JUSTDOLIT: a single tool to analyse all texts

Additional example 1: Tennyson's "The Eagle"


The poem "The Eagle" is a good example to start off with: it is short and easy to read.

The Eagle  

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;


Close to the sun in lonely lands,


Ringed with the azure world, he stands.


The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;

He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.  


Nature: The poem is ambiguous about whether it describes an eagle or a human being. On the one hand, the poem is called “The Eagle”, and that very word, the eagle’s natural habitat, the “mountain”, its actions, above all the “clasp[ing]” of the “crag” (1), shows us an animal. The eagle is therefore nature.

Society: At the same time, the poem talks about “hands” (1), not claws, and about “walls” (5), which suggest something man-made. It also calls the eagle “he” rather than “it” (3). The “crooked” quality of the hands suggests something moral, something gone rather than born wrong, and in so doing suggests the presence of the social dimension in the poem.

Metaphysics: On the other hand, the eagle also displays elements of metaphysics and individuality, e.g. in the following lines: “Close to the sun in lonely lands, / Ringed with the azure world, he stands” (2-3). The environment of the eagle is above as opposed to below – “The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls” (4) – and “above” has always suggested metaphysics. The metaphysical interpretation is strengthened by the sheer centre-stage position of a being who is “close to the sun” and “ringed with the azure world”, especially with the “he stands” in apposition. It creates an aura of omnipotence in the eagle.

Individuality: Of course, centre-stage and loneliness do not only qualify you for metaphysics, but above all for individuality. In addition, omnipotence may result in doing what you want (as you will see, this is one of the possible interpretations of the last line of the poem), and that is closely associated to individuality.

"And like a thunderbolt he falls": It’s not clear why the eagle falls in the last line. It may be because he falls from power, it may be because his life is meaningless and so he commits suicide. It may also be because the eagle finds a prey to catch and decides he wants to do it (that may strengthen the eagle's omnipotence and individuality). In any case, the openness of the last line does not invalidate the analysis made above.

daniel.candel@uah.es | ©2008 Daniel Candel Bormann