The Splendour Falls on Castle Walls
by Alfred Lord Tennyson
If you think that a love of elves and fairytales got invented by the popularity of The Lord of the Rings, think again. Tennyson and his fellow Victorians loved that kind of fantasy and mythology, partly because it helped them think differently about their own history and their own origins. Something about the scene the speaker describes makes him think of every fairy tale he's ever heard. Maybe it's the castle he sees at the beginning, or maybe it's the wildness and extreme solitude of the valley. But when he hears the mysterious bugle echoing across the valley, he imagines that the sound originated in another world… as in Elfland, where the fairies and elves and every magical creature lives. Maybe Tennyson wanted his readers to imagine that there was something magic even in humdrum, everyday Victorian life.
- Line 1: When you read the first line of the poem, you probably assume that the poem is going to be about princes and princesses. But the "castle" mentioned in the first line never gets mentioned again. So why bring it up at all? Perhaps because the speaker wants us to be thinking about fairy tales right from the beginning…
- Line 2: The snow-capped mountains aren't just "ancient" or "geologically rather interesting," the speaker tells us that they are "old in story." In other words, many, many stories have been written about them for centuries. It's as though it were the stories themselves that have made the mountains old, rather than the regular passage of time. This line also uses a particular type of alliteration: the repetition of S sounds is called sibilance.
- Line 10: The speaker imagines that the bugle that he hears is actually coming from another world—from "Elfland." Do you think we're supposed to take this literally? Is this a fairy tale? Or does the bugle's echo just have a kind of magical, fantastical effect on the speaker?