the rhythm and for the meaning of this poem? In line 11 (“But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand,”) where the 4 stresses are added this increase generates momentum and urgency. In the second stanza we

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